Coughlin finds success switching to defensive line

Carter Coughlin leads the team with 5.5 sacks through 10 games.

Sophomore Carter Coughlin, number 45, and his teammates observe the game against Middle Tennessee on Saturday, Sept. 16th, 2017.

Jack Rodgers

Sophomore Carter Coughlin, number 45, and his teammates observe the game against Middle Tennessee on Saturday, Sept. 16th, 2017.

Jack Warrick

Carter Coughlin switched from linebacker to defensive end in the offseason.

So far, he has made the transition look easy.

The sophomore has the most sacks and tackles for loss on the Minnesota defense.

“[Coughlin’s] a guy that’s just changed his best, you know, his entire year,” said defensive coordinator Robb Smith. “He’s just trying to refine his game, and he’s done an elite job at that, and he’s been able to change his best, and you know we expect more in the future for him as well.”

Recruited as the No. 6 outside linebacker in the country,according to 247 Sports, Coughlin stuck with linebacker last year for the Gophers. He played in 10 games and started one in the Gophers 9-4 season, racking up 25 tackles last year; four were for a loss and two were sacks. Now, with two more games to play in the 2017 season, Coughlin has 31 tackles, including 9.5 for a loss and 5.5 sacks.

Coughlin moved to the defensive end position in the spring after a change in coaching staff. Then-head coach, Tracy Claeys, was fired by the University in January. After the school’s decision, Coughlin tweeted: “How can someone makes such an idiotic decision…” but he stuck around to play under new leadership headed by P.J. Fleck.

There are 13 linebackers on the Gophers roster, so Smith moved Coughlin to that defensive end spot to make sure he gets on the field — and he has. Coughlin has started every game this year, emerging as the best pass rusher on the defense, using his speed and explosiveness to get around slower, bigger linemen.

“Right now, my biggest asset is my speed, and you know as I go on through college I want to be able to incorporate more size into that,” Coughlin said. “I can add a lot of power to that, and I think that’s going to be a sweet combo, but right now it’s definitely my speed.”

Coughlin isn’t the first of his family to leave an impact on Minnesota athletics.

Coughlin’s grandfather, Tom Moe, was the athletic director at the University of Minnesota from 1999-2002. Moe also played football and baseball for the Gophers in the late 50’s. Coughlin’s father, Bob, was a defensive lineman in the late ’80s. His mother, Jennie Moe, played tennis for the Gophers in the late ’80s and early ’90s. His uncle, Mike Moe, played football for the Gophers in the ’80s as well.

The newest member of the family to join the Gophers is Coughlin’s younger brother. Quinn Coughlin is a  defensive lineman on the roster. Carter was a standup linebacker in high school while Quinn was an inside defensive tackle.

“It’s so fun going over to the side line and giving him a hug, and all that kind of stuff. He’s always kind of the first one to come greet me after I get a sack or a tackle or anything like that,” Carter said. “You know it’s really special, it feels like, kind of like high school, you know what I mean? It’s just super cool having him there right next to me.”