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Season Preview: Defensive backs

Ed Note: During our look ahead to the 2008 Gophers, we've laid out the best/worst case scenario for 2008, offered profiles of Ted Roof and Mike Dunbar and taken a closer look at the offensive line, and wide receivers   Today: defensive backs. 

When the Gophers host Northern Illinois on the 30th, Gopher fans are going to need a roster in hand, especially when NIU has the ball.  There are massive changes to the defensive starting lineup this year and there is nearly 100% turnover in the defensive backfield.  Let me give you a head start on memorizing some numbers...

Returning from 2007

#27 - Kyle Theret - likely starter at SS
#24 - Marcus Sherels - former WR now likely starter at CB
#2 - Ryan Collado - starter in 07, likely backup in 08

New for 2008

#1 - Tramaine Brock - JUCO starting at FS and has been praised early and often
#15 - Traye Simmons - JUCO starter at CB
#11 - Troy Stoudermire - true freshman and backup CB
#4 - Keanon Cooper - true freshman and backup SS
#25 - Tim Dandridge - true freshman back up at FS and CB

Commit those numbers to memory or highlight your program so you don't miss any big plays while scanning the roster.

I'm sure many of you remember the popular Twins marketing campaign of "Get to Know 'em."  Back when the Twins were terrible they brought in a talented young core of guys like Hunter, Koskie, J. Jones, Meintkiewicz, Guzman, Santana, etc.  It was a clever little tool to introduce fans to their eventual AL Central champs. 

Well, Gopher fans lets have some fun with this as it is time to get to know your Gopher secondary.  We'll start with the starters.

(imagine booming, boxer announcer voice..)

"Starting at free safety, coming to Minnesota from the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  Tramaine is his name and stopping hurricanes or Bit Ten receivers is his game.  He's #1 on his jersey and he'll be #1 in your hearts...TRAMAINE BROCK!"

During the recruiting process Brock was not receiving the same hype or fan anticipation as Traye Simmons (more on BPT below).  But starting with spring practice Brock has received praise every time Brewster has had the opportunity to give it.  This may make some of you squeamish after hearing Brewster praise Harold Howell and Duran Cooley a year ago.  But this feels different to me because the praise started coming AFTER he proved it on the practice field. 

Brock has been described as fast and hard hitting.  He's been clocked with sub 4.4 times in the 40 and should immediately bring different level of speed/athleticism to the secondary.  Expectations are rapidly rising for the junior but  he won't change this pass defense on his own.  He should be a significant upgrade and I'm really looking forward to watching him.

"At the other safety, you'll remember him as your leading INT man...#27, KYLE "the thief" THERET!"

In his freshman season Theret made six starts, led the team in interceptions (3) and won the team's prestigious "Outstanding First Year Defensive Player Award."  Theret is not one who is going to wow you with his tangibles (specifically speed), but I think he has the intangibles to be a very good strong safety at this level.  He is a sure tackler, which was rare on this defense, who I expect will be in the right place at the right times in his second season.  In 2007 he was arguably our best defensive back, in 2008 if he is our weak link in the backfield then things will be better for the defense.

"He's no longer a receiver, he's your starting corner.  Weighing in at 5'11", 166, he's one of us folks...MARCUS "don't call me little" SHERELS!"

Sherels isn't new to the Gopher program, but by now you know he is brand new to the defense.  After spending his first two seasons as a rarely used wide receiver, the former walk-on seems to have found a home on the defense.  During the spring practices Sherels was moved to corner and not only has remained there he appears to be excelling.  I am always skeptical of shuffling players around so I'm not sure if I'm sold on Sherels yet.  He wasn't ever going to be a factor on offense so maybe his size and quickness will lend to him being a good corner.  I was really surprised to see him sitting atop the depth chart ahead of last year's starter Collado.  It will be interesting to see how effective he'll be.

"And finally, at the other corner.  Coming to us from Pasadena, hoping to take us back there.  He's your West Coast Wonder, your Four-Star SUPER-star...Big Play TRAYE SIMMONS!"

BPT is one of the more highly anticipated members of Brewster's 2008 recruiting class.  One of the top JUCO corners by all recruiting services who originally signed with Clemson out of high school and chose Minnesota over offers from Cal, Florida, Purdue and others.

Very little has been said about Simmons during August, which leads me to believe that he will not live up to the expectations.  Like the rest of the defensive backfield, we have not seen him on the field and really have no idea what to expect.  Simmons has the tools to be a reliable corner in the Big Ten, but until we see it, I'm not going to get too excited.

Backups (with less fanfare)

FS - Tim Dandridge

True freshman who is known for speed and has good size to go with it (6'1").  Dandridge could be used as a corner as well, but the initial depth chart listed TD as the back up free safety.  If Brock is as good as advertised I don't think we'll see a lot of Dandridge in Big Ten games.

SS - Keanon Cooper

The headliner of the Skyline 4.  Cooper is a true freshman who may push Theret for the starting spot.  The U of M site says Cooper is versatile, has great closing speed, is a sure tackler and "packs a punch."  Brewster and staff beat out schools like Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Miami, Wisconsin and a late push from Michigan for Cooper's services.  His resume looks great and now it will be fun to see how he performs.

CB - Ryan Collado

Started nine games as a true freshman in 2007.  As I watched the games I thought his coverage skills improved towards the end of the year, but for most of the season it was hard to watch.  A full year of strength training and experience should help Collado a ton and I'm sure we'll see #2 on the field for quite a few snaps in 2008. 

CB - Troy Stoudermire

The third true freshman among the four back up d-backs and the second from Skyline.  Stoudermire was a phenominal athlete in high school racking up passing yards, rushing yards and receiving yards for the Skyline Raiders.  As a junior (attending another high school) he led the Dallas area in rushing with over 2,100 yards and 26 TDs.  ESPN Insider describes him as explosive with great feet and overall quickness.  Those are great skills to have in a corner.  Stoudermire is probably more of a project than the rest of they guys listed above but he might also have some of the more dangerous skills to develop into a good CB.

So that is your 2008 defensive backfield.  I'm really looking forward to watching them and seeing if the pass defense will be better.  On one hand it HAS to be better because it can't get any worse.  On the other hand if it is the same or only slightly better it is still one of the worst in the country.

What I am really looking to see is some tighter coverage pre-snap rather than the 8 yard cushion we are used to seeing.  If these guys can impose some will on the receivers and make the QB check down occasionally it will be a big step in the right direction.  This year's backfield should be faster, which helps, but it is also inexperienced at this level.

This, to me, is the most intriguing position to watch on Ted Roof's defense.