What to Watch for: Defense

The Golden Gopher defense was a strength of the team last year but with the majority of the starters gone, Minnesota will rely on younger players to keep the defense operating at a high level.

What to Watch For on Defense:
What players will step up into the roles vacated by the bevy of talented senior defenders Minnesota lost to graduation?

The Golden Gophers ranked right in the middle of the Big Ten in total defense last season, finishing fifth. If the Gophers hope to replicate that same success they will need some younger players to step up and perform at a high level in order to replace the talented class of graduated seniors.

Best Defensive Player:
Senior safety Kyle Theret may not be the most heralded player on the Gopher defense but he has a knack for always being around the ball and making big plays at crucial moments in the game. Theret who stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 193 pounds, has nine career interception and tallied 73 total tackles last year.

What may prove to be more valuable than his nose for the football is his experience and knowledge of the defensive scheme. The Gopher coaches will need Theret to direct the inexperienced defense into the correct alignments and coverage's.

Position Unit That Must Improve:
While Minnesota played solidly along the defensive front, football games are won and lost in the trenches and the Gophers need to generate more consistent pressure on the opposing quarterback. Replacing five senior contributors won't be easy, but if Minnesota wants to improve their record from last season they will need some breakout performances from the new defensive line starters.

The two players who will anchor the line are massive nose tackle, junior Jewhan Edwards and junior defensive tackle, Brandon Kirksey. Both the 6-foot-1, 350-pound Edwards and 6-foot-2, 296-pound Kirksey have lots of experience on the field seeing playing time in a combined 46 games over their careers.

The Gopher coaches will lean heavily on the size and strength of these two, to stifle the smash-mouth offensive styles of opponents such as Wisconsin, Iowa, and USC.

Breakout Star:
Earning Freshman All-Big Ten honors from The Sporting News and Second-Team Freshman All-America honors from Phil Steele, D.L. Wilhite is poised to build off his impressive first season as a reserve into a playmaking starter at defensive end.

The 6-foot-3, 244-pound Wilhite showed flashes of brilliance last year compiling three sacks, causing one fumble, and recovering two fumbles in limited action.

Wilhite should see his playing time increase tremendously this upcoming season and he could turn into a star for the Golden Gophers on the defensive line.

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