Minnesota’s secondary will be stacked next season, but that doesn’t mean junior safety Damarius Travis won’t be able to break into the starting lineup.
Travis started only two games last year, and the Gophers’ returning safeties, Cedric Thompson and Antonio Johnson, started most of the games at the position in 2013.
Travis is coming for his two teammates, though, because his goal is to start.
“It matters a lot to me,” he said. “I always wanted a starting role.”
Travis might not have to wait too much longer, because he’s become a much more polished player over the course of the offseason.
While he’s always been proficient at stopping the run, he’s taken huge strides in defending against the pass.
“If we had to play a game next week, Damarius Travis would be starting,” defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said. “He’s the most improved [defensive back] by far.”
Travis expects more responsibility next year and is looking forward to an increase in playing time. Still, he said he knows he can’t rest because the defensive backs are solid across the board.
Thompson, who went back and watched film of all the Gophers’ games last season to prepare for the Texas Bowl, is the position group’s leader. He recorded a game-high 14 tackles in the contest.
Johnson played behind Thompson and recorded eight tackles and a forced fumble during the bowl game.
Travis, who will likely need to leapfrog Johnson in order to start next season, recorded just two tackles in the 21-17 loss to Syracuse in the Texas Bowl.
Those three players will likely head a strong safety corps next year, but the cornerback position is even deeper.
It starts with Eric Murray, who’s turned into one of the best cornerbacks in the Big Ten.
“You can throw potential out the door; that guy’s [already] a great player,” head coach Jerry Kill said. “He’ll play at the next level someday.”
Murray is likely a lock to start after leading Minnesota with 10 pass breakups last season. That other starting cornerback slot, vacated by NFL prospect Brock Vereen, is up for grabs.
While the top two candidates to start opposite Murray next season are coming off injuries, both have proven they’re plenty capable of being productive.
Briean Boddy-Calhoun tore his ACL in the second game of last season but returned an interception 89 yards for a touchdown in the Gophers’ season-opening 51-23 victory over UNLV. Boddy-Calhoun received a medical redshirt and has two years of eligibility remaining.
“I think having two full years left is definitely gratifying for me,” Boddy-Calhoun said.
Derrick Wells is the other candidate to start. He played in 10 games as a junior last season but couldn’t shake lingering shoulder issues. Wells had shoulder surgery after the season ended, and though he’s not practicing this spring, he should be ready to go in the fall.
Claeys said next year the secondary could be the strongest position group on the team.
“I think our success will be built around the secondary this next season and how well they play,” he said.
Claeys said he thinks the Gophers will be able to “get after” opponents more next season with their secondary, which Travis said he wants to be the best in the Big Ten.
He wants a lot, and that desire could lead him to great things next year.
“When it’s my time, I’m going to shine,” Travis said. “That’s what I want to do, and I want to be the starter.”