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Minnesota Football: Coney Durr is in the business of breaking up passes

The 5’10” cornerback is one of the Gophers’ stingiest defenders

NCAA Football: Illinois at Minnesota Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Coney Durr committed to play for Jerry Kill, signed a letter of intent to play for Tracy Claeys, and will end his career at Minnesota playing for P.J. Fleck. The fifth-year senior has had a roller coaster tenure with the Gophers but he seems well suited to the “Row the Boat” culture, having started 21 games over the last two years after missing much of the 2016 season while he recovered from a torn anterior cruciate ligament and torn meniscus suffered in the 2016 Holiday Bowl.

Last year, Durr had his best season yet. By the end of October, he led all FBS cornerbacks with a 40% forced incompletion rate, according to Pro Football Focus. He finished the year with 33 tackles (21 solo), tied for the team lead with 10 pass breakups, and recorded a pick six against Maryland, earning All-Big Ten Honorable Mention recognition. Now he enters the 2020 season with his sights set on building a resume ahead of the NFL Draft.

Unlike fellow cornerback Benjamin St.-Juste, Durr is “undersized,” checking in at 5’10”. Today’s NFL scouts may be enamored with tall cornerbacks, but that does not mean vertically challenged cornerbacks can’t hack it. Length can be a boon at the line of scrimmage and when attacking the ball, but arguably more important are quick feet and fluid hips.

Fortunately for Durr — and the Gopher defense — he possesses both.

Late in the fourth quarter of the Penn State game, Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford went for the home run on 1st & 10 from the Minnesota 43. Wide receiver Dan Chisena, who is 6’3”, lined up on the short side of the field, isolated against Durr. It is a four wide receiver set, and the Gophers have four defensive backs in man coverage, with free safety Antoine Winfield Jr. helping over the top. Clifford goes through his progressions and forces Winfield to respect the three receivers on the wide side of the field, leaving Durr on an island as Chisena runs a fly route down the sideline.

Durr stays square with the line of scrimmage as he backpedals, before opening up his hips as Chisena breaks outside and streaks down the sideline. Clifford needs to put the ball out in front of Chisena but it ends up at his chest, and Durr hasn’t allowed nearly enough separation for him to catch that. Durr turns his head ever so slightly to see the ball, never breaking stride and losing Chisena, and gets his hand in there to break up the pass:

That “stickiness” as a cover corner makes it difficult for opposing receivers to get separation against Durr. He ran a 4.6 40 as a high school senior, so he does not have elite speed, but what he lacks in speed he makes up for in quickness and technique. Durr plays low at the line of scrimmage, which allows for a more seamless transition out of his backpedal. Quick feet and fluid hips are both critical to be able to turn and run with a receiver.

In the red zone against Purdue, the Boilermakers matched up 6’2” wide receiver David Bell against Durr on 3rd & Goal from the four-yard line. Bell seems to beat Durr off the line of scrimmage, gaining inside leverage on the slant. But Durr is able to accelerate and close the gap to erase any separation, reaching in with his left arm to bat the ball away:

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention that Durr is an exceptional open field tackler. He might actually be one of the best tacklers on the team. Not only can he bring down a receiver on his own, but he shows no hesitation to shoot out of his breaks and chop down ball carriers without stopping his feet. He has a downhill running style and flashes good speed to the ball, but perhaps his most elite skill is his ability to get low to the ground and make ankle tackles.

At his size, with his good coverage skills and ability to hold up in run support, Durr could be an intriguing nickel back prospect for the NFL. But for now, he’ll have to settle for being one half of one of the best cornerback tandems in the Big Ten this season.