Return to Glory

Return to Glory

Monday, March 12, 2012

Analyzing Depth at Defensive End Position

We have completed our analysis of depth on the offensive side of the ball and now move over to the defense. We concluded our analysis of the offense feeling good about the future direction of the offense as a unit. As a result, the success of the Gophers in future years will hinge on the growth and development of our defense. We will begin by examining one of the Gophers key defensive deficiencies, the defensive end position. It has become abundantly clear over the course of the past decade that putting pressure on the quarterback is paramount to success at both the collegiate and pro level. I want to highlight the importance of the defensive end position by highlighting the importance of getting pressure on the quarterback. The quickest measurement for teams that successfully pressure the quarterback is the number of sacks, so here is a breakdown of teams with the most sacks and their corresponding W-L record during the 2011 season.

Texas A&M 51 sacks - 7-6
Cincinnati 46 sacks - 10-3
Michigan St. 45 sacks - 11-3
Oregon 44 sacks - 12-2 played in BCS Rose Bowl
Pittsburgh 42 sacks - 6-7
Virginia Tech 41 sacks - 11-3 played in BCS Sugar Bowl
Florida St. 40 sacks - 9-4
Stanford 39 sacks - 11-2  played in BCS Fiesta Bowl
LSU 39 sacks - 13-1 played in BCS National Championship
Georgia 35 sacks - 10-4

Of all 10 of the BCS Bowl teams, only Wisconsin and Clemson ranked outside the Top 30 of teams in number of sacks, and they were 54th and 61st respectively. To further enhance this point, Wisconsin and Clemson both lost their bowl games and gave up 45 and 70 points respectively in their bowl games, which highlights that the weakest pass rushing teams suffered the most. I do not think it is a coincidence that the teams on the list above had outstanding seasons, with the exceptions of Texas A&M and Pittsburgh. During 2011, all the Gophers defensive ends combined tallied a mighty cumulative 5.5 sacks. Based on my research, there were 24 individual defensive ends that tallied 8 or more sacks by themselves! If you include defensive tackles and linebackers there were 42 players that had 8 or more sacks by themselves. If the Gophers want to take the next step as a program they need to find a way to put pressure on the quarterback. The question is whether we have players on the roster that can do that. Let us take a look!

Michael Amaefula: was a 2011 recruit from Arlington, Texas. He weighs in at 6'2" 235 lbs. Michael actually saw significant playing time as a true freshman. Michael appeared in all 12 games and actually started 4 games. He generated 17 tackles with 1.5 sacks and recovered 2 fumbles. The Gophers voted him the team's outstanding defensive freshman of the year. Michael has demonstrated good speed off the edge and the ability to shed blockers effectively. As the season progressed, it became clear that we are most likely looking at the brightest future among the current Gopher defensive ends on the roster. Michael has demonstrated that he can put pressure on the quarterback. It was an impressive season by a true freshmen playing such a physical position as defensive end. He will certainly benefit from an offseason in the weight room and I am excited to see what Michael can deliver in 2012. I look for him to be a starting defensive end in 2012.

Ben Perry: will be a redshirt sophomore in 2012. Ben hails from Southlake, Texas where he played high school football for Texas powerhouse Southlake Carroll High School. He weighs in at 6'5" 241 lbs, so obviously it would be nice to see him add some additional bulk to his frame. Last year, Ben started all 12 games at defensive end and generated 2.5 tackles for loss with 1 sack. As a starting defensive end, you would like to see greater production from the position, but it is important to consider that Ben was a redshirt freshman. Optimistically, we hope that this valuable playing time will help springboard Ben forward to a more productive 2012 campaign. However, I have concerns that Ben can ultimately provide the necessary pressure consistently from the defensive end position.

DL Wilhite: will be a redshirt senior in 2012. DL hails from Lexington, Kentucky. DL weighs in at 6'3" 245 lbs. During 2011, DL started 8 games and was actively involved in all 12 games. DL ended up creating 3 tackles for loss with 3 sacks. I headed into 2011 optimistic that DL may take a big stride forward and was certainly disappointed in the production level. He was ultimately beat out by true freshman Michael Amaefula for the starting spot. I look for him to be an active member of the defensive end rotation in 2012, but DL has not demonstrated the ability to be a dynamic player at the position.


Matt Garin: will be a redshirt junior in 2012. Matt is a native Minnesotan that played high school football for Eastview. In fact, he holds Eastview's record for career sacks. He was a highly touted recruit in the 2009 class with ESPN ranking him #40 DE in the country. Matt is a solid 6'4" 252 lbs and he appeared in 8 games during the 2011 season and generated 5 tackles and a .5 tackle for loss. It was a disappointing season for Matt who headed into 2011 poised to take a big step forward after being heavily involved in the 2010 campaign as a redshirt freshmen. I remain hopeful that Matt can take a step forward in 2012 and help strengthen the effectiveness of our defensive line, but he is going to need to work to more effectively take on blockers.

Kendall Gregory McGhee: will be a redshirt junior in 2012 and hails from Aurora, Colorado. Kendall weighs in at 6'5" 255 lbs and appeared in 11 games during the 2011 season. Kendall generated 5 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. I don't see Kendall providing much impact to the defensive end position, but he will be in the rotation in 2012 as a backup.

Theiren Cockran: was a 2011 recruit and he redshirted, so he will be a redshirt freshman as we head into 2012. Theiren comes from Homestead, Florida. He weighs in at 6'6" and 221 lbs, so he is clearly an undersized defensive end. He has the frame capable of adding some bulk, but his contribution will be predominately as a speed rusher. He has been timed in the 4.5 range in the 40 yard dash. There will certainly be questions about his ability to hold up in the running game, but he could inject some needed speed into the pass rush on obvious passing situations. As a result, I see Theiren as being a situational player in 2012, but he does demonstrate the athletic ability necessary to generate some excitement about what he can contribute.  

Conclusion: The defensive end position has provided abysmal production over the past few years and as a result it is not surprising to see how much the Gophers have struggled in the win loss column. All you need to do is scroll back to the top of this post to gleam the importance I place on getting pressure on the quarterback. It is simply unacceptable for a Big 10 program to generate a combined 5.5 sacks from the defensive end position over the course of an entire year. In 2010, the Gophers finished dead last in the country with 9 total sacks.

Jerry Kill has repeatedly spoken of his commitment to get to the quarterback and consequently has emphasized injecting speed into the position. As a result, the youngsters Amaefula, Perry and Cockran are poised to garner most of the playing time. We saw this begin last year with Perry and Amaefula overtaking Garin, Wilhite and McGhee for the starting positions. The good news is that Amaefula and Perry are only sophomores this year, but already have full seasons of experience under their belt. In addition, Cockran is still a freshman, so we need to hope they all continue to show progression. We really did not bring in any dynamic defensive end recruits in the 2012 class, so the near future is really riding on the ability of Amaefula, Perry and Cockran to show significant progress. Garin, Wilhite and McGhee will provide some reasonable depth to the position, but they simply lack the ability to consistently get to the quarterback. Plus, they are all upperclassmen, so it seems Kill is already looking to the future. This position remains a major question mark to me and I will continue to state that the future of the Gophers becoming relevant primarily rests on the Gophers ability to generate production from our defensive ends. 2012 will be a big year to see if we do have the necessary playmakers at the defensive end spots to begin rebuilding a defense that has been in shambles these past few years.


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