MANKATO — The Minnesota State football team is looking for some help in the back end of the defense.
The Mavericks could use some starters, certainly depth. Spring football is all about developing depth, determining if the proper players are already on the roster or if the coaching staff needs to look for a transfer or two to plug some holes.
"We really need to grow on every snap," Minnesota State coach Todd Hoffner said. "As a defense, this spring is crucial for development. We need to take a step forward at every practice."
Minnesota State held its first contact drills of spring practice earlier this week, and the coaching staff is looking hard at the roster, determining which veterans are preparing properly and which younger players could move into more prominent roles.
"Some guys are going to get a lot of reps this spring," Hoffner said.
There are some depth positions available at linebacker. Alex Goettl, who is practicing but hasn't been cleared for contact after offseason shoulder surgery, figures to return at one starting position, and Michael Palme, another returning starter, isn't participating in spring practice to preserve his final semester of eligibility for the fall. Last season's starter Brendan Chrystal has graduated.
"We lost a lot of big pieces on defense, guys who made a lot of big plays," Goettl said. "It's early, but there are some young guys who are improving."
The Mavericks allowed 15.8 points last season, third best in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. But five of the top seven tacklers were seniors, leaving a void on the field and in the locker room.
"Leadership is a work in progress," Hoffner said. "I'm seeing glimpses of it, but it needs to be stronger and more consistent."
Safety is another area of concern, with starters Jerry Nash and Corey Brent, who accounted for 134 tackles and eight turnovers, having graduated. Sophomore Cade Johnson got some playing time last season, while sophomore Amiri Finner and redshirt freshman Joey Roth will be trying to convince the coaching staff that they can perform up to standards.
"We only get 15 opportunities to get better (in the spring)," Goettl said. "You have to make the most out of every rep."
Memories of last season's final game, leading in the fourth quarter before losing to eventual national champion Texas A&M Commerce, is a motivating factor, even though the season-opener is more than four months away.
"It was tough, knowing we were so close," Goettl said. "We struggled with tackling last year so that's a big emphasis this spring."
Hoffner said the defense missed 28 tackles that day, and there were 12 missed tackles by special-teams units. There will be 12 more practices before the annual spring game April 21, and he hopes to have filled in the two-deep roster by then.
"A lot is yet to be determined," Hoffner said. "Every team is different. Every season is different. There are so many dynamics that go into a 13-win season. That's our goal .. to play beyond regional championships."
Notes: Offensive lineman Sam Schrauth has decided not to use his final season of eligibility and will graduate in May. Schrauth has played in 34 of 37 games in the last three seasons. ... Running back Jace Franklin, who rushed for 244 yards and one touchdown in five games as a true freshman, left Minnesota State after fall semester.
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