Secondary shows spring improvements

The first-team defense allowed the second-team to total just 35 passing yards.

Matt Anderson

The last time the defense for Minnesota’s football team was on the field in a game, Virginia quarterback Marcus Haggans was torching the Gophers secondary for 365 passing yards and leading the Cavaliers offense to 34 points in Virginia’s Music City Bowl victory.

Between that game and spring practice, Minnesota hired a new secondary coach, Craig Bray, and reshuffled players in the defensive backfield.

During Saturday’s spring game at the Metrodome, Minnesota’s new-look defensive backfield put together a solid performance, albeit against a different level of competition.

The Gophers maroon team defense, the first-team, held the white team, the second-team offense, to 35 passing yards. The white team quarterback combination of Tony Mortensen, Mike Maciejowski and Mike Frankberg completed only six of 16 passes.

Part of the new look to the secondary came from a familiar face. Trumaine Banks, a three-year starter at cornerback, made the switch to safety in spring drills.

“I’ve seen vast improvement,” coach Glen Mason said. “If we can keep him healthy, I think that moving Banks to safety is going to solidify it.”

Banks, who missed portions of the spring with a back injury and will be a senior next year, played with the second-team defense.

Banks broke up two passes and was in on four tackles. Defensive coordinator David Lockwood said he was impressed with Banks’ performance.

“I think when he gets healthy and gets in there and gets some reps, he gives us a dimension at safety that we haven’t had around here, which is pretty good,” Lockwood said. “We’re happy with the move.”

Fellow safety Dominic Jones, who made the switch from corner to safety last season, was key in the first-team dominance of the first-team defense. Jones forced a fumble and intercepted a pass.

Jamal Harris, a rising junior, was on the field for almost every play, taking snaps with the first-team defense and second-team defense.

Harris said the new wrinkles Bray has brought to the team have helped the secondary.

“(Bray) threw a lot of new stuff at us,” Harris said. “It was pretty good. I like the way he’s starting to scheme stuff.”

Michael McKelton, who redshirted last season, was also impressive playing with the second-team defense. McKelton broke up two passes and often drew the assignment of covering No. 1 receiver Logan Payne.

With the improvement that the Gophers said the coaching change has brought so far, what was an oft-maligned unit last season could become a team strength.

“Having coach Bray join our staff has been great,” Lockwood said. “He’s doing a great job with those guys. They relate to him; they seem to like him. He’s getting more work done with his coaching. That’s all you can ask.”