Rod Chance is sort of like a handyman. His cornerbacks are his instruments.

“Our mind-set in that room is that we are a toolbox,” the Gophers coach said. “And in that toolbox, you have various different tools.”

For example, Benjamin St-Juste is the tallest of all the defensive backs and a good matchup against long receivers. Then there’s Terell Smith (4.3-second 40-yard dash) and Kiondre Thomas (4.4-second 40). Shorter and more physical players are also at the ready. This gives the Gophers defense the ability to mix and match, based on the opponent’s personnel, and they’ve rotated that position as such so far this season.

The cornerbacks have started to flourish this year, and Chris Williamson with his 26 tackles, two sacks, two pass breakups and a pick-six lead the way.

Chance, who previously coached at Oregon and Southern Utah, jumped at the chance to join P.J. Fleck’s staff in January, joining special teams coordinator Rob Wenger, who also attended Chance’s high school in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Chance termed himself a “relationship-style coach,” adding he makes a point to foster chemistry in the group by spending time with his players, from going out to eat to inviting them to his home. And as a former defensive back himself, the 36-year-old knows exactly how demanding the position is.

“I believe that if you have strong relationships with this generation, it allows you to coach them hard, because I’m a very hard coach,” Chance said.

Megan Ryan