Plenty to piece together with Reese and Sherels healthy

Mario Reese has started for an injured Mike Sherels since Oct. 8.

Matt Perkins

Minnesota’s football team’s defense underwent a large transition before the season began.

New defensive coordinator, new defensive secondary coach and new defensive line coach, not to mention only five returning starters from last year’s season opener against Toledo.

That transition saw the emergence of sophomore linebacker Mike Sherels.

But when Sherels went down with an undisclosed injury following the Penn State game, junior Mario Reese got his opportunity.

And he’s made the most of it.

“I think Mario Reese has played well,” coach Glen Mason said. “He and Sherels play two different positions. Reese is a drop (linebacker) and Mike Sherels is a mike linebacker.”

Although different styles of play, they both have had similar results.

Sherels is going to be back this week against Ohio State, but Reese will still see playing time, Mason said.

The Gophers will need Reese’s speed against Buckeyes quarterback Troy Smith, who brings the same running threat to the table as Penn State’s quarterback Michael Robinson did.

Robinson ended his day against the Gophers defense with 18 carries for 115 yards, most of which came on runs up the middle.

But Reese’s speed on the outside could make the difference this time around.

“Any time you can get (Smith) going east and west, that’s what we want,” freshman safety Dominic Jones said. “We have the athletes to run him down from side to side.”

And that will be Reese’s job.

It’s still uncertain how Sherels’ return will affect Reese, John Shevlin and Kyle McKenzie’s playing time in the 4-3 defense, but Mason made it clear that Reese earned his chance to play.

Since being placed in the starting lineup against Michigan, Reese has 11 tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles in two games.

But even his solid statistics don’t show the little things.

In the first quarter against Wisconsin, Reese made an open-field tackle on Badgers wide receiver Owen Daniels to force a 36-yard field goal that kicker Taylor Mehlhaff missed.

The kick could have given the Badgers a 10-0 first quarter lead, but instead the Gophers were down just a score and tied the game early in the second quarter.

It is Reese’s open field tackling ability that could force the Buckeyes’ Smith to think twice about tucking the ball and running with it.

Reese may know that better than anyone from film study.

“It’s very important for us to contain him at all times,” Reese said. “You let him get outside on you and he’ll run all day.”