Jalen Myrick ready to run with chance to be Minnesota's top cornerback

Cornerback Jalen Myrick had three interceptions in 10 games last season for Minnesota. AP Photo/Doug McSchooler

Minnesota should have two cornerbacks selected in next month's NFL draft. It's a testament to Jalen Myrick's talent and potential that the Golden Gophers aren't terribly worried about the position for 2016.

Myrick, a senior, has spent time the past two seasons filling in and playing alongside Eric Murray and Briean Boddy-Calhoun, a pair of All-Big Ten performers bound for the pro ranks. As the Gophers began spring practice last week, Myrick was undoubtedly the team's new No. 1 cornerback.

"I'm excited for those guys to get drafted," Myrick said. "I'm also excited to get to show what I can do. I can actually do me now. It's not like it's Eric, Briean and then Jalen."

Myrick has already shown off top playmaking skills. In 10 games last season, including seven starts, he had three interceptions. He took one back for a touchdown.

He was playing so well by midseason that Minnesota stopped always switching Murray onto the other team's top receiver. The coaching staff grew comfortable leaving Myrick and Murray on their respective sides of the field independent of who lined up against them.

"We felt like we had two No. 1 corners in that regard," said defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel, who coached the team's defensive backs before earning a promotion this offseason.

Myrick's breakout 2015 season hit a speed bump because of a freak injury at Ohio State on Nov. 15. While being tackled on the opening kickoff of that game, he suffered a collapsed lung. The injury forced him to stay in a Columbus hospital for two days and be driven back to Minneapolis. But say this about his toughness: Myrick played most of the first half with one working lung, believing at first he only had a back spasm.

No one could ever question the 5-foot-10, 205-pounder's speed. The Savannah, Georgia, native was the state runner-up in the 100-meter dash as a high school junior. He was recently tracked by Minnesota's GPS systems as running 23.4 mph.

He has used that speed to return kicks for the Gophers. In 2014, he finished second in the Big Ten by averaging 28.2 yards per return, and he had a 100-yard score against Northwestern. This season, Myrick hopes to add punt return duties to his game.

"I want to increase my role as much as I can to broadcast myself," he said.

Myrick is easily the fastest guy on the roster, and he could outrun both Murray and Boddy-Calhoun. Those guys both posted sub-4.5 times in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine.

It was that speed that got him to Minnesota, along with an assist from Tubby Smith. A family friend lived in Minneapolis and knew Smith, and he handed the Gophers' head basketball coach at the time Myrick's high school highlight tape. Smith brought the tape down to the football office.

"You could see it on the video -- the guy can really, really run," Sawvel said. "You just look at it and go, 'OK, if you can get a guy with that kind of speed and talent, let’s go. Some of the rest of it doesn't matter.'"

Sawvel says Myrick already has the playmaking skill of Boddy-Calhoun, who tied for second in the Big Ten with five interceptions in 2014. What Sawvel would like to see from Myrick now is the day-to-day, play-to-play consistency and all-around ability that Murray brought to the table.

Sawvel wishes the staff would have redshirted Myrick as a freshman instead of forcing him into limited action. That and last season's injury might have slowed his development some. But at a program that has steadily produced NFL-caliber defensive backs in recent years, Myrick has the potential to be the next standout.

"His talent is big," Sawvel said. "Now he just needs the technical skills to match the talent."

If that happens, the Gophers won't miss a beat despite losing two NFL cornerbacks.