Defensive Outlook: Key To The Season?

The Gophers have lacked a consistently stout defense for years, and after the spring game it might not be improved as much as hoped this fall. Still, head coach Glen Mason hopes last spring's result is in the past.

Since the Gophers appear to have a potentially dominant offense — at least on paper — the team's ultimate success will likely be determined by the defense. This has been the case each of the last two years and the team has had mixed results.

While the Gophers seem to start off the season well against non-conference opponents, they struggle against the better teams in the Big Ten. This would suggest mediocrity in the defensive personnel.

It could be more of the same this year. Mason was not overly impressed by his team's defensive performance in Minnesota's spring game. After looking good throughout the spring, the defense gave up eight runs of 15 yards or more in the team's final scrimmage.

"In any sport or any business, you tend to have knee-jerk reactions," Mason said. "You're only as good as your last outing. But I guess I would rather have a good spring defensively [in practice] and maybe a spring game that left something to be desired than the other way."

The defensive line is led by DTs Mark Losli and Anthony Montgomery. Both are solid run stuffers who need to get some support from DEs Keith Lipka and Eric Clark. Montgomery had 48 tackles and 9 tackles for loss a year ago, while Losli had 30 tackles and 4.5 behind the line of scrimmage.

LB Kyle McKenzie returns after leading the team with 79 tackles a year ago. McKenzie has good size and strength (6-1 and 235) and the talent to shed blockers and make plays. OLBs John Shevlin and Mario Reese could be assets if they can improve their consistency.

In the secondary, junior Trumaine Banks plays with speed and aggressiveness. If he can do a better job handling double moves, the Gophers should improve their pass defense. FS John Pawlieski had 70 tackles and 7 more behind the line and is a solid hitter.

With Rhys Lloyd having moved on, freshman Jason Giannini has the inside track on the PK job. He made two 40-plus yard field goals in Minnesota's spring game.

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