The 2011 Golden Gophers are not necessarily a senior-laden team. But the defensive backfield is one area of the team that will have good senior leadership.
Sixth-year senior Kim Royston has returned at safety after missing last season with a broken leg. Senior Shady Salamon, who started two games at running back as a true freshman, has emerged at safety as well. Meanwhile, one cornerback spot will most likely be held down by senior Troy Stoudermire.
That experience will come in handy when it comes to the mentality of being a defensive back, according to defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys.
"It's probably the toughest job (on the defense)," Claeys said. "You're having to cover some great athletes in space. They just gotta remember, not everybody has a great day back there. Usually the best ones have a short memory. So far, it seems like most of them handle the short memory pretty good. The play's over and they seem to let it go and come back. That's the important thing, because you're going to have a few bad plays back there with the people you have to cover."
The unquestioned leader of the defensive backfield is Royston. According to Claeys, the former Cretin-Derham Hall standout and former Gopher captain has grabbed hold of the leadership role.
"Kim (Royston) has done a great job of getting them on the straight and narrow," Claeys said. "That position takes a lot of experience, because they're the quarterbacks back there. They've got to get everybody lined up and make sure they communicate. (Kim's) age and maturity is a huge plus. Hopefully the other kids will learn from him, so when he's done playing they can continue those same things."
While Royston is the leader, Stoudermire may be the best athlete in the secondary. The converted wide receiver and record-setting kick returner knows there are expectations on him coming into his final year for the Gophers.
"Switching over to defense last year at the end of the season, I made some plays," Stoudermire said. "But this year, I've been going really hard and focusing really hard. I've got the defense down. (Secondary) coach (Jay) Sawvel has been doing a great job of getting me one-on-one focus on the playbook."
Claeys said Stoudermire is continuing to develop. Claeys said he has been impressed with Stoudermire's work ethic since the new coaching staff arrived at Minnesota.
"I don't know that people realize how much time he puts in off the field, watching film," Claeys said. "It's important to him. I'm excited to watch him progress. If he stays healthy and continues to work, I think he can be pretty special."
Sawvel said Salamon still has room to improve throughout this season, despite the fact that he's a senior.
"Shady Salamon has been a guy at safety, who has played a lot of different positions, done a lot of different things" Salamon said. "But he has never really had a chance to play safety in games here at Minnesota. So, we're excited to see him play."
While the secondary is full of upperclassmen, Sawvel said an underclassman has had one of the best camp performances this summer.
"I think Brock Vereen has had a tremendous camp," Sawvel said of the sophomore. "He really has improved dramatically from the spring to now. He had a solid spring. He may have been so far as consistent as anybody we've had in the secondary all throughout camp."
Sawvel also mentioned Michael Carter, freshman Derrick Wells and senior Kyle Henderson as having good skill sets, playing well throughout camp and providing solid depth.
>Monday was scheduled to be the final two-a-day of fall camp. But head coach Jerry Kill said after practice Monday that there may be more. "We may come back twice Wednesday. We'll just have to see. That's not punishment for the kids. It's more repetition for some people that we need to see."
>Kill said he was pretty pleased after watching the film from Saturday's scrimmage. "We were better than we were Tuesday. We were much better from Tuesday to Saturday, on both sides of the ball. I thought the kicking game was really good, which maybe surprised me a little bit. Hopefully that continues to go well."
>Kill said the Gophers will really focus in on beginning to game-plan for USC by about Wednesday of this week.