Panthers focus on Golden Gophers defense

Aldo Soto , Sports Editor

Eastern head football coach Kim Dameron pinpointed two key positions that the Minnesota defense could create problems for the Panthers’ offense Thursday night.

At defensive end, Minnesota has red-shirt junior Theiren Cockran. He is coming off of a career year, leading the Golden Gophers in sacks with 7.5.

Starting in all 13 games, Cockran made 30 tackles while forcing four fumbles.

“Their defensive ends are good,” Dameron said. “They’ve had to replace an NFL draft pick, a defensive tackle, but they’ve got good players inside and they’ll be strong up the middle.”

In the secondary, a pair of upperclassmen lead the Gophers starting the season. Senior Derrick Wells and junior Eric Murray received high praise from Dameron.

“They’re really good at the corners,” he said. “Their two corners and their two defensive ends are where they really shine from the preseason.”

Murray had 52 tackles and 10 pass breakups in 13 games last season. Wells had an interception and recovered a fumble, with 17 tackles in 10 games last year for Minnesota.

Red-shirt senior quarterback Andrew Manley and junior Jalen Whitlow have been locking in on Minnesota’s game film.

Manley said he noticed how Minnesota tries to confuse quarterbacks in its coverage’s.

“They like to run cover four and man a lot, so we’re just preparing for that and they disguise very well,” Manley said. “They disguise their man into cover zero and against empty they have plenty of different packages.”

Although there is some disguising in Minnesota’s defense, Manley and Dameron said the Gophers are not too complicated.

“They’re not a super, super complicated defense, they’re a 4-3 quarters defense,” Dameron said. “It’s not that they run a lot of different things, they’re extremely physical and fundamentally sound.”

Last year the Panthers’ offensive line allowed 20 sacks, which was the second fewest in the Ohio Valley Conference.

Eastern returns three starters from last year’s offensive line.

Red-shirt senior Collin Seibert, red-shirt junior Nick Borre and red-shirt sophomore Jimmy Lowery all return to their respective positions of left guard, center and right tackle.

Against Murray and Wells along with the rest of the Minnesota secondary, Eastern has a new transfer at wide receiver that Dameron is excited to see.

“I think it will be interesting to see how (Stephen) Bravo-Brown does the slot,” Dameron said. “He’s got some shiftiness to him and a little bit of giddy-up.”

Bravo-Brown, who is a graduate student, transferred from South Florida this year.

Red-shirt senior Adam Drake is the leading receiver from last year’s team still on the current roster. He had 85 catches for 1,305 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Whitlow, who transferred from Kentucky in late May, loves the targets he will be throwing to.

“It’s the first thing I noticed when I transferred is the talent of those guys,” Whitlow said. “Drake is a well-rounded guy and Bravo-Brown is a speedy guy.”

Minnesota’s defense finished sixth out of 12 Big Ten teams in total defense in 2013, allowing 2,796 passing yards and 2,056 rushing yards.

 Aldo Soto (@AldoSoto21) can be reached at 581-2812