You might not believe this but the Gopher pass defense actually ranked 4th in the Big Ten last year. 4th place appears to be a good number, one spot higher than the prior year when we finished 5th. But looks can be very deceiving. In 2010 we did finish 4th in overall pass defense, BUT...there were only 280 pass attempts against our pass defense. The next fewest attempts against was 345 against Indiana and 391 was the Big Ten average. 65 fewer attempts is an awful lot and the obvious answer as to why is that teams averaged over 5 yards per rushing attempt against our defense. When you can get a first down every other play on the ground there is very little reason to pass, regardless of how weak our pass defense is.
So a year ago when we did the CB upgrade/downgrade post we agreed that this group was somewhere in between a downgrade (36% of the vote) and neutral (38% of the vote). Gross stats indicate it was about neutral, even after the loss of Marcus Sherels and Traye Simmons. But looking deeper, i.e. far fewer attempts with same total yards allowed, indicates that the pass defense was worse. The 2010 defense gave up 8.6 yards per opponent's pass attempt. In 2009 that number was 7.0. Two things worth noting. The first is that even though we finished 4th overall in passing yards allowed, if teams would have thrown on us more they would have racked up a LOT more yards through the air (but again they gained 5 yards per rush so why bother throwing?). Secondly, it is obvious that corners are not the only guys responsible for slowing down opponents passing games. They are vital, but the safeties need to cover guys and provide help over the top to prevent big plays.
So the question is going to be, are the 2011 corners going to be an upgrade over the 2010 corners. The characters are essentially the same, will they be better? Last year was a revolving door at staring corner. Ryan Collado started quite a few games at corner as well as plenty at safety. Troy Stoudermire, Michael Carter, Kyle Henderson and Brock Vereen all had starting roles at corner throughout the season. I felt that Carter was the one, sure fire thing in the secondary but that was clearly wrong. This year?
The corners are anchored by a former wide receiver. This may sound really bad on the surface but I think we are fortunate that Troy Stoudermire made the move to corner last year. This move/experiment was successful with Marcus Sherels. That kid could cover and may even earn a roster spot with the Vikings this year; but he hit like he was a receiver. Troy Stoudermire is attempting to make the same transition. He has natural instincts, covers well, is quick and he likes to hit. There have been numerous reports during spring and fall camps that Stoudermire has been laying the wood. He has a chance to be very good and really help this defense out. He will be better than anything we had at corner a year ago.
Opposite of Stoudermire will likely be Brock Vereen to start the year. Vereen got valuable experience last year as a true freshman. Often times it wasn't pretty but he has nowhere to go but up and at least early in camp he appeared to be the leading candidate to start. I'd like to believe that Vereen is in position to take some big steps forward in his sophomore year to really help this defense out, but I was burned by that belief a year ago with Carter. I like Vereen's size and I think he has the tools to be pretty good. I expect better than last year.
The first guy off the bench is likely going to be Michael Carter. The junior had a very good freshman season followed by an awful sophomore season that saw him eventually get suspended and many assumed he would be a transfer casualty with the coaching change. But Carter stuck around through spring ball which saw him earn the dubious pink "Minnesota Loafers" t-shirt. Again, many assumed being in Kill's doghouse would end in Carter's transfer. But to his credit Carter has stuck it out and appears to have his head on straight. I believe that he will be out to prove his sophomore year was a fluke and he will at least become reliable and I won't be shocked if he is starting by the end of the year. He is one guy I'd love to see step up and surprise all of us.
Kyle Henderson appeared in all 12 games last year and started two of them. The former Minnesota State-Mankato Maverick proved last year to be a valuable depth guy. But I fear the more playing time he gets, the more dire our situation is in the defensive backfield. The senior is reliable and will certainly get playing time throughout the year.
Tyrone Bouie sat out last year as a redshirt and figures to be in the mix for a little playing time. The Florida native has good size as a 6 foot corner and at least out of high school he was known as a good tackler from the corner position. If he develops into a reliable pass defender he will get plenty of snaps and eventually will be a regular contributor, just not likely this year.
Derek Wells is a true freshman who has been having a good fall camp. He may earn PT as a true freshman but I would hope that he gets a year to develop and then still have 4 years of eligibility. If he can help? Let him play but he better get a lot of snaps.
Overall I think this unit will be a pretty good upgrade over last year. Troy Stoudermire has some real talent and could be one of the better corners in the conference. I also believe that Carter and Vereen are primed to take big steps forward from a year ago. I'm fairly confident in those three guys. Depth at corner, like every other position on the defense, is a significant issue but it was a year ago. Comparing 2010 to 2011, I believe this group will be an upgrade.