The Minnesota Golden Gophers have been rebuilding their defensive line for several seasons and may be on the cusp of having a deep and talented group. This year’s team lacks experienced depth on the inside.
With Ra’Shede Hageman graduated to the NFL, redshirt senior Cameron Botticelli and junior Scott Ekpe are the only defensive tackles with extensive playing time. The leading candidate to be a top reserve is true freshman Gary Moore. He physically looks the part with a listed weight of 300 pounds.
The other likely leading candidates are redshirt sophomore Yoshoub Timms, redshirt senior Harold Legania and redshirt freshman Demaris Peppers. The other defensive tackle on the roster is true freshman Steven Richardson.
Timms and Legania, because of their time in the program, are likely to get the first opportunity at the other second unit spot. Timms made his collegiate debut last season and played in six games. He finished with two tackles. When the Big Ten Network made their stop in Minneapolis last fall, Big Ten Network analyst Gerry Dinardo raved about Legania. However, the veteran has only played sparingly in his three seasons with the Gophers. He has posted two tackles while playing six games - all over the last two seasons. Peppers cannot be counted out of the race. He may not be one of the more recognizable names on the roster, but the redshirt freshman should be ready to contribute.
Richardson is a candidate to redshirt. He was not a highly recruited high school prospect and could benefit greatly from a redshirt season. His short stature at 6-feet tall likely turned a lot of coaches off of his recruitment.
There is more experienced depth on the edge. Senior Michael Amaefula is a big and athletic defensive end and redshirt junior Theiren Cockran is one of the better pass rushers in the conference.
There are three players fighting for the top reserve roles. Sophomore Hendrick Ekpe, who was an early enrollee last season, earned significant playing time and junior Alex Keith has been a solid depth player. Redshirt senior Ben Perry has seen his playing time drop since starting all 12 games as a redshirt freshman. The following season he saw time as a reserve in all 13 games as a sophomore before playing just nine games last season.
Redshirt junior Robert Ndondo-Lay, who is a transfer from Winona State University, had a solid spring game and could get a few reps in this season. However, he played just two games and had two tackles, including one sack during his two seasons at Winona State.
The true freshmen are really intriguing young players. Julien Kafo is more of a pass rusher and Andrew Stelter more of a run stopper. Kafo is likely to be the future weak-side defensive end with more athleticism and Stelter is likely to be the future strong-side defensive end with a bigger and stronger frame.
Projected Depth Chart
First Team - 98 Michael Amaefula, SR, Arlington, Texas (Bowie High School); 46 Cameron Botticelli, RS SR, Milwaukee, Wisc. (Marquette University High School); 5 Theiren Cockran, RS JR, Homestead, Fla. (Homestead High School); 97 Scott Ekpe, JR, Lewisville, Texas (Lewisville High School)
Second Team - 95 Hendrick Ekpe, SO, Lewisville, Texas (Lewisville High School); 9 Alex Keith, JR, Columbia, Mo. (Hickman High School); 19 Gary Moore, FR, Mobile, Ala. (Murphy High School); 52 Yoshoub Timms, RS SO, Fort Walton Beach, Fla. (Fort Walton Beach High School)
Third Team - 94 Harold Legania, RS SR, New Orleans, La. (Edna Karr High School); 92 Robert Ndondo-Lay, RS JR, Minneapolis, Minn. (Winona State University); 90 Demaris Peppers, RS FR, Memphis, Tenn. (Fairley High School); 93 Ben Perry, RS SR, Southlake, Texas (Carroll High School)
The Rest - 91 Julien Kafo, FR, Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, Canada (Vanier College); 96 Steven Richardson, FR, Chicago, Ill. (Mt., Carmel High School); 99 Andrew Stelter, FR, Owatonna, Minn. (Owatonna High School)
The Rest of the Division
Illinois Fighting Illini - The Illini have two of their three starting defensive linemen returning from last season.
Iowa Hawkeyes - The Hawkeyes have three of their four starting defensive linemen returning from last season, including all-conference candidate Carl Davis.
Nebraska Cornhuskers - The Cornhuskers return three of five defensive linemen that at least split time as the starter last season, including all-america candidate and likely top 10 NFL draft pick Randy Gregory.
Northwestern Wildcats - The Wildcats return three of their four starting defensive linemen from last season.
Purdue Boilermakers - The Boilermakers return two of their four starting defensive linemen from last season.
Wisconsin Badgers - The Badgers return none of the three starting defensive linemen from last season.