Gophers defense specializes in mobile run-stoppers

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 26, 2012 - 6:46 AM

The coaches like what they see in the defensive line -- big guys who aren't so large that they can't change direction in a hurry.

hide

Defensive linemen Ra’Shede Hageman, left, and Harold Legania drilled together on the first day of spring practice last week.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

Cameron Botticelli might not know it, but his opportunity to move into the Gophers lineup at defensive tackle comes courtesy of ... Appalachian State?

In a way, yes. The walk-on from Milwaukee was only 14 when the Mountaineers marched to a Division I-AA national championship, and probably never suspected that an obscure quarterfinal score -- Appy State 38, Southern Illinois 24 -- would have an impact on his life. But it was in that game that coach Jerry Kill and his staff realized that players like Botticelli are what they need in the middle of the line.

Kill's Salukis featured "big-legged and heavy" players in the interior line, traditional oversized tackles, explained defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys. "Nobody could knock us off the line of scrimmage," Claeys said. But when confronted with Appalachian State's spread offense, "We couldn't catch them," Claeys said. "It didn't matter if we [filled] our gaps or not."

Since that game, "we've changed a little bit. I would rather have a 280-pound guy in there who can run and change direction," he said. "But you need a few more bodies, because they're going to get worn down by all the pounding."

Enter Botticelli. And Austin Hahn. And Eric Jacques and even freshman-to-be Scott Ekpe, already making an impact before his high school classmates have graduated. Along with larger tackles such as Ra'Shede Hageman, Curren Delaney and Harold Legania, all are competing for those mobile run-stopper jobs left vacant by the departure of senior tackles Anthony Jacobs and Brandon Kirksey.

"We're really young, but we're really deep, and there are a lot of good things that come from that," Boticelli said. "Competition breeds success. There's like six or seven of us who are all foaming at the mouth" to earn those jobs.

Hageman is the best known and, at 6-6 and 300 pounds, the most fearsome, especially since the coaches say they see improvement with every passing day. "The first three practices, he's spent a lot of time on the other side of the ball," Kill said, meaning Hageman is forcing his way across the line of scrimmage. That's his best talent, but Claeys said the Gophers need the former Minneapolis Washburn standout tight end to learn the discipline of run containment as well. "When he learns how to," Claeys said, "he can dominate."

Last year, though, Hageman was subbed in only on passing downs. "We took him out of a lot of the running game stuff and just used him [against] the pass and let him go," Claeys said. "In the running game, you've got to be gap conscious. In the passing game ... just get to the quarterback. He used to try to play that way all the time, but he's learned the importance of the gap stuff on the run."

Meanwhile, players like Botticelli are filling the Gophers' smaller-but-mobile role with a lot of energy, the coach said. "It takes a tough dude to stand in there and play, so you've got to love the game," Claeys said. "You cannot play defensive line without loving the game, because you're going to get doubled, you're going to get held, you're going to get cut."

Like Hageman, Botticelli was an all-state player at another position; he was first-team all-Wisconsin as an outside linebacker for Marquette University High School in Milwaukee. He turned down I-AA offers to walk on at Minnesota, and was moved to defensive end. After the first practice under Kill's coaching staff last spring, he was quickly moved to tackle and given a real chance; Botticelli, who put on 30 pounds and now weighs 280, ended up appearing, albeit only for a few plays, in all 12 games.

"You always work to try and play right away, but I guess I expected to come here, sit around for a few years and get my shot later on," he said. "It's awesome that I got playing time last year, and if it's looking good [for me] in spring ball, that's awesome, too."

And it gives him a chance to put into action some of the lessons he absorbed from his now-graduated mentors: "Compete fiercely. Show up every day, whether you're having a good day or not, and do your work. And don't take [stuff] from the offensive linemen," Botticelli said with a smile. "They instilled that as doctrine."

