Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, June 23, 2015

The Big Ten West is home to some fine secondaries. And it all begins with a loaded Minnesota defensive backfield that teems with talent and experience. Wisconsin also has a good-looking secondary led by star safety Michael Caputo.

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Here is a look at the West defensive backfields.

1. Minnesota. In a word, this group is loaded even with Cedric Thompson-an NFL draft pick–gone. Four senior are back to start from a unit that helped the Gophers rank No. 18 vs. the pass in 2014. Corner Eric Murray is the bellwether, a future pro who can shutdown wideouts. Briean Boddy-Calhoun-a key leader who made five interceptions last season–is opposite Murray. Damarius Travis and Antonio Johnson are the safeties. Travis is a big hitter for one of the Big Ten?s best coached defensive backfield under Jay Sawvel.

2. Wisconsin. Looking good, with three starters back. Sojourn Shelton and Darius Hillary are veteran corners. Hillary is the most consistent, while Shelton is looking to regain his freshman form. The cornerbacks didn?t net an interception in 2014; that must change. Michael Caputo is one of the Big Ten?s best strong safeties. He paced Wisconsin with 106 tackles in 2014. Caputo is a hard hitter and a leader. Rangy free safety Tanner McEvoy is one of the more intriguing players in the Big Ten. He opened last year as the Badgers? starting quarterback. Now, he?s starting in the secondary and also taking reps at receiver.

3. Iowa. The Hawkeyes are in good shape in the back end. Desmond King is one of the Big Ten?s top boundary corners. Greg Mabin is back to start opposite King; he lacks consistency but his size makes him intriguing. Jordan Lomax returns to reprise his starting roles at free safety. He?s a leader and a hitter. The strong safety spot? It?s a battle between Miles Taylor and Brandon Snyder. Good depth with guys like corner Maurice Fleming and free safety Anthony Gair.

4. Northwestern. Lots to like here. Matthew Harris and Nick VanHoose give the Wildcats a veteran duo at cornerback. Harris may be a pro. The safety duo isn?t too shabby, either. Traveon Henry is a big hitter and leader. Godwin Igwebuike takes over for departed Ibraheim Campbell. Igwebuike has a nose for the ball. This group needs to lead the charge for a defense searching for better play better in the fourth quarter.

5. Nebraska. This unit has a chance to be good under coach Brian Stewart, one of the best in the biz. The Cornhuskers have two nice safeties. Nathan Gerry was an All-Big Ten player last year after making five picks. Byerson Cockrell didn?t start last year but played often as a nickel back. Daniel Davie is the top corner. Opposite him are Jonathan Rose, who is ready for a breakout, and Charles Jackson, who missed 2014 with a knee injury. Depth is solid for a group that lost corner Josh Mitchell and safety Corey Cooper.

6. Illinois. The unit has potential, thanks to a nice collection of cornerbacks. V?Angelo Bentley and Eaton Spence are third-year senior starters who are difficult to faze. The safety spot? It has been disappointing; and Zane Petty and Earnest Thomas are gone. Strong safety Taylor Barton is a returning starter who makes tackles but not big plays. Clayton Fejedelm is penciled in at free safety. He gets after it.

7. Purdue. There are the makings for a solid unit with both starters back at cornerback in Frankie Williams and Anthony Brown. Williams is one of the best in the Big Ten. He has a knack for making plays. Brown broke up 10 passes last year. Depth at corner is an issue, however. A BIG issue. The safety spots could be an issue with gutty Landon Feichter and Taylor Richards gone. Robert Gregory and Leroy Clark are new starters. Gregory arrived on campus as a quarterback. Clark has played corner.


About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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