With the loss of seniors Traye Simmons and Marcus Sherels from the 2009 squad, the Gophers will be holding auditions for both starting cornerback spots in 2010. Not sure your thoughts on these two, but I'm only going to miss one of them- and it's not the guy who was named 2nd team Big Ten in 2008. Despite missing part of the season due to injury, I though Sherels played the best football of his career in maroon and gold in the latter half of 2009. He was always pretty good against the run, but thought he held up very well in pass coverage.
Simmons? Yeah not so much. After giving this some thought (I know, a rare thing for me) I think Simmons' play was the biggest mystery of the 2009 season: How does a guy go from 2nd team all-conference as a junior to getting yanked for a true freshman in a conference game as a senior? Unlike Adam Weber, whose struggles and regression can be at least partially explained (terrible O-line play, no running game, coaching, play-calling, young receivers and trying to run an offense that doesn't suit him), I can't think of a single excuse for Traye. Same coaches, same schemes, and a lot the same teammates combined with a year of experience should have set Simmons up for a big, big year. Honestly, after the way he finished 2008 I would not have been surprised to see him be 1st team all-conference and a 2nd or 3rd round draft pick. Instead, Simmons seemed content to rest on his reputation as "Big Play Traye"- the problem was, the big plays came for the guys he was trying to cover.
And so it is that I'm hoping the kid who replaced Simmons, sophomore Michael Carter who wears the #1 for the Gophers, will also be our #1 corner in 2010. The highly decorated four star recruit from Florida played very well as a true freshman in 2009, steadily moving up the depth chart as the season progressed and earned starter-type reps by the bowl game. If the kid can stay out of trouble off the field, this season and beyond looks very, very bright for him. Of course, we thought that about Traye last year, but I'm hoping Carter won't suffer the same fate.
So hopefully #1 is our #1 corner, but who's going to be #2? Before spring ball starts, the three strongest candidates look like the guy who wears #2 and then two guys named Lewis. Minnesota's #2 is senior Ryan Collado, our most experienced corner who probably belongs at safety. He was excellent last year in run support and decent in zone pass coverage, but looked thoroughly overmatched in man coverage. The problem, of course, is that we already have two starting safeties returning in Kim Royston and Kyle Theret, so there's no room there for Collado to play, but I think we're in big trouble if he plays the whole year as a starting corner.
For the Gophs NOT to have to rely on Collado so much in coverage means somebody taking the job from him, and while there will hopefully be a lot of guys pushing him, two candidates named Lewis are emerging as the favorites. Christyn Lewis is an incoming JUCO transfer from California who at 6'2 and 175 certainly has the build to be a successful corner in the Big Ten. He was ranked as a 3 star prospect by Rivals, and also had offers from BYU, Idaho and Utah State. Not exactly a list of heavyweight football juggernauts, but BYU and coach Bronco Mendenhal have made a name for themselves by developing under-the-radar prospects, so let's hope Lewis ends up being one of those guys.
The other Lewis is redshirt freshman Kerry Lewis, a 5'9 speedster who is the only one of the five guys on the Gopher team from Dallas who did NOT go to Skyline high school (he attended Lancaster). While Lewis didn't play at all last year, he was a three star recruit out of high school who chose Minnesota from a pretty impressive list of schools that included Arizona, Iowa, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oregon State, and Vanderbilt. If you're scoring at home, that's seven BCS conference teams that have all been to at least one bowl game in the past two years, which means unless these seven were wrong, Kerry SHOULD be a legit BCS conference player.
So we can only hope that after sitting a season and getting bigger, stronger, and (hopefully) faster, Kerry is going to be ready to step in and contribute, and hopefully push the starters for playing time. While some people might worry that having a sophomore in Carter and a redshirt frosh in Kerry Lewis as our starting corners would be a recipe for trouble, if those are our best two kids then that's who should play. And it would certainly be our most athletic pair of starting corners since...well since when I'm not sure.
I believe neither Lewis will be showing up until the fall (please correct me if I'm wrong on that one though), so Collado will likely be the leader in the clubhouse right through the summer. Still, like we said about our competition at linebacker, while we don't return a ton of experience at corner, we do look to have some athletes, which is promising for a position that almost requires them best athletes on the field to succeed.