But with the Gophers, Kill has an extra security blanket when it comes to the defensive backs - at least for this season anyway. Kill, Sawvel and defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys have been the beneficiaries of an NCAA decision to grant safety Kim Royston a sixth year of eligibility.
Kill has often mentioned that Royston will be one of the lynchpins of the defense. Due to his age and experience, the 50-year-old head coach has also joked that the 24-year-old Royston is "close to my age." But most helpful is Royston's maturity, experience and willingness to help his teammates.
"Kim, he's older, he's been in it for six years, he's had the ups and downs, all the things kids do as young people, he's already done and understands that," Kill said. "(He) is ... kind of like a coach, so to speak, on the field. We need him to stay healthy and we need him to play well. But there's no question that he's an important cog in what we do, certainly the back end."
It's interesting that Kill touts him as being like a coach on the field, because Royston has coach-speak down. The sixth-year senior sounded like he was channeling Kill as he met with the media following the head coach's press conference Tuesday afternoon.
"I'm not going to put any numbers to it, wins and losses," Royston said when asked about expectations for this year's team. "But I think we expect to play hard, play physical and play to win every game. If we do that, the rest will take care of itself."
Claeys hopes what Royston brings to the table will rub off on his teammates, not only this season but in the future.
"Kim 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. His 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."
Kill told me recently that he may not name captains until the end of the season, saying he just didn't know enough about the team and the individuals on the team just yet. But virtually every time Kill is asked about leadership, Royston's name comes up. Whether it's tomorrow or at the end of the season, my money is on Royston to be named a captain when Kill pulls the trigger on that decision.
"As far as somebody jumping out, certainly Kim has done some good things," Kill said. "I would tell you that through the summer, I think Royston did a great job."
Royston's broken leg in the spring of 2010, the questions about his possible return for the 2010 season and his sixth year of eligibility being granted are all well-documented. After having gone through all of that, Royston just can't wait to get back out the field in maroon and gold.
"It's been a long time coming ... a lot of rehab, a lot of ups and downs," Royston said. "But after having a year off, I'm definitely ready to get back out there and stick my nose into some stuff."
He'll get his chance to do just that Saturday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Click the video below to see more of Kim's comments during Tuesday's press conference.