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Friday, March 6, 2009
Position superlatives: Minnesota

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Today's position superlatives finish with the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Check out the blog next week for the final four teams: Illinois, Northwestern, Ohio State and Purdue.

Minnesota returns nine starters on offense, including the entire line, and could make major strides if the holdovers adjust to a new scheme and style. There are a few more questions on the defensive side, particularly up front. But overall, Minnesota doesn't have many glaring weaknesses heading into spring ball.

Strongest position -- Defensive back

Key returnees: Senior cornerback Traye Simmons, junior safety Kyle Theret, senior cornerback Marcus Sherels, senior safety Tramaine Brock (expected to rejoin team after leaving school due to academic reasons), junior cornerback Ryan Collado

Key losses: None

The skinny: As long as Brock comes back this summer -- head coach Tim Brewster expects him to return -- Minnesota will bring back every member of a playmaking secondary. The four starters combined for 10 interceptions, 48 pass deflections, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries last fall. Though the Gophers were exposed late in the season, the defensive backs, particularly Simmons, showed the ability to change games. A talented wide receiving corps led by Eric Decker almost got the nod here, and Minnesota should be decent at linebacker.

Weakest position -- Defensive end

Key returnees: Senior Derrick Onwuachi, senior Cedric McKinley

Key departures: Willie VanDeSteeg (53 tackles, 19 TFLs, 10.5 sacks)

The skinny: VanDeSteeg was Minnesota's pass rush at times last fall, winning a game at Illinois almost single-handedly in the fourth quarter. He'll definitely be missed, and Minnesota needs to identify a standout end to complement two solid tackles in seniors Eric Small and Garrett Brown. Minnesota tied for the league lead in sacks last fall (34), but VanDeSteeg was a major reason why. Other potential weaknesses include running back and offensive line.