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Minnesota Football: Spring Position Preview - Defensive Back

The Gophers have the talent to field a formidable secondary in the fall

NCAA Football: New Mexico State at Minnesota Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

I say, “SPRING,” you say, “POSITION PREVIEWS!”

I say, “SPRING,” you say, “POSITION PREVIEWS!”

That’s right. The hiatus is over. Football is back! Well, the spring version of football, at least. And in the weeks leading up to the Minnesota Golden Gophers’ spring game at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 13, at TCF Bank Stadium, we’ll be breaking down each position group.

Key Departure(s): Jacob Huff and Antonio Shenault
Key Returner(s): Antoine Winfield, Jr., Coney Durr, Terell Smith, Kiondre Thomas, Chris Williamson, Jordan Howden, Benjamin Sapp III, Justus Harris, C.J. Smith, and Calvin Swenson
Early Enrollee(s): Solomon Brown and Kelvin Clemmons

I don’t know how everyone else feels, but I’m very bullish about this group.

Antoine Winfield, Jr. is the star of the group, and I am hopeful he’ll make it past the Maryland game this year. (The third time is the charm!) There is a degree of uncertainty surrounding him at the safety position with the graduation of Jacob Huff, but sophomore Jordan Howden survived his trial by fire last season and sophomore Benny Sapp III is completely healthy and poised to make an impact in the secondary after playing special teams as a freshman. Depth is obviously a bit of a concern here, but redshirt freshman C.J. Smith is one to watch and JUCO defensive back Gervarrius Owens arrives in the summer for reinforcements.

At cornerback, the Gophers have Coney Durr, Kiondre Thomas, Terell Smith, and JUCO transfer Kelvin Clemmons all competing for two starting spots, but I suspect we’ll see a fair amount of rotation in the fall, regardless of which pair come out on top. I excluded senior Chris Williamson in that group because I think he’ll largely be used as a slot corner, a position in which he thrived late last season. I’m especially interested to see how Clemmons performs, because from what I’ve heard he seems to have the skillset of a physical corner like Eric Murray.

If Minnesota can stay healthy — no small task for this program — and develop a couple of the young but talented players at safety, this has the potential to be a deep bench.

Next: Special Teams