Improved defense has Brewster happy

Minnesota has been making up for last year’s ghastly defensive season.

Luke Middendorf

Going through its second-to-last practice of the spring, the Minnesota football team again took advantage of the warm spring weather and practiced outside on the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex on Tuesday.

Although head coach Tim Brewster said his players didn’t quite have enough focus or energy to meet his expectations at Tuesday’s practice, the second-year coach acknowledged that the Gophers have had a “long, hard and physical spring.”

“We’ve had a great spring, but today I didn’t feel like we met the expectations of a football team that’s improving like we want to improve,” Brewster said.

One aspect of the team that Brewster has been impressed with most of the spring is the emphasis on tackling well, spending more time working on individual tackling drills to improve one of the nation’s worst defenses in 2007.

One player that Brewster said he has seen great strides from in recent weeks is junior 300-plus-pound defensive tackle Garrett Brown, who has put on more weight in the off-season to help anchor the defensive front.

Brown, along with 295-pound junior Eric Small, will welcome in this summer new defensive tackle recruits Tim McGee, a junior college transfer weighing 300 pounds, and Jewhan Edwards, a 320-pound Under Armor All-American tackle, to add even more weight up front.

“You look at the great defensive teams in college football, they have someone like Glen Dorsey at LSU, and we were lacking that last year,” Brewster said.

Another aspect of improvement from last year’s 1-11 team has been Minnesota’s ability to “play in space,” according to Brewster, which he said will be helped with players like junior college transfers safety Tramaine Brock and safety/linebacker Simoni Lawrence, who arrives this summer.

The most veteran position on the team this spring is at middle linebacker, as juniors Steve Davis and Deon Hightower are coming off solid seasons in which both received valuable playing time.

Davis, who played defensive end for two seasons before switching to linebacker in 2007, said this spring has been a much easier adjustment.

“I’ve got a lot more confidence now because I know what I am doing and I’m looking at a lot more film,” Davis said. “I took the offseason to look at things I needed to improve at and got better, and now I am working every day to be the best I can be.”

Brewster said Davis and Hightower will be looked on to lead the otherwise inexperienced linebacking core of junior Nate Triplett, redshirt freshman Andre Tate and incoming freshman recruit Sam Maresh, who could start at middle linebacker.

With its last spring practice on Thursday, Minnesota is currently in preparation for the annual spring game, held this Friday at 7 p.m. in the Metrodome.

“I am very excited for the spring game,” said junior college transfer David Pittman, who could line up at quarterback, wide receiver, defensive back and punt return man on Friday. “It’s going to be on the Big Ten Network, and I am excited to go out there and compete against guys that are just as competitive and excited as I am.”