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

NY Yankees - LP: M. Pineda 0 FINAL
Toronto - WP: D. Hutchison 2
Detroit - LP: M. Scherzer 3 FINAL
Chicago WSox - WP: C. Sale 6
Chicago Cubs - WP: F. Doubront 5 FINAL
St. Louis - LP: J. Masterson 1
Cincinnati - LP: A. Simon 2 FINAL
Pittsburgh - WP: V. Worley 3
Minnesota - LP: J. Burton 2 FINAL
Baltimore - WP: A. Miller 3
Philadelphia - WP: J. Williams 7 FINAL
NY Mets - LP: B. Colon 2
Miami - WP: J. Cosart 4 FINAL
Atlanta - LP: A. Harang 0
Boston - LP: A. Webster 0 FINAL
Tampa Bay - WP: J. Odorizzi 7
Cleveland 1 Top 10th Inning
Kansas City 1
Detroit 8 FINAL
Chicago WSox 4
Texas - LP: P. Klein 0 FINAL
Houston - WP: S. Feldman 2
Colorado 2 Bottom 9th Inning
Arizona 0
Chicago Cubs 1 Top 8th Inning
St. Louis 4
Los Angeles 1 Top 7th Inning
San Diego 1
Milwaukee 0 Bottom 5th Inning
San Francisco 3
Oakland 0 Bottom 4th Inning
LA Angels 0
Washington 3 Top 5th Inning
Seattle 0
Green Bay 9/4/14 7:30 PM
Seattle
BYU 35 FINAL
Connecticut 10
(6) Jacksonville St 7 FINAL
(8) Michigan State 45
Bowling Green 31 FINAL
Western Ky 59
TX-San Antonio 27 FINAL
Houston 7
Colorado State 31 FINAL
Colorado 17
UNLV 13 FINAL
Arizona 58
Penn State 26 FINAL
UCF 24
Troy 10 FINAL
UAB 48
(7) UCLA 28 FINAL
Virginia 20
Western Mich 34 FINAL
Purdue 43
(5) Ohio State 34 FINAL
Navy 17
Appalachian St 14 FINAL
Michigan 52
Ga Southern 23 FINAL
NC State 24
Boston College 30 FINAL
Massachusetts 7
West Virginia 23 FINAL
(2) Alabama 33
Rice 17 FINAL
(17) Notre Dame 48
(10) South Dakota St 18 FINAL
(24) Missouri 38
Fla Atlantic 7 FINAL
(22) Nebraska 55
California 31 FINAL
Northwestern 24
Marshall 42 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 27
UC Davis 0 FINAL
(11) Stanford 45
Arkansas 21 FINAL
(6) Auburn 45
(16) Clemson 21 FINAL
(12) Georgia 45
Liberty 29 FINAL
(23) North Carolina 56
Ohio U 17 FINAL
Kent State 14
Louisiana Tech 10 4th Qtr 1:00
(4) Oklahoma 48
Stephen F Austin 16 4th Qtr 1:00
(20) Kansas State 55
Fresno State 13 4th Qtr 7:34
(15) USC 52
Southern Miss 0 4th Qtr 7:51
Miss State 49
Texas-El Paso 24 4th Qtr 11:38
New Mexico 21
North Texas 0 4th Qtr 14:29
Texas 28
(1) Florida State 20 3rd Qtr 8:00
Oklahoma State 17
(14) Wisconsin 17 2nd Qtr 6:09
(13) LSU 7
Idaho 0 Delayed 14:50
Florida 0
South Dakota 9:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(25) Washington 9:30 PM
Hawaii
Utah State 8/31/14 6:00 PM
Tennessee
SMU 8/31/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
Miami-Florida 9/1/14 7:00 PM
Louisville
Arizona 9/4/14 7:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Pittsburgh 9/5/14 6:00 PM
Boston College
Washington St 9/5/14 9:30 PM
Nevada
SMU 9/6/14 11:00 AM
North Texas
Fla Atlantic 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(2) Alabama
Buffalo 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Army
(24) Missouri 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Toledo
Arkansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Tennessee
(8) McNeese State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(22) Nebraska
Central Mich 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Akron 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
Western Ill 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(14) Wisconsin
(20) Kansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
(4) Oklahoma 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Tulsa
Western Ky 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
SC State 9/6/14 11:30 AM
(16) Clemson
Navy 9/6/14 12:00 PM
Temple
UAB 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Miss State
South Alabama 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Kent State
New Mexico St 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Colorado 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Fresno State 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Utah
(1) Eastern Wash 9/6/14 2:00 PM
(25) Washington
(15) USC 9/6/14 2:30 PM
(11) Stanford
Ohio U 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Middle Tennessee 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Minnesota
Northern Ill 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Missouri State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Ball State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Iowa
Maryland 9/6/14 2:30 PM
So Florida
Eastern Mich 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Florida
Georgia Tech 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Tulane
(18) Ole Miss 9/6/14 3:30 PM
Vanderbilt
Old Dominion 9/6/14 5:00 PM
NC State
(8) Michigan State 9/6/14 5:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(19) Arizona State 9/6/14 6:00 PM
New Mexico
Louisiana Tech 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana
San Jose St 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(6) Auburn
East Carolina 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(9) So Carolina
Duke 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Troy
Idaho 9/6/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(17) Sam Houston St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(13) LSU
Michigan 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
Lamar 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(21) Texas A&M
Northwestern St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
BYU 9/6/14 6:30 PM
Texas
Citadel 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(1) Florida State
San Diego St 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Virginia Tech 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(5) Ohio State
Memphis 9/6/14 9:00 PM
(7) UCLA
Colorado State 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Boise State
Air Force 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Wyoming
Oregon State 9/6/14 9:30 PM
Hawaii
Texas Tech 9/6/14 10:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Colorado 0 FINAL
Seattle 1
New England 3 FINAL
Toronto FC 0
Columbus 0 FINAL
Montreal 2
FC Dallas 0 FINAL
Chicago 1
Real Salt Lake 9:30 PM
San Jose
Portland 9:30 PM
Vancouver FC
Ottawa 10 FINAL
Montreal 20
Winnipeg 8/31/14 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Toronto 9/1/14 12:00 PM
Hamilton
Edmonton 9/1/14 3:30 PM
Calgary
Brt Columbia 9/5/14 6:30 PM
Ottawa
Calgary 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Edmonton
Hamilton 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Montreal
Saskatchewan 9/7/14 3:00 PM
Winnipeg
Chicago 70 FINAL
Indiana 77
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pm
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pm
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. TBA
Sep 27 - at Michigan TBA
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern TBA
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 am
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 am
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa TBA
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State TBA
Nov 22 - at Nebraska TBA
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin TBA

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Grade the Gophers in their season opener

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close