Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota Golden Gopher junior defensive tackle Steven Richardson checks in at MIG No. 2

For the Gophers to contend for the Big Ten West in 2016 they will need a total team effort to improve their ability to stop the run. The play of defensive tackle Steven Richardson will be important in having success.

Exhibit A:  Justin Jackson: 20 carries - 120 yards - 6.1

Exhibit B:  Terell Newby: 13 carries - 120 yards - 8.9

Exhibit C:  LeShun Daniels:  26 carries - 196 yards - 7.5

Exhibit D:  Dare Ogunbowale:  33 carries - 161 yards - 4.7

The numbers above are all the proof that is needed as to why junior defensive tackle Steven Richardson and his ability to help stop the opposing run game is of mass importance to the success of the 2016 Golden Gophers.

The Gophers went 2-4 against Big Ten West rivals in 2015 and their inability to stop or even slow down their opponents top back was a primary reason.  If there has been one concern with the Gopher defense during Tracy Claeys reign as defensive coordinator it has been with giving up big plays in key situations in the run game.

Richardson has the capabilities to make those concerns go away.  While he may need his tippy toes to hit his listed height on the official Gopher roster, he has the ability to play big in the trenches.

In his first two seasons in Maroon and Gold Richardson has started 21 of the 23 games he has played, missing three games last year due to injury late the in the year.  In his rookie campaign of 2014 he was needed to contribute as a true freshman and he responded with respectable numbers, posting 23 tackles, six tackles-for-loss, two sacks and one forced fumble.  A performance that earned him Minnesota’s Defensive Freshman of the Year.

During his sophomore season Richardson improved his numbers, 26 tackles, eight tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and one forced and recovered fumble, despite missing three games and being a non-factor in two games due to the late season injury.

Richardson did not dress for the Gophers games against Ohio State, Iowa and Wisconsin.  He dressed, played and tried to give it a go against Illinois and in the bowl game against Central Michigan but did not record a single statistic.

All reports indicate that Richardson should be 100% as he prepares for his junior season, a season that should be his best ever at Minnesota.  I look for Richardson to finish with career highs in tackles (55+), tackles-for-loss (12) and sacks (5.5) in 2016.  But most importantly Richardson needs to be a force in the middle and take up space and blockers in order to allow Jack Lynn and Cody Poock to clean up on Big Ten running backs.

Top 15 MIG Countdown

15.  Isaiah Gentry

14.  Cody Poock

13.  Julian Huff

12.  Drew Wolitarsky

11.  Rodney Smith

10.  Merrick Jackson

9.   Jonah Pirsig

8.  Brandon Lingen

7.  Jalen Myrick

6.  Tyler Moore

5.  Shannon Brooks

4.  Jack Lynn

3.  Damarius Travis

2.  Steven Richardson

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