Return to Glory

Return to Glory

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Analyzing Depth at Safety

The whirlwind tour of Gophers positional depth ends with the last line of defense, the safety positions. First lets look back at 2011. The safety position began and ended with senior leader Kim Royston last year. He led the team with 123 tackles, 36 more tackles than the next closest teammate. However, that statistic is also a glaring red flag about the underwhelming performance of the Gophers defense in 2011. When the 3rd level of the defense is leading the tackles category it highlights that there were critical failures in the front seven. Also gone is Christyn Lewis and his 43 tackles, who graduated, and James Manuel due to a transition to outside linebacker. As a result, the Gophers enter 2012 with really no experienced safety on the roster.

Brock Vereen: is a junior from Valencia, California and measures at 6'0" 195 lbs. He started all 12 games last year at cornerback, but Jerry Kill has moved him to safety due to the lack of depth. Brock was a bright spot in 2012 as he stepped in and handled the cornerback role quite well. He racked up 67 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1 interception and 5 passes broken up. This position change is a quick and effective upgrade to the safety position. There is no question Brock has the size and speed to excel at safety and should start from Day 1.

Derrick Wells: is a sophomore from Lehigh Acres, Florida and weighs in at 6'0" 205 lbs. Derrick was a pleasant surprise last year, as he appeared in 11 games as a true freshman. Derrick has demonstrated that he is a versatile player that has the size to start at safety, which is why the transition from cornerback was made. I look for Derrick to be the other starting safety opposite Brock.

Kenny Watkins: is a junior from Detroit, Michigan and measures in at 6'0" 200 lbs. He only appeared in 3 as a reserve last year. Kenny is another player that bounced around a bit between corner and safety, but with the influx of JUCOs I expect Kenny to remain a fixture at safety moving forward. I don't expect Kenny to start, but  he should be one of the first guys off the bench and continue to see more action in a reserve role.

Grayson Levine: is hometown Minnesotan that will be a sophomore this year. Grayson played for Eden Praire High School and earned all state honors as a senior. He is 5'11" 195 lbs. ESPN ranked him the #117 safety in the country and the #7 player in the state of Minnesota. Grayson played in 5 games as a true freshman, again highlighting the lack of safety depth last year. It has quickly become clear that Grayson has the prototypical safety mental to play physical and thrive on delivering solid hits. Although he lacks elite athleticism, he has shown he can play smart and be a physical enforcer on the back end of the defense. He should be a solid contributor and provide needed depth to the position in upcoming years.

Cedric Thompson: is a sophomore from Calipatria, California and weighs in at 5'10" 205 lbs. Just like Derrick and Grayson, Cedric was pressed into service last year as a true freshman. Cedric saw action in 7 games and recorded 16 tackles. ESPN ranked Cedric as the #128 cornerback in the country. The other interesting fact is that his brother, Tedric, is a 2013 recruit that has the Gophers high on list. Tedric is another solid safety prospect that is seeing interest from Colorado, Georgia, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Oregon and USC. Cedric possess great athletic attributes and has shown as willingness to hit, so I see him continuing to grow into an effective safety.

Damarius Travis: is a true freshman from the 2012 recruiting class and will arrive on campus this fall. Damarius is from Pensacola, Florida and weighs in at 6'2" 205 lbs. As a senior in high school, he was named second team all state. Rivals gave Damarius a solid 3 star rating. Damarius is an exciting safety prospect because of his size and athleticism. He will join the Gophers and immediately be the largest safety on the roster. I would imagine he will redshirt this year, but after a year in the program I will be interested to see if he is ready to claim a starting job.

Antonio Johnson: is also a true freshman from the 2012 recruiting class and will arrive on campus this fall. Antonio is from Cleveland, Ohio and weighs in at 6'0" 190 lbs. ESPN ranked Antonio the #158 safety in the country. The scouting report is that he tackles with authority, but maintains good tackling technique. He has also shown the ability to quickly read his keys and react appropriately to run or pass situations. His weakness is in man coverage because he lacks top end speed, but overall is considered a great prospect that flew under the radar.

