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Minnesota Football Preview: Linebackers, Upgrade or Downgrade in 2019?

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The heart of the Gopher defense, is it going to be an upgrade in 2019?

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Michigan Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Continuing to move through the defense and the upgrade/downgrade previews, we get to the position group that is the deepest and most talented unit on the Gopher defense.

2018

Starter: Blake Cashman, Thomas Barber, Kamal Martin
Depth: Julian Huff, Thomas Rush, Mariano Sori-Marin

The names listed above, plus Carter Coughlin getting plenty of time at linebacker as well made this a formidable group in 2018. Gone are just Cashman and Huff.

Cashman ended up being 7th in the Big Ten in tackles and tied with Coughlin for 5th in the Big Ten with 15 tackles for loss. He also earned himself 2nd All-Big Ten team and a 5th round draft selection by the NY Jets where he is making a push to be a starting linebacker as a rookie, especially after they lost Avery Williamson for the season. Huff graduated after having 21 tackles, 2 fumble recoveries and an interception as a reserve in 2018.

Barber and Martin were both studs in 2018, finishing 3rd and 4th on the team respectively in tackles.

Overall, this was a rather good unit in 2018 and should be poised for a great 2019.

2019

Starter: Thomas Rush, Thomas Barber, Kamal Martin
Depth: Braelen Oliver, Mariano Sori-Marin, Josh Aune
Freshmen: James Gordon IV, Donald Willis

Once again, Carter Coughlin is still part of this group though most expect he’ll be playing all over the place. He is a stud. Enough said.

The return of Barber and Martin are enough to be excited about this group. Combined they have 72 career games played, 35 starts, over 300 tackles and 12 turnovers. Barber is always in the mix and around the ball while Martin is athletically covering sideline to sideline.

Rush is the bigger unknown of the group but reports out of both spring and fall camp have been that he is very good, and getting better. And then the depth is a complete unknown. Sori-Marin saw a lot of action last year, but mostly on special teams. And with this staff, you just never know if a freshman is going to become a major contributor.

Upgrade / Downgrade

To be honest, I liked this group on paper a little more last year than I do this year. The defense is losing a drafted linebacker and a senior who was a very solid backup when needed. Two key guys from this unit and they are being replaced with inexperience. Is it possibly the Rush is able to provide similar production as Cashman and Oliver/Marin/Aune are capable backups when called upon? Yes, that really isn’t unreasonable. Is it likely? I’d say that this unit being neutral overall is a win but I expect it’ll be a slight downgrade.

Barber and Martin may have better seasons, I just think their improvements will have to offset what you are losing from Cashman. It won’t be significant and this unit is still extremely good. But it was last year as well and if I’m comparing the two seasons, I’ll call this a slight downgrade.

Poll

Is Linebacker and upgrade over 2018 or downgrade?

This poll is closed

  • 17%
    Upgrade - Barber and Martin are going to be All Big Ten
    (15 votes)
  • 54%
    Neutral - a little improvement offsets loss of Cashman
    (46 votes)
  • 27%
    Downgrade - lost an NFL caliber LB
    (23 votes)
84 votes total Vote Now