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Minnesota Golden Gophers 2014 position breakdown: Defensive backs

Derrick Wells (13) and Cedric Thompson (2) will lead be the leaders of the Minnesota Golden Gophers defensive backs.
Derrick Wells (13) and Cedric Thompson (2) will lead be the leaders of the Minnesota Golden Gophers defensive backs.Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The Minnesota Golden Gophers have developed one of the better secondaries in the Big Ten. They have a deep group of young and talented defensive backs.

The Gophers lost fourth round NFL draft pick Brock Vereen from last season’s team, but junior Damarius Travis is ready to step in this season.

The other three defensive backs are returning starters. Junior Eric Murray is one of the best cover cornerbacks in the country. He shut down some of the best receivers in the conference. Playing opposite him is senior Derrick Wells. He is a playmaker that has battled injuries the last couple seasons. The other starting safety is senior Cedric Thompson. He finished last season as the team’s leading tackler.

The second unit will be strong as well with redshirt junior Briean Boddy-Calhoun at one corner spot. He opened last season as a starter before a knee injury ended his season during the second game of the season. Jalen Myrick will man the other cornerback spot on the second unit. He may be the fastest player on the team. The safeties are junior Antonio Johnson and senior Grayson Levine. Levine has been a special teams standout. Johnson has return ability and will likely move into the starting lineup next season.

Senior Marcus Jones and true freshman Craig James highlight the third unit. Jones is one of the better kick and punt returners in the conference. James was a sprinting champion in high school in Illinois. Also on the third unit will likely be redshirt freshman Daletavious McGhee and redshirt junior Steven Montgomery. Montgomery is a heavy-hitter that contributes on special teams. McGhee is a tall, lanky prospect that should make his first impact this season.

The other defensive backs on the roster are young walk-on players. Redshirt sophomores Cavonte Johnson and John McKelvey are the veterans of the group. Redshirt freshmen Adekunle Ayinde and Alexander Starks could get some playing time this season. True freshman Davis Anderson may be the most talented of the bunch, but he is likely to redshirt this season.

Projected Depth Chart

First Team - 31 Eric Murray, JR, Milwaukee, Wisc. (Riverside University High School); 2 Cedric Thompson, SR, Calipatria, Calif. (Calipatria High School); 7 Damarius Travis, JR, Pensacola, Fla. (Pensacola High School); 3 Derrick Wells, SR, Lehigh Acres, Fla. (Lehigh High School)

Second Team - 29 Briean Boddy-Calhoun, RS JR, Wilmington, Del. (Coffeyville Community College); 11 Antonio Johnson, JR, Cleveland, Ohio (Shaker Heights High School); 6 Grayson Levine, SR, Eden Prairie, Minn. (Eden Prairie High School); 28 Jalen Myrick, SO, Bloomingdale, Ga. (Savannah Christian Prep High School)

Third Team - 22 Craig James, FR, Edwardsville, Ill. (Edwardsville High School); 15 Marcus Jones, SR, Wake Forest, NC (Wake Forest-Rolesville High School); 8 Daletavious McGhee, RS FR, Decatur, Ga. (Cedar Grove High School); 16 Steven Montgomery, RS JR, Miramar, Fla. (Miramar High School)

The Rest - 48 Davis Anderson, FR, St. Paul, Minn. (Apple Valley High School); 45 Adekunle Ayinde, RS FR, Blaine, Minn. (Blaine High School); 36 Cavonte Johnson, RS SO, Edina, Minn. (Edina High School); 33 John McKelvey, RS SO, Hunting Valley, Ohio (University School); 40 Alexander Starks, RS FR, Plainfield, Ill. (Plainfield North High School)

The Rest of the Division

Illinois Fighting Illini - The Illini return four of the five listed starting defensive backs from last season, including V’Angelo Bentley and Earnest Thomas III.

Iowa Hawkeyes - The Hawkeyes return two of the four listed starting defensive backs from last season, including John Lowdermilk.

Nebraska Cornhuskers - The Cornhuskers return one of the four listed full time starting defensive backs from last season and one defensive back that split time as a starter. The one returning full starter is Corey Cooper, who led the team in tackles last season.

Northwestern Wildcats - The Wildcats return all four listed starting defensive backs from last season, including Ibraheim Campbell (tied for the team lead in interceptions last season), Nick Van Hoose and Traveon Henry.

Purdue Boilermakers - The Boilermakers return three of the four listed starting defensive backs from last season, including Anthony Brown, Taylor Richards and Frankie Williams (all three are the top returning tacklers from last season).

Wisconsin Badgers - The Badgers return three of their four listed starting defensive backs from last season, including Sojourn Shelton (last season’s team leader in interceptions) and Michael Caputo (the leading returning tackler from last season).