Gophers Undergoing Defensive Overhaul

With a new coordinator and more than half of the defensive starters being new, the Gophers will have a dramatically different look on that side of the ball.

The Gophers had one major change in the wake of their 1-11 2007 season: The arrival of new defensive coordinator Ted Roof, who was fired as Duke's head coach following the 2007 season.

Roof replaces Everett Withers, who resigned after one nightmarish season to take the same position at North Carolina. Roof becomes Minnesota's sixth defensive coordinator since 2000, and he will be the third coordinator for some of the veteran players.

Roof, who served as defensive coordinator at Georgia Tech under George O'Leary, inherits a defense that ranked among the worst statistically in recent NCAA history. The Gophers finished last nationally in total defense and ranked near the bottom of Division I-A in a number of other categories.

The Gophers are expected to have as many as seven new starters on defense, most of them coming from their 2008 recruiting class. It won't be surprising to see four junior college transfers starting in the secondary alone. Cornerback Traye Simmons and safety Simoni Lawrence highlight that group.

The Gophers will conduct spring practice without top wide receiver Eric Decker, who is playing with the baseball team. Decker set a school record with 67 catches last season and is expected to be one of the premier receivers in the Big Ten next season.

Junior college transfer David Pittman could be a busy man this spring and beyond. Gophers coach Tim Brewster said he plans on using Pittman as a situational quarterback, running back, wide receiver and cornerback.

SCHEDULE SITUATION: The Gophers nonconference schedule is as soft as a marshmallow. They play Northern Illinois, at Bowling Green, Montana State and Florida Atlantic. Anything less than 3-1 in that stretch should cause fans to sound the alarm bell. The season will be judged by how the team fares in the Big Ten, which starts with a trip to Ohio State. Home games against Indiana and Northwestern look like the best opportunities for victory.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I sense that this is a group of players that is very willing to work. And as a teacher or coach, you're always excited to work with a group of guys that want to get better." — Ted Roof on his attempt to rebuild a defense that finished last nationally in total defense.

NOTES

  • RB Kevin Whaley was shot in the leg outside a nightclub in his hometown on Virginia Beach, Va., on March 22. His status for the upcoming season is uncertain.

  • RB Jay Thomas is making good progress in his rehab from ACL surgery. Thomas, who is expected to split carries with Duane Bennett, is scheduled to do some drills in spring practice, although no contact.

  • LB Deon Hightower had offseason shoulder surgery and will not take part this spring.

  • TE Jack Simmons had foot surgery and will not participate in spring drills. He should be ready for summer workouts.


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