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.

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