Aug. 8, 2014
The Golden Gophers’ pass defense was a strength for the team in 2013, and could be even better this fall. The defensive backfield returns all but one starter. That one starter was All-Big Ten selection Brock Vereen, who is now a candidate to start for the Chicago Bears. But with Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Derrick Wells coming back healthy, the Gophers may be even more equipped than last year to contain opposing offenses.
Defensive backs coach Jay Sawvel oversaw a secondary that allowed 215.1 receiving yards per game to rank 35th nationally. The Gophers tallied 10 interceptions and allowed just 16 passing touchdowns in 13 games.
Senior Cedric Thompson leads the Gophers’ group of defensive backs as they look to build upon last year’s success. He started 11 games at safety last season, making a team-high 79 tackles, intercepting one pass and recovering two fumbles. In addition to his on-field production, Thompson has also taken on a more active leadership role.
Minnesota’s other starting safety from last year, junior Antonio Johnson, also returns. He started the last six games of 2013 after Vereen moved from safety to cornerback. Johnson made 69 tackles, broke up three passes, intercepted one and forced a fumble.
Eric Murray, who garnered All-Big Ten Honorable Mention as a sophomore, started every game at corner last fall. He recorded an impressive 10 pass break-ups, which tied for 11th all-time in the Gopher record books. Murray went up against some of the Big Ten’s top receivers last season, and will likely be called upon to do the same this year.
Boddy-Calhoun and Wells each started a few games in 2013, but were limited by injury. Both are healthy and ready to go during fall camp.
Boddy-Calhoun started at cornerback the first two games of the season before suffering a season-ending ACL tear at New Mexico State. He returned an interception 89 yards for a touchdown in the season opener against UNLV. Boddy-Calhoun participated on a limited basis in spring practice, and is fully immersed in fall camp.
Wells played in 10 games and started five at corner, but was hampered by an injury all season. His shoulder has felt strong and back to normal during camp. That will give Wells a better chance to make an impact the way he did as a safety in 2012, making 74 tackles and breaking up 10 passes.
Damarius Travis, Jalen Myrick, Grayson Levine, Marcus Jones and Steven Montgomery also return with playing experience, adding to the depth of one of Minnesota’s most effective areas of play. Travis played in every game last year, including two starts, and could challenge to start this year. Myrick, who has been heralded as one of the fastest Gophers on the roster, primarily played special teams last year and will look to expand his role in 2014. Jones is mostly known for his kick and punt returns, but also saw time on defense last year after switching from wide receiver. Levine played in all 13 games, and Montgomery in seven.
Minnesota has three redshirted defensive backs in Daletavious McGhee, Alexander Starks and Adekunle Ayinde who will all be eligible to play this fall. The Gophers also welcome true freshmen Craig James and Davis Anderson. James has earned praise from head coach Jerry Kill early in fall camp.
Video from Boddy-Calhoun in spring practice:
Audio from earlier in camp:
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Christenson, Mortell, Thomas awarded for outstanding academics by the National Football Foundation