Cornerbacks Vereen, Murray excite U coaches

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 27, 2013 - 11:43 PM

Michigan State has an All-America at one cornerback, in senior Darqueze Dennard, and another cornerback with that type of upside in sophomore Trae Waynes.

But heading into Saturday’s game in East Lansing, Mich., the Gophers feel pretty good about their two starting cornerbacks, too.

Senior Brock Vereen moved from safety to cornerback at midseason, when injuries began to eat into the team’s cornerback depth. NFL scouts have Vereen on their radar, knowing he’s a quick, versatile and intelligent player whose brother, Shane, is a running back for the New England Patriots.

And the Gophers continue to rave about the performance of sophomore cornerback Eric Murray.

“He’s gotten better as the year’s gone on,” coach Jerry Kill said. “We’ve got a lot of [NFL] general managers and people coming in to see Brock and Ra’Shede [Hageman], and every one of them goes, ‘Who’s that guy [Murray]?’

“Because he’s got length, he’s got strength and he can really run.”

Murray has handled himself well against several of the Big Ten’s top receivers, including Penn State’s Allen Robinson and Wisconsin’s Jared Abbrederis. Murray has yet to get an interception, but he has 44 tackles and nine pass breakups.

“We think Darqueze Dennard is the best corner in this conference,” Gophers defensive backs coach Jay Sawvel recently told ESPN.com. “I know Bradley Roby [Ohio State] gets a lot of publicity, and we think he’s really good, too. But outside of those two, we wouldn’t trade Eric for anybody in the conference.”

Thanksgiving plans

The Gophers will have a morning practice Thursday, followed by an early Thanksgiving feast. Kill said several of the players from Minnesota invited out-of-state teammates over to their houses for the rest of the day.

The menu for the team feast includes the usual Northern fare — turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing — along with some Southern dishes.

“We’re very cultured,” Kill said, laughing.

Dance marathon set

Gophers kicker Chris Hawthorne has organized a fund- raising event called the Unlimited Dance Marathon to benefit the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital.

The 12-hour, no-sitting, no-sleeping dance marathon will take place Feb. 22-23 at Mariucci Arena. Hawthorne set a goal of raising $75,000 through donations and pledges for the participants.

“It’s been a lot of work, but it’s finally coming to fruition,” said Hawthorne, who’s received help from others throughout the athletics department. “We’re at $14,000 now. We still have a long way to go.”

To donate online, go to gophersports.com/ot/unlimited.html.

Etc.

• Gophers right guard Caleb Bak, who has missed the past two games with concussion symptoms, won’t play against Michigan State this weekend but could return for the bowl game.

• Gophers defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys is one of 40 nominees for the Broyles Award, given to the nation’s top assistant coach.

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