The Gophers suffered two key injuries at cornerback last season.
Senior Derrick Wells injured a shoulder on the first day of practice and it limited him all year. Then redshirt junior Briean Boddy-Calhoun tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during the season's second game.
Wells had shoulder surgery after the season and will miss spring practice, but he's expected back for the start of fall practice Aug. 1. Boddy-Calhoun is in a green non-contact jersey this spring, but he continued to get live reps in Thursday's practice.
"To overcome an injury like this, it's just a great feeling," Boddy-Calhoun said. "I would actually say I feel better now than I did before I had the injury."
The coaches are pleased, especially knowing they have junior Eric Murray at one corner, with Boddy-Calhoun and Wells on the comeback trail.
"Last year the defensive line had the most depth, and we relied on them," defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said. "This year, it's going to be the secondary."
Travis turning heads
Claeys said junior safety Damarius Travis is the team's most improved defensive back, "by far, no question."
Claeys said Travis has always been a good run stopper but has really improved his pass defense. The Gophers have two returning starting safeties in senior Cedric Thompson and junior Antonio Johnson, but Travis is in the discussion.
"I can tell you, off the performance in what we've done so far, if we played a game next week, Damarius Travis would be starting," Claeys said.
Eye on Northwestern
Gophers senior defensive tackle Cameron Botticelli has a degree in political science, and after getting his master's degree, he wants to go to law school. Asked if he's following the attempts of Kain Colter and former Northwestern players to unionize, Botticelli said, "You'd have to live under a rock not to catch that."
The Chicago district of the National Labor Relations Board ruled Wednesday that Northwestern football players qualify as university employees and can unionize. Should college athletes be considered employees?
"I do have some thoughts on that," Botticelli said. "But you know, being a part of the NCAA right now, the Big Ten Conference and the University of Minnesota, I'm going to withhold those thoughts at this time."
•If Ra'Shede Hageman gets drafted in the first round, as many project, he would become the third defensive lineman from a Jerry Kill-coached team to go in the first round. The others are Lamar King, who was drafted 22nd overall by the Seahawks out of Saginaw (Mich.) Valley State in 1999, and Larry English, who was drafted 16th overall by the Chargers in 2009.
•Redshirt junior Josh Campion, who has started every game at right tackle the past two seasons, saw some time at right guard Thursday. Offensive line coach Matt Limegrover has said if redshirt sophomore Jonah Pirsig keeps progressing at right tackle, Campion could move to guard. Starting right guard Caleb Bak, a redshirt senior, has been out because of concussion symptoms, creating an opening.