Minnesota Golden Gophers Spring Practice Preview: Defense

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Spring practice is upon us, and the Minnesota Golden Gophers now look ahead to the 2013 season. The Gophers are hoping to improve upon a 6-7 record from last year, and the defense also looks to improve.

The defensive unit was a bit better than the offense for Minnesota in 2012, but that isn’t saying much. The Gophers’ defense ranked 45th in the nation in scoring, giving up 24.7 points per game. While that number isn’t terrible, it is one the team wants to improve.

The Gophers lose five starters from last season, but will have some experienced players ready to step in to fill some of those holes. Minnesota will likely start six seniors on defense this year, so I don’t see youth as a potential issue.

The front four loses a key player in defensive end D.L. Wilhite, but the other three starting D-lineman will all be returning for the Gophers. Wilhite was the team’s leader in sacks last year with 8.5, and his departure leaves a hole on the Gophers’ line.

Two of the players who will compete for the starting DE spot this spring will be redshirt junior Ben Perry and redshirt sophomore Thieren Cockran. Both saw action in all 13 games for the Gophers in 2012, recording a sack apiece.

The more pressing issue for the Gophers is in the secondary, as Minnesota will lose both starting corners heading into 2013. CB Troy Stoudemire was the leading tackler on the team – it’s never good when your leading tackler is a corner, and the team will be without Stoudemire’s services in 2013. Minnesota will also miss Michael Carter, who led the Gophers with four interceptions and 15 pass breakups last year.

Without Stoudemire and Carter, the Gophers will look for Jeremy Baltazar and Martez Shabazz to step up into much larger roles in the secondary. Neither saw extended action in 2012, making the corner position one of potential trouble for the Gophers.

Luckily for Minnesota, they get both starting safeties back: Derrick Wells and Cedric Thompson both return for their junior years in 2013.

Head coach Jerry Kill must be glad spring practice is here, because his team has a lot of things to figure out defensively before the team opens the 2013 season on August 29.

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