Gopher Football Preview: Outside Linebacker

Last season the starting outside linebackers, Simoni Lawrence and Nate Triplett had great seasons. The duo were a reliable unit on the field. With the loss of these two to graduation, the Gophers will look to a young group of outside linebackers to patrol the middle of the field.

Projected Starters:
Last season, Nate Triplett had 104 tackles, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries, one of which he took back for a game-changing touchdown against Air Force. His backup, Keanon Cooper, must now step into the spotlight and try to fulfill his potential. Sophomore Keanon Cooper had 37 tackles, one sack and a forced fumble last season. Cooper played well when he got the opportunity. If Cooper can maintain his speed by adding more muscle, he should fit in just fine with the Gopher defense.

Simoni Lawrence totaled 85 tackles, two sacks, one interception and one forced fumble. Similar to Triplett, these numbers will be hard to replicate. Due to the abundance of quality linebackers, sophomore, Spencer Reeves did not get much playing time last year. Although he doesn't have the experience, Reeves definitely has the talent to be a big time player. As a senior in high school, he had an amazing 160 tackles. If Reeves can tap into his potential, he had Keanon Cooper could make a formidable outside linebacker duo.

Projected Top Reserves:
Depending on how the other two outside linebackers do, backup Joey Balthazor could see his first snaps as a Gopher. The redshirt freshman had a great career at Arrowhead High School in Hartland, Wisconsin. During his senior season, Balthazor had 104 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions while leading his team to a state championship. Having redshirted last year, Balthazor has the experience within the Minnesota system to possibly get some playing time in 2010.

Incoming Freshman:
Freshman, Dwayne Mitchell from New Orleans will be a great addition to the group of Gopher outside linebackers. Mitchell is 6-foot-2, 220 pounds and very fast. He reportedly ran an amazing 4.6 second 40-yard dash. This speed helps Mitchell close in on runners and also to get pressure on the quarterback. As a senior, he had 86 tackles, 39 tackles for a loss and a staggering 18 sacks. This type of high-intensity player will make an impact before his career with the Gophers is over.

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