In our “Race to MAHturity” series, we will be highlighting Gopher football players who are expected to step up and take on a bigger role for Minnesota next season (whenever that may be).
Antoine Winfield Jr. is gone, headed to Tampa Bay for the start of what we hope is a long and decorated career in the NFL. How do you replace an All-American? It’s easier said than done, especially for a program like Minnesota that isn’t bringing in four- and five-star recruits year in and year out. The Gophers will certainly ask more of third-year starter Jordan Howden, but I know a lot of eyes will be on sophomore Tyler Nubin, who is the favorite to step in for Winfield as the other starting safety after seeing action on special teams and in late-game relief as a freshman.
His first collegiate pass break-up came against Illinois, late in the fourth quarter when he and Calvin Swenson subbed in for Antoine Winfield Jr. and Jordan Howden at the safety positions. Not a high stakes situation by any means, but Nubin made the most of the opportunity. Operating out of their base 4-2-5, the Gophers are in soft coverage, but Nubin is all over Fighting Illini receiver Kyron Cumby as he comes across the field on a climb route.
In the fourth quarter against Nebraska the following week, Nubin lined up at safety across from Huskers receiver Miles Jones on the wide side of the field and showed impressive coverage skills, sticking with Jones on a crossing route as quarterback Andrew Bunch rolled to his right. Nubin came in and was able to get his hand in there to swat the pass away.
As a true freshman, Nubin notched six tackles and recorded at least half of them as a member of the Gophers’ punt team. Head coach P.J. Fleck has frequently used special teams as a training ground for underclassmen linebackers and defensive backs.
Here, Nubin records his first collegiate tackle against Illinois, cleaning up for Brady Weeks and Benny Sapp by wrapping up Cumby and dragging him to the ground:
Against Nebraska, in one of his rare tackles in the secondary, Nubin is slow to recognize the run play, but to his credit does not let getting chipped by the receiver stop him from making the tackle.
I’m not going to compare a true freshman to Winfield, who possesses an uncanny ability to diagnose plays quickly and get himself in a position to make a play, but I think this is something that will simply have to improve with age and experience for Nubin.
At 6’2”, 205 lbs. and with a wingspan that seems longer than his height, Nubin looks the part. But it’s the mental aspect of the game that he’ll need to continue to work on, and that will improve with more game experience. The coaching staff certainly made it a priority for him to see the field last season, as he played on all four special teams units and was the only non-specialist freshman to burn his redshirt. Nubin will also benefit from learning under safeties coach Joe Harasymiak, who helped Jordan Howden take a huge leap between his freshman and sophomore seasons.
I don’t think we’ll be saying, “Antoine who?” at any point next season, but I don’t think it’ll be long before Nubin develops into a playmaker in his own right.