If the Minnesota secondary didn't have the respect from opponents in 2014, they've certainly earned it heading into the 2015 campaign. The Gophers return one of the deepest and talented crop of defensive backs, not only in the Big Ten but also in the country.
The driving force behind the secondary, defensive backs coach Jay Sawvel, has had a history with developing playmakers. Sawvel has worked exclusively with former Gopher greats Cedric Thompson and Brock Vereen who both have taken their talents to the professional ranks with the Miami Dolphins and Chicago Bears in the past two years, respectively.
The senior-laden core of Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Antonio Johnson, Eric Murray and Damarius Travis all return after an impressive campaign in 2014, holding opposing offenses to 193.5 passing yards which ranked 18th in the nation. The squad also tied for 23rd in the country by picking off 15 passes, two of which were returned for touchdowns.
Boddy-Calhoun led the team last season with five interceptions which tied for third on the program's all-time single-season record. Both Boddy-Calhoun (first team) and Murray (second team) were recognized as all-conference performers while the pairing of Johnson and Travis combined for 94 tackles and eight pass breakups a season ago.
Not only has the group of four been productive between the lines but also as leaders for the underclassmen in the defensive backfield and the rest of the defense as a whole.
Redshirt juniors Cavonte Johnson, John McKelvey, Jalen Myrick and Ace Rogers round out the list of experienced members of the secondary. Myrick recorded 21 tackles and added an interception while also serving as the Big Ten's second-best return man, averaging 28.2 yards per kick return. C. Johnson and McKelvey have both served as special teams contributors, while Rogers is a newly-christened Gopher after transferring from Iowa Western Community College.
Second-year players Adekunle Ayinde, Craig James, Duke McGhee and Alexander Starks are all eligible to play and will also be looking to make an impact early in their careers. James played in all 13 games a year ago, tallying eight tackles and three breakups while McGhee and Ayinde saw action in nine and seven games, respectively.
Head coach Jerry Kill and the staff added seven supremely talented freshmen to an already gifted secondary. Ray Buford, Blake Cashman, Zo Craighton, KiAnte Hardin, Jacob Huff, Dior Johnson and Antonio Shenault all make up the future of the Gophers defensive backfield and have already drawn praise from Coach Kill and the leaders of the group.
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