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Minnesota Football: Spring Position Previews - Defensive Back

The cornerback position is a big question mark for the Gophers

NCAA Football: Western Illinois at Minnesota Matt Blewett-USA TODAY Sports

With spring football practice underway at Minnesota, we’ll be breaking down each position group in the lead-up to the spring game at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 22.

2023 Defensive Backs Roster

Returning Starter(s): Tyler Nubin and Justin Walley
Other Returners: Darius Green, Coleman Bryson, Victor Pless, Rhyland Kelly, Tariq Watson, and Aidan Gousby
Spring Enrollees: Jack Henderson, Kerry Brown, and Garrison Monroe
Fall Enrollees: Za’Quan Bryan

Out the Door: Jordan Howden, Terell Smith, Michael Dixon, Beanie Bishop, Ryan Stapp, Jalen Glaze, and Steven Ortiz

Spring Defensive Backs Preview

It’s difficult to understate how much Tyler Nubin’s decision to return for one more season at Minnesota is going to impact this secondary. The All-Big Ten free safety gives the Gophers a veteran playmaker who can lead a defensive backfield replacing three starters.

Jordan Howden leaves perhaps the biggest shoes to fill at strong safety, where he was a five-year starter. Taking his place will be redshirt sophomore Darius Green, who saw action in all 13 games last season, even if it was primarily on special teams. He flashed his potential in the Pinstripe Bowl, recording five tackles, including one tackle for loss.

Redshirt freshman safety Bryson Coleman, who earned Pinstripe Bowl MVP honors after returning an interception 70 yards in his first career start, will serve as Nubin’s back-up.

At the cornerback, the situation is dire. Justin Walley returns for a third year as a starter, but Terell Smith is headed to the NFL. Beanie Bishop was expected to be compete for his starting spot but opted instead to transfer to West Virginia for his final season of eligibility. Ryan Stapp has decided to retire from football, removing another contender from the roster. That leaves redshirt junior Victor Pless and redshirt freshmen Rhyland Kelly and Tariq Watson.

Expect Minnesota to hit the portal hard in search of a cornerback when it re-opens in May.

Starting slot corner Michael Dixon decided to transfer to Rutgers, but the Gophers seem very happy with Southeastern transfer Jack Henderson taking over at that position. Redshirt junior Miles Fleming has been seeing second-string snaps at slot corner this spring.

NEXT: Special Teams