Minnesota Gophers defense: What will it look like in 2022?

Minnesota Golden Gophers defensive back Justin Walley (0) breaks up a pass to Wisconsin Badgers wide receiver Kendric Pryor (3) in the second quarter at Huntington Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn.  ((Photo by Matt Blewett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images))

The University of Minnesota football team finished the 2021 season 9-4 after beating West Virginia in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl 18-6.

The defense, minus a second quarter touchdown, capped off an impressive season with one of its most dominant games of the year against the Mountaineers in Arizona. That’s after the Gophers contained Wisconsin star Braelon Allen to a season-low 55 rushing yards in a 23-13 win to take back Paul Bunyan’s Axe.

The Gophers had one of the top defenses in the country in 2021, and one of the top rushing defenses in the Big Ten. So what will it look like in 2022? Here is a look at some of the key players at every level of the defense for 2022.


Boye Mafe, Esezi Otomewo, Nyles Pinckney and Micah Dew-Treadway are gone. Mafe and Otomewo are the most likely to have NFL futures. The two names back that most fans will recognize are DeAngelo Carter, and Thomas Rush. Carter had 20 tackles, five tackles for loss and one sack in 12 games. Rush had 31 tackles, 7.5 for a loss and 5.5 sacks in 13 games. They’ll also bring back Jah Joyner and Logan Richter, and they’ve added Lorenza Surgers out of Vanderbilt, Chris Smith out of Harvard and Darnell Jefferies from Clemson via the NCAA transfer portal.

Competition for playing time along the defensive line won't be lacking in spring football, or in fall camp.


The Gophers lose Jack Gibbens, one of the most consistent players on the defense in 2021. They bring back Mariano Sori-Marin and Braelin Oliver as the top returners at linebacker. Sori-Marin was second on the Gophers' defense behind Gibbens with 85 tackles, five tackles for loss, one interception and forced two fumbles in 13 games. Oliver had 24 tackles and a forced fumble in 13 games. The Gophers also bring back Donald Willis, Cody Lindenberg and Josh Aune.


The Gophers lose top defensive back Coney Durr, but should have plenty of talent in 2022. Justin Walley is back after a standout freshman season with 29 tackles, one interception, seven pass break-ups, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. Terrell Smith had 16 tackles and an interception in 10 games. Minnesota also added Ryan Stapp from Abilene Christian, the same school as Gibbens, and Beanie Bishop from Western Kentucky out of the transfer portal, and could get contributions from Jalen Glaze and Steven Ortiz. Other names to watch are Solomon Brown, and Miles Fleming.


The Gophers could have one of the top safety duos in the Big Ten in 2022, with Tyler Nubin and Jordan Howden. Nubin had 52 tackles, one sack and three interceptions in 13 games, and PJ Fleck said he was the most improved player on the defense in 2021. Howden had 43 tackles and five pass break-ups in 12 games. The Gophers will also get snaps from Michael "Flip" Dixon, who had 12 tackles in 13 games.

Minnesota had one of the better defenses in the country in 2021, and Fleck is hoping to build off that next season between young players emerging, returners getting more consistent and transfers making a splash.