Gophers look to replace key players on defense

The Gophers lost a number of key contributors on the defensive end, including star safety Antoine Winfield Jr. and defensive end Carter Coughlin, and will call on returners to fill the void in 2020.

Gophers+Defensive+back+Benjamin+St-Juste+leaps+for+an+Auburn+pass+at+Raymond+James+Stadium+in+Tampa%2C+Florida+on+Wednesday%2C+Jan.+1.

Kamaan Richards

Gophers Defensive back Benjamin St-Juste leaps for an Auburn pass at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Wednesday, Jan. 1.

Brendan O'Brien, Sports Reporter

With kickoff at TCF Bank Stadium less than a month away, the Gophers will use the remaining time to make final decisions on what the defensive lineup will look like for the 2020 season.

New faces will definitely play a significant role from the start, as the Gophers lost a total of eight primary contributors from the 2019 squad, four of whom were selected in the NFL draft this April. And as head coach P.J. Fleck said, this unique season could lead to anyone leaping up the depth chart into a starting role.

Here is what the depth chart could look like come Oct. 24 in the season opener against Michigan.

Defensive Line

After losing key contributors Carter Coughlin, Winston DeLattiboudere and Sam Renner, the Gophers will turn to returning players to step up on the defensive line. Redshirt juniors Esezi Otomewo and Boye Mafe look to be the starting defensive ends after both were second on the depth chart last season. Both played in every game last season, with Otomewo finishing with 22 tackles, five of which were for loss, and Mafe added 14 tackles and three sacks.

At defensive tackle, the Gophers bring back three players who contributed in 2019, two of whom transferred into the program. Senior Keonte Schad started his career at Ellsworth Community College and recorded 21 tackles last season with the Gophers, while graduate transfer Micah Dew-Treadway had 13 tackles throughout the season. Junior Jamaal Teague also should be a factor on the defensive line as he played in all 13 games and had 16 tackles last season.

Linebackers

For the past few seasons, the Gophers have had great continuity at the linebacker position with Kamal Martin and Thomas Barber. Replacing the defensive production from Martin and Barber will be challenging, as the two combined for 451 career tackles in the past four seasons.

Juniors Mariano Sori-Marin and Thomas Rush both saw playing time last season, with Sori-Marin starting seven games and finishing with 42 tackles. Redshirt sophomore Braelen Oliver also should see some more snaps at the position, after recording 22 tackles in 2019.

Defensive Backs

The Gophers lose arguably their most valuable defensive player from 2019 in Antoine Winfield Jr. along with another key contributor in Chris Williamson but return plenty of experienced players to rotate through the defensive backfield.

Redshirt senior Coney Durr will look to continue the individual success he had last season, recording 33 tackles and tying the team lead with 10 pass breakups. Durr also had a 72-yard interception return for a touchdown against Maryland. Graduate student Benjamin St-Juste also had 10 pass breakups and added 45 tackles.

Minnesota also has a trio of juniors in Jordan Howden, Terell Smith and Benny Sapp III, who all saw game action throughout the season. Howden had the biggest impact of the three, recording 57 tackles and breaking up six passes with one interception. Redshirt seniors Calvin Swenson and Phillip Howard also look to play roles on the team.