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Minnesota Football 2021 Preview of Gophers at Safety Upgrade or Downgrade

Will the Safety position be an upgrade or a downgrade for Gopher football?

Minnesota Golden Gophers remain undefeated after winning against Penn State Photo by Mark Vancleave /Star Tribune via Getty Images

The final position group on defense and ONCE AGAIN it is a scenario where everyone is back. Is that going to lead to big things? How about if we just settle for an upgrade.

How did I do last year?


I predicted a slight downgrade, which was very clearly more than slight.

I’m excited about Nubin, I really think that he will make a name for himself in this secondary. Will he be an All-American? Not likely. But is it really a disappointment to “just” have a guy who eventually becomes an All-Big Ten caliber safety? I think he’ll be that guy. But there will be growing pains. Losing Winfield is significant, but Nubin is going to be good.

Howden just needs to be the leader of this unit, making the plays as they come to him.

Nubin struggled in his first year of significant playing time and Howden struggled leading the secondary. It wasn’t a disaster but the loss of Winfield was significant.


Starter: Jordan Howden, Tyler Nubin
Depth: Calvin Swenson, Michael Dixon,

Howden and Nubin were the fixtures at safety last season. And they were fine (forgive the lack of in-depth analysis beyond “fine,” but sometimes that is an adequate descriptor). Dixon was a true freshman who saw action in 5 games, getting his feet wet. And Swenson has proven to be reliable throughout his career.

Statistically the 2020 safeties were not terribly far off from the 2019 production, at least in terms of tackling. Winfield Jr & Howden averaged a combined 11.2 tackles per game and in 2020 Nubin & Howden combined for 11 per game, finishing 2nd and 3rd on the team in tackles. So their contributions to the defense were not minimal.

What was lacking was the game changing plays that you often got from a healthy Winfield. He and Howden had 8 picks in 2019 (7 from Winfield and 1 HUGE pick from Howden). Last fall it was Nubin and Howden combining for 1 pick a total of 0.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.


Starter: Jordan Howden, Tyler Nubin
Depth: Calvin Swenson, Michael Dixon, Darius Green

And they are all back with the addition of true freshman Green.

When it comes to the starters, there are two key areas of improvement needed. Howden needs to be the leader of the backend of this defense. Nubin needs to become more of a playmaker.

Nubin, as stated above, was the team’s 2nd leading tackler last year in his first year of starting. Next step for him is to make some plays that help get his defense off the field.

There is a little buzz around Dixon who will be in the mix for playing time after getting in just a few games last year. At the very least he can be eased into the rotation and get ready to start next season.


Time and experience are wonderful things in college football. The Gophers return all of their experience at this position and gain a year of time to develop and improve.

I would call this an upgrade over last year, simply because of the time and experience factors. I am completely comfortable with Nubin and Howden patrolling the back-end of the secondary.


Upgrade or Downgrade: The Gophers safeties in 2021?

This poll is closed

  • 66%
    UPGRADE: Time and experience are always on our side
    (131 votes)
  • 32%
    NEUTRAL: Expect about the same
    (65 votes)
  • 1%
    DOWNGRADE: There just may be a step back here
    (2 votes)
198 votes total Vote Now