JS: This year the Gophers' defense is getting away from Kevin Cosgrove's read and react defense and will be a more aggressive, attacking style of defense. The defensive line will be returning three of last year's starters in Anthony Jacobs, Brandon Kirksey and D.L. Wilhite. Jacobs is making a move to defensive tackle from his strong side defensive end position where he played last year and will be replacing Jewhan Edwards who left during the off-season.
As far as controlling the line of scrimmage the two seniors in the middle have size, experience and strength to hold their own against opposing offensive lines. The question is how will the back-ups hold up when they come in to give Jacobs and Kirksey a breather? The trouble that this team faced last year was lack of depth at DT behind Edwards and Kirksey. This season they'll have Austin Hahn, who saw a lot of action last season, redshirt sophomores Eric Jacques and Ra'Shede Hageman and red-shirt freshman Harold Legania, as back-ups.
At defensive end last season, Wilhite got pushed around a lot by opposing tackles. This season both Wilhite and his counterpart at the other end position will be asked to get up field and hold the edge. Much like the tackle position, there is a lot of youth at the opposite defensive end position. Red-shirt sophomores Kendall Gregory-McGhee and Matt Garin, red-shirt freshman Ben Perry and junior Leston Simpson will all battle for the starting strong side defensive end spot. Garin and Gregory-McGhee have had nagging injuries this fall opening the door for Simpson, Perry and true freshman Michael Amaefula to show-case their skills.
How is the secondary playing? Will they be better in coverage or run-support?
JS: The secondary was a much maligned unit last season which relied heavily on the play of younger players like James Manuel, Brock Vereen, Michael Carter and Kyle Henderson. The unit was helped by the addition of Troy Stoudermire who made the switch from wide receiver to cornerback almost seamlessly half way through last season. It will be further helped by the return of Kim Royston at safety and the experience gained last season.
From my point of view, I see both Royston and Stoudermire being the most well-rounded of all of the secondary players. Both will be adept in run-support and in coverage. Whereas I see some of the other corner backs, like Vereen and Carter, being better in the coverage aspect.
Who is the biggest surprise in the starting line-up?
JS: The biggest surprise by far would have to be Shady Salamon. Salamon started his Gopher career as a running back and even saw early playing time after Duane Bennett went down early in the 2008 season. After the 2008 season, Salamon was converted to safety but hasn't really seen much playing time at all outside of special teams. I think most Gopher fans hadn't really thought about him since the 2008 season but now he's been working with the first team defense throughout the fall practice and looks like he's a lock to start opposite of Kim Royston at safety.