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2020 Minnesota Gopher Football Preview: Upgrade or downgrade at linebacker?

Replacing some elite linebackers, will the 2020 unit be an upgrade?

Minnesota v Rutgers Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images

Moving on from the defensive line to the second layer of defense for the Gophers. Linebacker has been a strength of this team for a few years thanks in part to having some very talented kids and the defensive coordinator also happens to be the linebackers coach. Joe Rossi has been a great story on his own, but his linebacker crew has been reliably consistent throughout his tenure. Will his 2020 linebackers continue this trend?


Starter: Thomas Barber & Kamal Martin
Depth: Mariano Sori-Marin, Braelin Oliver, Thomas Rush

Linebacker was arguably the heart and soul of the 2019 Gopher defense. Kamal Martin played himself into a position to hear his name called on draft day and Thomas Barber finished with 274 career tackles. On occasion you would see a third LB on the field which could have been Carter Coughlin (also drafted) or one of the young guys getting some experience in 2019.

Braelin Oliver saw action in all 13 games as a redshirt freshman and performed well. Sori-Marin started 7 games as a sophomore after only seeing action on special teams in 2018. And Rush played in all 13 games, starting one.


Starter: Mariano Sori-Marin, James Gordon OR Donald Willis
Depth: James Gordon, Donald Willis, James Aune

Gone are Barber and Martin who combined for over 50 starts and 450 tackles. You cannot replace that level of experience and production. But the Gophers do have some very talented guys in the linebacker room.

Sori-Marin is the name getting the most pre-season hype and it may be for good reason. He will be starting on Saturday against the Wolverines and is one of the few defensive players I’m watching closely to see if he makes big strides to be one of the leaders on this 2020 defense.

Lining up alongside Marin will likely be Gordon or Willis. Both were able to redshirt last year and both will see significant playing time as redshirt freshmen.

Thomas Rush will see a lot of playing time, stepping into the Carter Coughlin role. You’ll see him lining up as a rush end or playing as an OLB at times. His size and athleticism make him intriguing.

Oliver would certainly have been in the mix to start this year but is currently sidelined with a spring injury.

Upgrade / Downgrade

As stated, it is really hard to replace two starters like Martin and Barber. For game 1, I think an argument could be made that this unit will be neutral, but certainly not an upgrade until shown otherwise.

Since we are 2 days away from playing our first game, I will let the optimism flow through me and declare this group will be neutral.

The encouraging part is that the names listed above are very talented and this group really could be elite, very soon. Marin, Gordon, Willis, Rush and Oliver are all guys to be excited about. And I haven’t even mentioned one of the four scholarship true freshmen that came into this 2020 class.


Upgrade or Downgrade for the Gopher linebackers this year?

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    UPGRADE: Let these guys loose and see what they’ll do!
    (10 votes)
  • 32%
    NEUTRAL: I’m confident that this talented group can match the production of the previous talented group.
    (49 votes)
  • 60%
    DOWNGRADE: The entire starting unit is gone and were elite, this has to be a downgrade.
    (91 votes)
150 votes total Vote Now