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 keep moving on the defensive side of the ball as after the defensive line, Ryan looks 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 summer as Minnesota needs that kind of production to return in 2017 from their Mike linebacker. Poock was out all spring recovering from off-season surgery.
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. Cashman is expected back for Minnesota this fall after off-season surgery.
With no Cashman, Huff or Poock this spring because of injury, and Coughlin moving to rush defensive end, Kamal Martin assumed first-team outside linebacker responsibilities. Martin played in every game for Minnesota as a true freshman last year, and has all the athletic tools you want to play outside linebacker. He's only played linebacker for one year, so the more seasoning he gets, the better things will be.
With no Cody Poock, it was Thomas Barber who got the start at Mike linebacker for Minnesota this spring over Jaylen Waters and Everett Williams, two older linebackers than Barber. The to-be sophomore has toned up some from when he came in six months ago, and has the natural instincts and aggressive style you want from your middle linebacker. It'll be a fun competition to watch this fall when Poock returns.
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. Huff was not participating in contact drills during spring practice because of off-season ankle surgery.
It'll be an interesting fall to watch for both Waters and Williams. Waters was a big part of the Gophers special teams last fall as he played an "enforcer" role of sorts, but I'm wondering if Minnesota approaches him about playing some defensive end with the lack of bodies there. Williams actually took a redshirt last fall and will be a redshirt junior this fall, so we'll see what his role is this fall.
Minnesota's lone linebacker commitment from 2017, Trenton Guthrie, has already been on campus for a few months now after participating in spring ball. He worked with Minnesota's rush ends this past spring, but it'll be interesting to see where Minnesota slots him after another few months in the weight room.
Projected 2017 spring depth chart
OLB: Jonathan Celestin - Julian Huff / Kamal Martin
MLB: Cody Poock - Thomas Barber
OLB: Blake Cashman / Kamal Martin
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, and they have their first commitment for Robb Smith already with Illinois' Mariano Sori-Marin. Gophers had their eye on Sori-Marin for a few months before pulling the trigger on an offer as he visited with his family back in February. Then Sori-Marin goes to the Nike camp in Chicago and posts very good times, so Minnesota sends Robb Smith to watch him workout, and next thing you know, Sori-Marin has a Gopher offer and commits.
One name out east to keep an eye on this summer is Pennsylvania athlete Jordan Mosley. Minnesota offered this under the radar defender after getting a couple of live evaluations on him this spring. Mosley owns a SPARQ score over 100 to go with a 6'1" 200 lb frame, so the Gophers will be working this one hard over the summer.
Another name to watch for a Gopher visit this summer is Utah linebacker Viliami Tausinga, who recently received a Minnesota offer from DC Robb Smith. Tausinga has a very beatable offer list at the moment, but the trick will be getting him out to the Twin Cities before his senior season.