Safety with numbers

Michael Dougherty

Respect.
Rodney Dangerfield never got any. Aretha Franklin wanted everyone to find out what it meant to her. And now Gophers strong safety Tyrone Carter is gathering it in by the armload, thanks to some tough tackling and big play propensity.
Carter, a junior, was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the week after his 10 tackles, one sack and two fumble recoveries — one of which was returned five yards for a touchdown — in Minnesota’s 41-14 win over Memphis on Saturday.
Gophers defensive coordinator David Gibbs said Carter is a great leader who maintains an excellent presence in the huddle.
“He leads by example and he makes so many plays that guys have to respect him,” Gibbs said. “Guys who don’t respect him are usually guys who are not very good football players.”
Carter and the rest of his teammates are currently enjoying a 3-0 start, with an off-week before the Big Ten opener against 2-1 Purdue (which plays at Notre Dame this weekend) on Oct. 3.
Carter heads up a defense which has given up only 35 points — the fewest for a Gophers team through three games since 1982 — and has made numerous big plays so far this season. But as Gibbs points out, the Minnesota defense has also given up some big plays.
So despite the optimism that’s brewing around the Gophers (they even received three votes in the latest Associated Press poll), both Gibbs and Carter said they know the three non-conference wins have come against teams that lack the talent most Big Ten teams possess.
“We’re really up and down, and a big thing in the defensive secondary is you can’t be up and down,” Gibbs said. “You can’t give up big plays. I tell them all the time, `You can’t play 75 good plays and five bad ones because that’s usually 35 points.'”
But the rock-solid Carter is using the respect he has gained to help give a confidence boost to the rest of his secondary sidekicks.
“I keep telling them to be patient and play hard,” Carter said. “Football is what got you here and if the coaches didn’t see the talent in you, you wouldn’t be playing Division I football.”
Starting cornerbacks Craig Scruggs and Trevis Graham combine with Carter and free safety Keith Dimmy to form the secondary.
Dimmy, at 6-foot-1, is by far the tallest of the four — Carter and Scruggs are 5-9 and Graham is 5-10 — and that lack of height is something Gibbs admits to being nervous about, especially when he scouts the lanky flankers playing for the Big Ten opposition.
Michigan boasts 6-4 Tai Streets, and Wisconsin has 6-3 Demetrius Brown and 6-1 Chris Chambers, who plays on the Badger basketball team and has a 38-inch vertical jump.
Michigan State has 6-1 Gari Scott and 6-6 Plaxico Burress, while Purdue has 6-1 Isaac Jones and 6-3 Chris Daniels.
“I think size is always a factor,” Gibbs said, “but we’ve got some big receivers here who we practice against and we do an OK job.”
But an OK job isn’t going to be good enough against those big receivers, not to mention Ohio State’s catching couple — 6-3 David Boston and 6-1 Dee Miller.
“They are some big ones,” Gibbs said. “I mean those two guys at Ohio State are as good as anybody in college or pro ball, so we’ve got to hold on and hope the quarterback’s off and throws some long foul balls.”
However, hope isn’t always going to be a reliable entity for Gibbs, and that’s why Carter and the respect he is quickly earning is so important to this club.
Carter said he feels a different aura with this team — a feeling of confidence — that was lacking in the past.
“The attitude that these coaches brought in here let us know that we’ve got a chance of being a great football team,” he said. “Last season I don’t think the guys had the right attitude, and they didn’t have faith in themselves.”
But with the big-play ability of Carter leading the way, Gibbs and players like Graham have said they can see that the confidence and respect are slowly creeping back into the program.
“Coach Mason has always said there has to be someone who always plays with that high level of intensity, and we have to step up to that level,” Graham said. “With the type of publicity that Tyrone is getting that gives us the opportunity to show a lot of people exactly what the rest of us can do.”
The publicity Graham mentioned centers mainly around talk of Carter being a candidate for All-American status and the Jim Thorpe Award — given to the nation’s top defensive back — as well as a potential pro career which might follow his college years.
But Carter said he likes to take one thing at a time.
“Being All-American is one of the goals I set for myself this season,” Carter said. “I’ve got to make things happen and fly around the ball which I’m always going to do. I just have to keep making the plays which put the team in a position to win.”
As far as pro potential goes, Gibbs, whose father Alex is an assistant coach with the Denver Broncos, said he sees possibilities, but experiences a bit of denial when confronted with Carter’s graduation.
“He’s got a chance,” he said. “But that’s two years down the road, so I really don’t want to talk about it.”