Stoudermire’s return boosts Gophers’ defense

This is the eighth in a series of 11 previews leading up to the University of Minnesota football team’s start of practice.

July 22: Quarterbacks
July 23: Running backs
July 24: Wide receivers
July 25: Tight ends
July 26: Offensive linemen
July 27: Defensive linemen
July 28: Linebackers
July 29: Cornerbacks
July 30: Safeties
July 31: Specialists
Aug. 1: Coaches

TODAY’S POSITION: CORNERBACKS

Rating (1-to-10 scale): 5.5

Projected starters: Troy Stoudermire (redshirt senior), Michael Carter (senior)

Key backups: Martez Shabazz (junior), Jeremy Baltazar (junior), Briean Boddy (sophomore)The breakdown:  Minnesota ranked dead last in the Big Ten with just four interceptions in 2011, as the secondary proved to be a weak spot. The cornerback position again appears to be perhaps the thinnest of Minnesota’s defense in 2012.

One bright spot at cornerback will be Troy Stoudermire, who was granted another year of eligibility after suffering an arm injury in 2011. He led Minnesota with two interceptions last season. He made four starts before his injury, tallying 24 sacks and three pass breakups. Having a healthy Stoudermire in the secondary is a big boost for the Gophers’ defense.

Carter played in just five games as a junior in 2011 after playing in 12 games as a freshman and seven games as a sophomore. Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys was impressed with Carter during Minnesota’s spring practices.

“Mike will have an opportunity to play quite a bit off of his spring,” Claeys said. “I just thought Mike surprised me with how well he played in the spring. He committed himself. He’s improved his body also in the weight room and his quickness.”

After Stoudermire and Carter, Minnesota lacks experience at cornerback. Shabazz could be an intriguing cornerback. He transferred from Trinity Valley Community College, where he had 21 pass break-ups and 43 tackles as a sophomore in 2011.  Boddy is another junior college transfer, coming to Minnesota via Coffeyville Community College. He had four interceptions and 40 tackles while also recovering three fumbles in his lone season at Coffeyville.

“They improved in the spring,” Claeys said of Shabazz and Boddy. “I expect a whole lot of improvement from them in fall camp. They’ve put in a lot of video watching this summer on their own and really worked hard.”

Best position battle: Outside of Stoudermire and Carter, Minnesota doesn’t return a lot of experience at cornerback. Shabazz and Boddy will have the chance as backups if they can carry over their success as the junior college level, but they’ll have to adapt to the Division I game.

While Carter appears to be the frontrunner for the second cornerback spot, that job could be up in the air and may be one of the best position battles to watch during fall camp. Shabazz could challenge for playing time as a starter.

“We probably don’t have as much depth there,” Claeys said of Minnesota’s cornerbacks. “We’ll have a couple more freshmen there. But I do think two deep there, we’ll be solid as long as we can stay away from injuries.”

Best of the Big Ten: 1. Michigan State. 2. Ohio State. 3. Nebraska. Michigan State returns plenty of experience at cornerback, including fifth-year senior Johnny Adams, who was a first-team All-Big Ten selection by coaches as a junior in 2011. He made 13 starts and had a career-high 51 tackles and added three interceptions. Darqueze Dennard is a preseason All-Big Ten selection at cornerback for MSU. The Buckeyes bring back cornerback Bradley Roby, who started all 13 of OSU’s games as a freshman in 2011. Travis Howard also returns at cornerback for the Buckeyes.

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