COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Gophers safety Tyler Nubin drawing attention from NFL

MINNEAPOLIS — NFL scouts had their binoculars trained on University of Minnesota safety Tyler Nubin during the 26-14 loss to Illinois on Saturday.

From high up in the press box at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill., they commented on the senior’s play, including after his tackle for lost yards on the opening drive. They noted he was hurt on the play but came right back in the game.

Nubin had career-highs of 13 total tackles and two for loss against the now-18th-ranked Illini. He is second on the team with 28 tackles, one interception and a forced fumble. On the season, he is the third-highest graded safety (82.0) across Power Five conference schools, according to Pro Football Focus.

Gophers head coach PJ Fleck mentioned Monday a concept Alabama coach Nick Saban uses to describe players. They are either “and” or “but” guys. In NFL draft reports, Saban said a player’s status hinges on that word.

Saban, who spent eight years in the NFL, will go through attributes of a player on the field. Saban gave an example of a defensive back, who has quick feet, can play man-to-man coverage, is a good tackler, has toughness and is a good teammate, graduated from school and coaches loved him.

That’s in comparison to a DB with those same on-field attributes but he had a positive drug test, a domestic incident, got in a bar fight, or the coaching staff didn’t like him.

“People are looking for reasons not to pick you,” Saban said in a YouTube video by Athletic Benchwarmers. “Don’t give anybody a reason to say ‘but.’ It’s the only way to create value for yourself. That ‘and’ and ‘but’ had nothing to do with what the player was, but it had a significant impact on where the player got picked.”

On Nubin, Fleck said, “The great thing about Tyler is you can’t say enough good things about him. I can’t stop talking about him. … You want to be the best “and” guy on the team. He’s one of them.”

Gophers defensive coordinator Joe Rossi said Nubin has become one of their best players “because he practices really hard, because he studies really hard.

“He’s got ability, for sure. … But there are a lot of people with God-given ability, and the ones that maximize that God-given ability are good people doing the right things.”

Rossi said the “cool thing” is that Nubin has not always been among their best players. Nubin, a four-star recruit from St. Charles, Ill., transitioned from cornerback to safety in college and struggled in his first significant action in 2020.

Nubin’s PFF grade was 45.6 in 2020, roughly half of what it is now. When addressing another player las week, Rossi has used Nubin’s practice habits as an example.

The biggest stride Nubin has made from 2021 is with his tackling. “It’s way more aggressive,” fellow safety Jordan Howden said.

Howden and Nubin will exchange pointers on each other’s play. “The way he talks on the field is, to me, been his best since 2020,” Howden said. “You can tell he can be a better leader. I’m really proud of him.”

Nubin has collegiate eligibility remaining beyond this season, and Fleck said they had conversations about Nubin’s future before the season. They will do so again afterward. But nobody would be surprised if he turns pro.

Nubin has been gearing up for this season. At Big Ten Media Days, the Pioneer Press asked Nubin how he unwinds when he’s not involved in football.

“More football, honestly, man,” he said. “Especially this past year, with the things I want to be able to do this season. I’ve been ultra locked in with the film study, getting my body right. Making sure I’m eating right and making sure I’m feeling good. I know there are certain sacrifices you have to make in order to get to where you want to be. I have big goals this season, so I’ve been making a lot of sacrifices.

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