Here’s my breakdown of the Minnesota defense in its first full season under coordinator Joe Rossi. Rossi, you’ll recall, became interim coordinator after a disastrous loss to Illinois last November. The Gopher defense tightened up considerably down the stretch, and Rossi earned the job. If you missed my breakdown of the offense, you can find it here.
Only two starters from 2018 are listed on the two-deep up front. However, there are several players who, while not starters, played quite a bit last season. Micah Dew-Treadway is a graduate transfer from Notre Dame who should help shore up the middle. Senior defensive ends Carter Coughlin and Winston DeLattiboudere will be tasked with leading the group.
Blake Cashman and Julian Huff will be sorely missed from this unit. The good news is that Kamal Martin and Thomas Barber are both back. Barber had 81 total tackles a year ago, third-best on the team and best among returning players. This is one position where the depth worries me a bit; behind Barber and Martin, there’s not a whole lot of experience.
The backfield is in good shape. The safety group will miss Jacob Huff and his 93 tackles and two interceptions; on the bright side, Antoine Winfield Jr. returns from the September foot injury that cost him last season. Let’s hope he avoids that fate this year because his fellow safeties are young and untested.
The cornerbacks are a bit more battle-tested. Terell Smith played admirably as a freshman a year ago, and junior Coney Durr has improved each year. Kiondre Thomas played a fair amount last year as well.
My main takeaway from this breakdown of the Minnesota defense is that this is still a fairly young defense in terms of depth. It also lost several key players- Cashman, Antonio Shenault, the Huffs. However, with the exception of defensive tackle, every position has at least one experienced and proven starter. Given how drastically this unit improved late last season after Rossi took over, I expect a strong start to the season. Health, given the lack of experience among the backups, will be even more key than usual down the stretch.