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Minnesota Football: Spring Position Preview - Linebackers

The Gophers’ linebacker corps has talent at the top but youth and inexperience will challenge their depth

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Northwestern Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Golden Gophers will take on the Golden Gophers of Minnesota in a spring game showdown at noon 6 p.m. on Saturday Thursday at TCF Bank Stadium, weather permitting. Leading up to the game, we’ll be taking a look at the outlook for each position group.

Key Departure(s): Jonathan Celestin and Cody Poock
Key Returner(s): Thomas Barber, Carter Coughlin, Kamal Martin, Blake Cashman, Julian Huff, and Trenton Guthrie
Early Enrollee(s): Thomas Rush

Jonathan Celestin will be missed, but Minnesota is fortunate to have a trio of talented linebackers — Thomas Barber, Carter Coughlin, and Kamal Martin — who are poised to anchor this position group for the next two seasons.

Barber experienced a breakout season as a sophomore, leading the team in tackles with 115 to go along with three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and one interception. He finished the season as one of the top tacklers in the Big Ten, yet somehow ended up All-Big Ten Third Team (media) and All-Big Ten Honorable Mention (coaches). Go figure. He’ll need to improve at shedding blocks, but Barber has a bright future ahead of him.

Coughlin will continue to split time between linebacker and the “R” position, as I discussed in the defensive line preview. When he is at the “R” position, look for seniors Blake Cashman and Julian Huff to fill the hole at outside linebacker. It took awhile for Cashman to see the field last season, but once Celestin started missing time due to a bad elbow, he was forced into action and the staff seemed to figure out how to utilize him.

Martin seems to be the lesser known of the three junior linebackers, but his athleticism is off the charts. Last season, he recorded recorded 42 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, one interception, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. With his speed and versatility, I’d like to see him blitzing the quarterback more. But as we saw last season, the lack of depth at defensive back often forces the Gophers to drop Martin into coverage.

The Gophers’ linebacker corps is loaded at the top, but there is uncertainty below the upperclassmen. With no scholarship sophomore linebackers, the lone scholarship underclassman on the roster this spring are redshirt freshman Trenton Guthrie and early enrollee Thomas Rush. Rush will be a work in progress, as he played running back in high school but has all of the physical tools to eventually excel at linebacker.

One thing to note: Barber and Cashman are both recovering from offseason surgery, so you won’t see either of them in the spring game on Saturday.

Next: Defensive Backs