GopherDigest publisher Ryan Burns is breaking down each Gopher football position group, what they're looking to add at each position in the Class of 2017 and their top targets.
Now, let's look at the linebackers.
What the Gophers have on roster
Poock took on the Big Ten by storm last season after missing the 2014 season with injury, as Cody was second on the team in total tackles with 99. Poock is a lot like former Gophers linebacker Damien Wilson (now with the Cowboys) as he's very quick to fill gaps and loves to go into contact and run throughout it to bring the ball carrier to the ground. Poock and Jack Lynn are the two leaders of the Gopher linebackers and are vital to the success of Minnesota on the field this season.
Jack Lynn finished four in tackles last season with 76, but lead Minnesota in tackles for loss with 11. The Illinois native was a wrecking ball in some of Minnesota's biggest games this past season and linebackers coach Mike Sherels believes Lynn can do even more this fall. No doubt that Lynn will be a starter for the Gophers this fall.
Playing in most a reserve role last fall, linebacker Jonathan Celestin will have some large shoes to fill as he'll try and replace De'Vondre Campbell (now with the Atlanta Falcons). Celestin has shown flashes during his first two seasons at Minnesota as he's already one the Gophers best defenders out in space with a defender and can deliver a thump to anyone. Gopher fans should be excited to see what Celestin can do in a larger role this fall.
I'm just going to come out and say it now, I wouldn't at all be surprised if Julian Huff ends up leading the Gophers in sacks this fall. Huff's role went from a situational pass rusher last fall, to a bonafide linebacker this spring. Sources have even told me that Huff may have been the most improved linebacker this past spring. Huff's burst off the line is among the best on the team and he has no issues using his quickness to get around the blocker to make a player. Remember the name Julian Huff this fall.
Nick Rallis is likely going to be the Swiss Army knife of the Gophers linebacking crew this fall as he'll likely be the backup to every position. Rallis was a key special teams contributor last fall for Minnesota as continued to get back to 100% from knee surgery and was a force in the Gophers final two games against Wisconsin and Central Michigan.
Waters after a redshirt season last fall, really looked the part of a Big Ten linebacker this fall. Head coach Tracy Claeys mentioned after one of Minnesota's spring practices earlier this year that Waters reminded him of when Cody Poock first got to campus, and that's quite the compliment. Waters looked to be establishing himself in the rotation this fall and at worst will be a large special teams guy in 2016.
Expectations are through the roof for this young man in Minnesota's own Carter Coughlin. The Eden Prairie Eagle comes in as the 51st ranked recruit in the entire 2016 recruiting class and the best linebacker in the Midwest. Coughlin has an outstanding physical tool set to go with natural instincts that just can't be taught. It's expected that Coughlin will play this fall, but his role will be determined in fall camp yet.
Other guys that could have larger roles are both Everett Williams and Blake Cashman. Williams is just two years removed now from a start against Iowa as a true freshman and Cashman as a true freshman walk-on played on a lot of Minnesota's special teams. Another true freshman that could see time if he proves he's ready is Burnsville's Kamal Martin. I expect Thomas Barber to redshirt.
Projected 2016 depth chart
OLB: Jonathan Celestin - Julian Huff / Nick Rallis
MLB: Cody Poock - Jaylen Waters / Nick Rallis
OLB: Jack Lynn - Nick Rallis / Carter Coughlin / Blake Cashman
What the Gophers want in 2017
Minnesota already has one linebacker committed in Oklahoma's Kyrei Fisher, who pulled the trigger after an unofficial visit to Dinkytown this last spring. The Gophers will lose two linebackers to graduation this fall, so expect about the same numbers for this upcoming recruiting class.
Georgia's Jeffery Burley has the Gophers in his top group and is hoping to visit Minneapolis this fall. Burley is close to, if not at the top of Minnesota's remaining wish list at the linebacker position. Minnesota will have to beat out Mississippi State and Louisville among others, but are sitting in a good spot thus far.
Moore is a player that linebacker's coach Mike Sherels is extremely high on, which is among the reasons why Minnesota just offered him. It'll be a tough get though with offers from Arkansas, Kansas State and Texas Tech among others already.
Fatukasi is a new name for the Gopher radar after the Minnesota staff saw him at the Sound Body Sound Mind camp down in Georgia. While he doesn't have a Gopher offer yet, I expect that to change here very soon.
Ogbonna is another Georgia linebacker that's told GopherDigest that he's planning on visit Minnesota at some point this summer. I don't anticipate a decision anytime soon for Ogbonna, but the Gophers are among his top choices.