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2020 Minnesota Gopher Football Preview: Upgrade or downgrade at cornerback?

Coney Durr and Benjamin St-Juste are ready to improve the CB position.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 28 Minnesota at Purdue Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Maybe the one position group on the defensive side of the ball that returns the most experience. The corners and nickelback for your Gopher defense are familiar names.

2018

Starter: Coney Durr, Benjamin St-Juste, Chris Williamson
Depth: Terell Smith, Phillip Howard, Kiondre Thomas, Justus Harris

Not everyone returns from the 2019 crew. Chris Williamson was your starting nickel and he currently site on the New York Giants practice squad. As defenses evolve to more and more sets with the nickel back, Williamson was essentially a starter. Kiondre Thomas is also gone from this group.

But the real story of the 2019 corners was the breakout of St-Juste and the return of Durr. Both were very good corners and both were incredibly underrated within the conference. The two of these guys tied for the team lead with 10 pass breakups and both were Honorable Mention All-Big Ten.

Smith looked the part of a future All-Big Ten corner when he started 9 games in 2018 as a true freshman. a legit 6’1” and sprinter speed who was learning to be a corner in the Big Ten. But his sophomore year was less spectacular. Still learning, still a valuable contributor in 2019.

Harris, as a junior, played in all 13 games and Phillip Howard was in his first season after switching from WR to CB.

2020

Starter: Coney Durr, Benjamin St-Juste, Justus Harris
Depth: Terell Smith, Phillip Howard, Solomon Brown, Victor Pless (FR)

Returning are Durr and St-Juste for what will hopefully be elite seasons for both of them. Durr burst on the scene later in his freshman season but tore his ACL at the end of that season. His return to being an elite corner has been slow but in 2019 he was very good. Expectations for the senior are rather high.

St-Juste is an unusual graduate transfer from Michigan. A 4-star recruit out of high school, he played as a true freshman in 2017 and then redshirted for Michigan in 2018. But he was able to earn a degree in those two school years and was a grad transfer to Minnesota with 3 years of eligibility. After really establishing himself as the Gopher’s best cover corner throughout the 2019 season, the 6’3” Canadian native has 2 years remaining to dominate in the Big Ten (if he chooses not to leave).

Then we get to nickel where the job likely goes to Harris until he loses it or Brown takes it from him. This position is a question mark.

Depth at both of the outside spots will certainly belong to Smith. His playing time was hindered last year as Durr and St-Juste took those starting spots and wouldn’t let go. Smith is very talented, with 2 years of experience and should be just fine when called upon. This may very well be the year he takes leaps forward. And Phillip Howard has been elite on special teams while growing into the corner position. After those names it would come down to Victor Pless or Miles Flemming, both true freshmen.

Upgrade / Downgrade

This unit, I will confidently call an upgrade. We know exactly what we are going to get with our starting corners and I firmly believe that Smith is going to be a starting caliber CB for this team. One who will make plays, giving the staff three very good outside corners. At nickel, there will need to be some development and there will likely be a dip in run help from this spot. But overall, I’m very confident in the 2020 Gopher corners/nickel. This unit will be a slight upgrade.

Poll

Will the 2020 Gopher corners be an improvement over 2019?

This poll is closed

  • 65%
    UPGRADE: Main guys are back and ready to be elite again
    (96 votes)
  • 28%
    NEUTRAL: Should be very good...again.
    (42 votes)
  • 5%
    DOWNGRADE: Expect a step back.
    (8 votes)
146 votes total Vote Now