Vereen leads Gophers with a smile

Brock Vereen has played safety and cornerback for the Gophers this year.

Gophers defensive back Brock Vereen practices Friday Aug. 2 at the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex.

Daily File Photo, Emily Dunker

Gophers defensive back Brock Vereen practices Friday Aug. 2 at the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex.

Jack Satzinger

BY JACK SATZINGER

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It’s not hard to picture Brock Vereen holding a microphone as a sideline reporter after his college career is over.

He interned at the NFL Network last summer, interviewed head coach Jerry Kill at Big Ten Media Days in July and sums up games with the poise of a seasoned public speaker.

“This is just the win we needed as a program,” Vereen said after the Gophers beat Nebraska 34-23 on Saturday. “We’ve been in situations like this, but finally we put all the pieces in the right place.”

Vereen’s on-field successes this season, however, may afford him another on-field opportunity away from the sidelines as an NFL player.

And the way he’s achieved that on-field success is even more impressive.

Minnesota’s secondary has been depleted by injuries this season. Junior cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun tore his anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in the second game of the season, junior safety Cedric Thompson sustained a concussion in the game against Michigan, and junior cornerback Derrick Wells injured his shoulder at the start of the season and hasn’t fully recovered.

So Vereen has filled in as a jack of all trades on defense.

He switched positions from safety to cornerback to help mitigate the injury issues before the Gophers’ 20-17 win at Northwestern, and he remained at the cornerback spot in the win over Nebraska.

Vereen’s versatility in the defensive backfield has helped lead the Gophers to two straight upset wins. As a result, his draft stock appears to be rising.

“You have [the position change]. You have special teams. You know, he’s a very intelligent kid when it comes to football,” defensive coordinator and acting head coach Tracy Claeys said Sunday. “If you play well at this level, you’re going to get rewarded. He has played well.”

Vereen certainly has, serving as the leader of Minnesota’s secondary. He had four solo tackles and a pass breakup Saturday and helped pressure Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez.

Martinez ran for more than 1,000 yards last season and has 31 rushing touchdowns in his college career. He had only 16 rushing yards Saturday and didn’t score a rushing touchdown.

“We found a way to contain him,” Vereen said after the win.

And some of that started with Vereen.

After missing the previous three games with a turf toe injury, Martinez said he thought he threw the ball “pretty well” for his first game in more than a month. But his usual electrifying impact on the ground was mitigated by an active defense.

While Vereen’s teammates have been sidelined with injuries, he’s battled through them.

In the Gophers’ 23-7 loss to Iowa, he twisted his left knee but returned to the game and made an interception in the end zone that flipped momentum.

 “We’ve always had the talent,” Vereen said with a smile. “When we play as well as we can, we can play with anybody.”

Now, the question is whether Vereen’s grin will be seen on a football sideline with a microphone or through an NFL facemask once his Gophers career is through.