Conclusion: Losing a senior leader and talented player in Kim Royston is tough, but it is especially tough when there is so little experience to fall back on. The good news is that Jerry Kill actively addressed the situation and transitioned Brock Vereen and Derrick Wells to safety, which provides some much needed talent and stability. In addition, Grayson and Cedric both were forced to play early as true freshmen, so they enter 2012 with more experience than you would expect. Lastly, Damarius Travis and Antonio Johnson are incoming freshmen that appear to have the necessary tools to be solid multi year starters.  Entering 2012, the Gophers will have 2 Juniors, 3 Sophomores and 2 true Freshmen manning the safety positions. As a result, it is a young core of players that can hopefully make significant strides over the coming year. Thanks to the position changes it is not the glaring weakness it appeared to be a matter of weeks ago, but I would still look for Kill to fill the safety position with at least another player in the upcoming 2013 recruiting class.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Analyzing Depth at Cornerback

After a brief hiatus due to a calendar full of work and family obligations, it is time to dive back into detailed analysis of the Gophers roster. Next up is the cornerback position. Gone is senior Kyle Henderson who played in all 12 games and registered 67 tackles with 5 passes defended. The other key departure is the result of a position change, as Brock Vereen is making the transition from cornerback to saftey this spring. Brock proved to be a bright spot at corner last year, but with the influx of JUCO corners it is not surprising that Jerry is seeking to plug a big hole at saftey due to the graduation of Kim Royston. The great news is that Troy Stoudermire was rewarded an extra year of eligibility as a result of a broken arm that derailed his season. After Stoudermire went down last year, the Gophers simply lacked consistent playmakers at the cornerback position. Gophers corners accumulated 3 interceptions last year and 2 of those were by Stoudermire, who only started 5 games! It is tough to put all the blame on the secondary as we have already discussed how the lack of pressure generated by the front four. As a result, the corners were simply called upon to cover for too long. Who will the corners roaming the Gophers secondary be in the upcoming years?

Troy Stoudermire: A fifth year senior that was given a medical hardship waiver that allows him to suit up for the Gophers again in 2012. Troy hails from Dallas, Texas and weighs in at 5'10" 200 lbs. Troy transitioned from wide receiver to cornerback during his junior season in 2010. He started the final 6 games of his junior season at cornerback and played well. Troy carried that over with a fast start in his senior season, but a broken arm ended his season. In his 4 full games of the 2011 season he registered 24 tackles, 3 tackles for loss and 2 interceptions. There is no doubt he will be starting at cornerback and generally matching up with the opponent's best wide receiver. I believe Troy has an opportunity to be an All Big 10 cornerback this year.

Michael Carter: a senior from Pompano Beach, Florida and weighs in at 5'11" 185 lbs. He is actually the cousin of Gophers two time All America safety Tyrone Carter. A highly touted recruit coming out of high school, which ESPN ranked the #17 cornerback in the country. However, he has been an enigma as a Gopher. Despite his talent, Michael only saw the field in 5 games last year while recording 9 tackles. As a sophomore he had played in 7 games and started 4 games. As a true freshman he appeared in all 12 games. Clearly, his playing time has dwindled with every passing year. By all accounts Michael has often been in Jerry Kill's doghouse. The good news is he may have finally matured and turned a corner this spring. This article from the Star Tribune highlights that sentiment Michael has always had the talent to be a Big 10 caliber cornerback and he is finally flashing those skills this spring. I look for Michael to carry that over to the fall and end his Gophers career on a high note.

Jeremy Baltazar: is one of the incoming JUCO corners that arrives after spending two years with Blinn Community College. Jeremy was first team All Conference and Honorable Mention All American at Blinn. Jeremy will be a junior for the Gophers in 2012. He hails from Corona, California and measures 6'0" 195 lbs. According to Jerry Kill, "He benches 390 lbs...squatted 455 lbs and verticals over 33 inches." Clearly, he is a big and strong cornerback that helps provide a physical presence to the secondary. It is always tough to project from JUCO to Big 10 play, but from an athletic standpoint he injects some athleticism and experience that is seriously lacking behind Stoudermire and Carter.

