Gophers’ front row

by Murali Balaji

The Gophers’ defensive line must have had something in their Gatorade prior to the game against Michigan State.
The line, maligned for its lack of playmaking all season, finally stepped up and came through in the Homecoming win over Michigan State.
This week’s analysis will take a look at how the defensive line grades out, and who has made the biggest impact on the defense thus far.

Antoine Richard
Senior defensive tackle
6-foot-3, 289 pounds
Richard is the most experienced starter on the defensive line with 28 career starts. He is fourth on the team in tackles, and is tied for second on the team in tackles-for-loss (6). Richard has never been a flashy player, and his steadying presence along the front four goes almost unnoticed. He is the only lineman who warrants double-teams by opposing offenses, and his ability to fill the gaps has allowed the linebackers to come up and stop plays.
Richard is an athletic pivot player with a quick burst that allows him to flow to the ball. On film, he is usually the first guy to shed the blocks and get into pursuit, which is a reflection of polish at the position.
Richard’s biggest weakness is lack of pass-rushing skills; he is not an upfield player who can consistently pressure opposing quarterbacks. What Richard brings to the defense is usually not reflected in the stat sheet, but rather in the playmaking skills of the players around him. Look for him to continue his solid, if unspectacular play this season.

Jon Schlecht
Sophomore defensive tackle
6-foot-1, 267 pounds
Schlecht transferred from St. Cloud State prior to the 1997 season, and his addition the 1998 defensive front has been a key to their emergence of late. He leads the defensive line in sacks (4) and is tied with Richard in tackles-for-loss (6). Schlecht had two sacks and three tackles-for-loss last week against the Spartans and helped clamp down on running back Sedrick Irvin during the game’s critical moments.
Schlecht is a quick player with a relentless motor. He has developed the ability to shed blocks and attack the gaps along the offensive line. He is a perseverant defender who is very aggressive at the point-of-attack.
However, Schlecht’s biggest flaw is his lack of size; at 267 pounds, teams try to run straight at him, often using their strongside guards and a fullback to try to plow him over. Schlecht is a smart defender who can play angles well, but he will constantly be attacked by offenses because of his undersized frame. However, look for him to continue his development into an effective pass rusher and an active player against the run.

Jon Michals
Junior defensive end
6-foot-4, 270 pounds.
Michals has collected 17 tackles, including five stops behind the line. He also has two sacks for the season. Michals has had his moments at the strongside end position, but he has mainly been a contain player for the Gophers.
Coach Glen Mason praised him on his work ethic and persistence, and Michals may be without peer in his desire to improve on his game. However, he occasionally gets caught up on the blocks, forcing the strongside to overcommit on a play.
His main point of development seems to be mastering the game of leverage against opposing offensive tackles. Michals will definitely come to play on every down, but it will be key for him to work on getting to the quarterback on a more consistent basis.

Curtese Poole
Sophomore defensive end
6-foot-3, 240 pounds.
Poole, a transfer from Kansas prior to last season, switched over to defensive line from the outside linebacker position during summer camp. He had his most productive game to date against Michigan State, with three tackles-for-loss and his first sack of the season.
One thing was established from the beginning of the season: Poole is a long-term project at defensive end. His pass-rushing skills are very raw to say the least, and he has yet to utilize his outstanding athletic ability to its full potential. However, Poole is an excitable player who can disrupt plays and give his teammates a chance to attack the ball. His quickness alone keeps him matched up against bigger offensive tackles, but he tends to try to run by them.
Technique is something that can be taught, but natural athleticism like Poole’s can’t. The coaches are essentially gambling that he will blossom into a better pass rusher as the season winds down. If Poole can build off his performance last week, there is a good chance that his name will appear in the sack category a bit more frequently.

Others: Rufus Smith, senior defensive end, 6-foot-2, 256 pounds; Josh Rawlings, junior defensive tackle, 6-foot-5, 296 pounds.