GopherIllustrated publisher Ryan Burns is breaking down each Gopher football position group, what they're looking to add at each position in the Class of 2018 and their top targets.
Now, let's look at the linebackers.
What the Gophers have on roster
Minnesota's leading returning tackler from last season will be senior Jonathan Celestin who finished his his junior season with 80 total tackles, eight passes broken up, seven tackles for loss, two and a half sacks and a forced fumble. Celestin will hold down his outside linebacker position and remains one of the Gophers best tacklers in space that Minnesota has on the roster. Celestin also proved to be an asset in pass protection as well last season. Should be another productive season for the Georgia linebacker.
Maybe the forgotten about linebacker from last season was Cody Poock who battled injuries for most of the 2016 season, which forced Minnesota to slide over Jack Lynn to Mike linebacker. Poock nearly had 100 tackles in 2015, so expectations are high for Poock to return to that form this spring as Minnesota needs that kind of production to return in 2017.
The phenomenon that was Blake Cashman's final five games of the season swept over Gopher Nation when the sophomore recorded 35 total tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. He was absolutely lethal on special teams all season long for Minnesota as the Gophers version of former Viking pro bowler Heath Farwell, but when asked to do more in the final five games of the season, Cashman took it and ran, and never looked back. Cashman will have more on his plate this season, but if he can keep up his production when teams will be game-planning for him, Minnesota's going to have something. Please don't take Cashman off kickoff and punt though, because he's a one man wrecking crew.
Minnesota's top rated recruit in the 2016 class, Carter Coughlin, played in the final eleven games of the season and total 25 tackles, four tackles for loss and two sacks. Another player that's going to be asked to play a bigger role this spring with no Jack Lynn at outside linebacker. He and Cashman, both former Eden Prairie Eagles, will be battling it out.
Julian Huff has played in every game through his first two season with production of 50+ tackles and five for loss. Huff's role thus far as really been that of a pass rusher, and with Minnesota lacking defensive ends this fall, it wouldn't be a surprise at all to see Huff see plenty of snaps in that role again.
All three, Jaylen Waters, Kamal Martin and Thomas Barber are going to be asked to be huge special teams contributors this fall once again. Barber and Waters specifically acceled in that role last year, and both will battle it out at the middle linebacker position as well. Kamal Martin's ceiling hasn't even begun to be scratched yet, and that'll be one of the tasks on the list for defensive coordinator Robb Smith this spring.
Projected 2017 spring depth chart
OLB: Jonathan Celestin - Julian Huff / Kamal Martin
MLB: Cody Poock - Jaylen Waters / Thomas Barber
OLB: Blake Cashman - Carter Coughlin
What the Gophers want in 2018
With both Poock and Celestin graduating in 2017, GopherIllustrated is expecting two to three linebackers to join the fold in 2018.
Minnesota will be getting a visit from one of the best linebackers in New Jersey for the spring game in Nihym Anderson, who holds offers from Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Indiana and Boston College among others here in March. Anderson's tape shows a player with immense burst and physicality. Defensive coordinator Robb Smith has to be licking his chops if Minnesota's able to add Anderson to the fold.
Minnesota will also be getting a visit from Missouri linebacker Devin Ruffin next week when spring practice resumes. Minnesota's offered the St. Louis product along with Iowa State, Northern Illinois and Western Michigan, so the offer list doesn't look too daunting at all for the Gophers to land Ruffin's services.
Minnesota's doing everything they can to get into the race for Illinois linebacker Jack Sanborn who has high interest in both of their neighbors in Wisconsin and Iowa. There's no visit set yet to Minnesota, but the Gophers staff is doing everything they can do get one on the calendar.
St. Thomas Aquinas linebacker Darrell Shelton has expressed early interest in the Gophers putting them in his top four. Minnesota has connections to Shelton with CB commit Benny Sapp III being his former teammate, and Gophers special teams coach Rob Wenger formerly coaching at the high school. Minnesota's working on getting Shelton on campus before his senior year yet, but no date is set.