Martez Shabazz: is another incoming JUCO corner that arrived on campus this spring after spending two years with Trinity Valley Community College where he earned all conference honors. Martez is from DeSoto, Texas and measures 5'11" 165 lbs. He will be a junior this year for the Gophers. By all accounts, Martez is an absolute burner who will immediately be one of, if not the, fastest players on the team. Martez is a perfect example of the commitment Jerry Kill has to injecting speed into the Gophers defense. At 165 lbs, Martez risks being unable to handle some of the bigger and physical receivers in the conference, but there is no doubt his speed can help this defense. He should be able to run with anyone the opposition has on the roster.

Briean Boddy: is the remaining JUCO corner that Jerry Kill brought in with the 2012 recruiting class and weighs in at 5'11 185 lbs. The great news is even though he is a JUCO, Briean will actually have 3 years of eligibility with the Gophers. Briean hails from Wilmington, Delaware and spent the previous season playing for Coffeyville Community College. I think it should be pointed out he academically qualified directly out of high school, but due to playing on a bad high school team in Delaware he really never generated any recruiting traction. As a result, he went the JUCO route to raise his athletic profile. He was named second team all conference cornerback after recording 40 tackles, 4 interceptions, 3 fumble recoveries and a blocked kick. Based on those stats, it seems Briean has a knack for being around the ball and making good things happen. The scouting reports are that while he isn't a flashy player, Briean is a smart and polished player that demonstrates strong anticipation and the ability to be in the proper position. I look for Briean to be a true diamond in the rough that will turn some heads in the years ahead.

Steven Montgomery: is a redshirt freshmen from Miramar, Florida. Steven measures 5'10" 205 lbs. Steven is a bit of a hybrid player that could see time at safety or corner. Coming out of high school ESPN ranked him the #76 safety prospect in the nation. Since he redshirted last year there is minimal evaluation that can be done. His high school evaluation is that he has good speed and range combined with a hitter's mentality. The key weakness was a need to work on his tackling technique and breaking down in space to wrap up ball carriers. Unfortunately, Steven tore a pectoral muscle this off season, but he is back to being a regular participant in spring practice. With the influx of JUCO's highlighted above I don't anticipate Steven to see the field a lot this year.
Eric Murray: is a true freshman that will arrive on campus this fall as a member of the 2012 recruiting class. He hails from Milwaukee, Wisconsin and measures 6'0" 178 lbs. He helped lead his high school team to an 11-2 season this year and won the city championship. Eric was a first team all state selection and ranked the #4 recruit in Wisconsin by Rivals. He displays a good combination of athleticism and coverage skills. He also is not afraid of contact and displayed a willingness to come up in run support.  Eric has an intriguing blend of natural athletic ability and a 6'0" frame that should get stronger and faster after hitting the weight room. Eric will undoubtedly redshirt this year, but should have opportunities to play in the years ahead.

Conclusion: A healthy Troy Stoudermire is the key to rejuvenating the secondary in 2012. He has the athletic ability to match up with elite wide receivers and has already shown the ability to make game changing plays. The other exciting development is that Michael Carter is suddenly poised to conclude his Gophers career by perhaps being the elite corner many hoped he would be when he signed his letter of intent. Michael has seemingly been making big plays every day of spring practice. Troy and Michael could help anchor our secondary and give us our best cover corners since 2008 when we had Traye Simmons and Tramaine Brock. Unfortunately, they are both seniors so while they are the present, they will not be the future. Baltazar and Shabazz are both juniors, so they will be around this year and next. They will help provide stability after the departure of Troy and Michael. I also look for Boddy to be heavily involved in upcoming years. The concern is that the pipeline only has redshirt freshman Steven Montgomery and true freshman Eric Murray. I actually feel very good about the cornerback position in 2012 & 2013, but worry about where the Gophers go from there. I am hopeful Keelon Brookins ultimately makes good on his verbal commitment to the Gophers, as he will inject another dynamic cornerback into the Gophers secondary.