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Minnesota Football 2017 Preview: Secondary Upgrade / Downgrade

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A dearth of upperclassmen in the secondary, are we downgrading from last year a bit?

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Colorado State Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

Time for the position group that has been decimated by attrition. All hope is not lost, but let us dig into the details and see if this group projects to be an upgrade or a downgrade?

2016

Starter: Jalen Myrick, Damarius Travis, Antoine Winfield Jr., Kiante Hardin
Depth: Duke McGhee, Antonio Shenault, Adekunle Ayinde, Ray Buford, Coney Durr, Kiondre Thomas (redshirted), Dior Johnson, Ace Rogers, Zo Craighton

Jalen Myrick and Damarius Travis were both All-Big Ten caliber players in the Gopher secondary. Both earning All-B1G honorable mention honors last season after both seniors started all 13 games. Travis led the Gopher defense in tackles and Myrick was the team’s primary corner ending the year with 11 pass breakups. They were the heart of a Gopher secondary that was pretty good.

Antoine Winfield Jr came in as a true freshman and made an immediate impact, eventually starting nine games. The Texas native and son of the former Viking great finished the year with 52 tackles, 1 fumble recovery and an 82-yard pick-six at Maryland.

And at the other corner it was most often Kiante Hardin getting the start in seven games while Antonio Shenault started 5.

At safety there were significant contributions from Duke McGhee, who started seven games, but he was often unavailable after targeting calls. Ayinde was often used, playing in 10 games. And at corner we had senior Ace Rogers, Ray Buford and Dior Johnson all getting reps. True freshman Coney Durr also played in 7 games, starting once.

There were a lot of names to potentially fill in the 2 open spots after Myrick and Travis, but many of those are now gone due to the sexual harassment scandal that made national news, putting the Gophers in the national spotlight heading into their bowl game with Washington State.

2017

Starter: Kiandre Thomas, Antoine Winfield Jr., Duke McGhee, Antonio Shenault
Depth: Coney Durr, Adekunle Ayinde, Jacob Huff, Zo Craighton
Freshmen: Adam Beck, Ken Handy-Holly, Justus Harris, Rey Estes

So the fallout from the scandal as well as graduation has left the Gopher secondary decimated.

I’ll start with safety where there is at least a little depth and a couple of solid starters. Winfield is primed for a breakout season and establishing himself as one of the best safeties in the conference. It is really easy to get carried away with hyperbole at this time of year when writing positional previews, but I really do think he is that good. Duke McGhee was actually quite good last year as well when he was on the field. Assuming he can stay on the field, he’ll be sure to take the other safety spot and lock it down.

Starting at corner should be Shenault and Thomas. Shenault started 5 games last year and will be pressed into significant action this year as arguably our best corner. Currently dealing with injuries in Fall camp, but assuming good health, he’ll be starting. On the other side is likely to be Thomas who redshirted last season.

Depth at corner is incredibly thin, with question marks. Craighton is going to be the first guy off the bench. As a redshirt sophomore he played sparingly last year and will be counted on in 2017 to be a regular contributor. I love his 6’1”, 200 lb frame to battle with larger Big Ten receivers.

True freshmen Justus Harris and Rey Estes (a converted quarterback) will very likely be relied upon for significant minutes. These two are currently what we expect to see backing up Shenault and Thomas. And the hope is that Coney Durr can recover from an ACL injury and be a factor later in the season. He is cleared to play and participating in practice but reports are that he is not operating at full speed yet. Adam Beck is also a true freshman who may contribute but due to academic issues he has not yet enrolled at the U. He is expected to be on campus and ready to participate any day now, but he will be a couple weeks behind everyone else.

For depth at safety it is going to be senior Ayinde (who likely comes in on nickle situations) and Jacob Huff. This position at least has some experienced depth behind Winfield and McGhee. And then Ken Handy-Holly has been turning heads in camp and will probably be playing this season as a true freshman. I do feel much better about depth at safety than I do at corner.

Upgrade/Downgrade

This position is a certain downgrade after being such a strength for the Gopher defense for so many seasons. Too much attrition by expired eligibility and transfers. If everyone stays healthy and improves from last year, it won’t be too bad. There are a lot of names with little experience so there is going to be a lot of learning on the job and depth is going to be razor thin, particularly at corner.

The bright spot is really going to be Winfield. He is a treat to watch and you will see 2017 as his coming out party. But the entire backfield as a unit is going to be a downgrade.

Poll

Secondary Upgrade/Downgrade

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    Upgrade - young studs will prove you wrong GN
    (20 votes)
  • 70%
    Downgrade - just lost too much
    (167 votes)
  • 21%
    Neutral - you’ll see, just you wait
    (50 votes)
237 votes total Vote Now