There is no calculator in the world that can make 11 equal 22, but if you’re Gophers football coach Glen Mason, you’re not telling your players that.
With the season opener against UL Monroe just over two weeks away, Mason and his staff have been closely watching their defense in preparation for their first season without strong safety Tyrone Carter.
The Gophers all-time leading tackler, and last year’s Jim Thorpe Award winner for the nation’s top defensive back, has moved onto the Vikings.
Carter’s ##22 jersey is no where to be found on Minnesota’s practice field. But Mason and defensive coordinator David Gibbs remain optimistic that the 11 guys who lineup on the defensive side of the ball will survive — and thrive — without Carter.
“We’re not going to replace Tyrone Carter,” Gibbs said. “We’re just going to try and make the loss of him as minimal as possible.”
Because of the leadership and enthusiasm Carter brought to the team everyday, Mason said it won’t be an easy feat to replace the All-American.
“Is someone going to step up and take the place of Tyrone Carter? I doubt it,” Mason said. “There’s got to be a whole bunch of people that pick up the slack where it let off.”
The players know they have big shoes to fill, but they’re not letting that get to them.
Defensive end Karon Riley, whose vocal attitude would suggest he will be the new speaker for the defense, is confident the loss of Carter won’t slow the Gophers down.
“He built a strong house for us, the foundation is there,” Riley said. “Our defense is set, one guy here and one guy there is not going to break us down.”
While Riley might pick up the enthusiasm level, he won’t be able to replace Carter at strong safety. That honor goes to senior Clorenzo Griffin.
Griffin played in all 12 games last season, mainly in passing situation, and collected 20 tackles. Those 20 tackles, however, are nothing compared to the 144 registered by Carter.
Griffin understands he won’t be able to make up for Carter single-handily, but has faith that if the team works together, fans won’t even realize Carter is gone.
“As a team we can replace Tyrone,” Griffin said. “But it will have to be as a team.”
Like Mason said, Griffin won’t be alone in trying to make up for Carter’s loss.
If 11 is going to equal 22, the entire team will have to.
Burns debuts with team
On Thursday afternoon, junior college transfer Antoine Burns participated with the Gophers for the first time this season.
The junior wide receiver had to wait for his summer session grades to go through before being allowed to play.
“I was anxious but you know what they say, patience is a virtue,” Burns said. “I had to be patient. I wanted to come out and practice with everybody else, but things happened and I had to wait.”
Burns, who attended Rochester Community College last year, impressed coaches with his catching ability and knowledge of the position.
But Burns’ inexperience leaves position coach Joker Phillips unable to set-up a timetable for success.
“He needs the physical repetitions because mentally I think he’s sharp enough,” Phillips said. “He just needs to take it from the classroom to the football field.”
Last season Burns caught 58 passes for 1,100 yards and scored a total of 23 touchdowns as a receiver, kick returner and punt returner. The junior college All-American is expected to pay immediate dividends, both as a wide receiver and kick returner.
“We didn’t sign him to sit him or redshirt him, it’s time for him to be a player for us,” Phillips said. “He’s a real big body who runs well. We don’t have a lot of guys like him. We have to find ways to get the ball in his hands.”
ù Mason reported freshman cornerback Ukee Dozier suffered a shoulder injury Monday, “probably” a separation.
ù Riley, a preseason All-American, sustained a concussion on Wednesday. The senior defensive end will be held out of drills for one week as a precautionary measure.
ù Junior wide receiver Ron Johnson split his hand open catching a ball Thursday, and will be sidelined several days.
ù Senior wide receiver Antoine Henderson and junior free safety Delvin Jones have been bothered by their respective hamstrings and were held out of action.
— David La Vaque contributed to this reportJohn R. Carter is the sports editor and welcomes comments at [email protected]