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Minnesota Football Preview: Upgrade or Downgrade? A look at the 2022 Gopher linebackers


NCAA Football: Penn State at Minnesota Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Linebacker went from a major question mark heading into 2021 to a real strength of the defense. What are the questions heading into 2022 and will this group be an upgrade?


The addition of graduate transfer, Jack Gibbens was a huge boost to last year’s Gopher defense. Not only did he end up being the team’s leading tackler but he was a leader for this group, allowing Marion Sori-Marin to really become a playmaker alongside him.

With the help of a stout defensive line, these two were freed up to make plays all over the field. Gibbens and Sori-Marin were the team’s two leading tacklers and were very reliable.

Gone is Gibbens along with DJ Gorden IV and Jaqwondis Burns who both transferred.

Spring Preview - LINK

I can’t say enough about the addition of Jack Gibbens last season. The former Abilene Christian transfer not only led the team in total tackles (92), but his presence also helped Mariano Sori-Marin settle in and eliminate the mental mistakes that plagued him during a 2020 season that saw him struggle often because he couldn’t get out of his own head.

Gibbens is gone now, but Sori-Marin opted to use his extra year of eligibility and return to lead the Gophers’ linebacker corps. When the Gophers field their 4-2-5 defense this fall, you can expect to see Sori-Marin at mike linebacker and Braelen Oliver at the will linebacker position.

The loss of Gibbens and how Sori-Marin can handle the duties at Mike is going to be the biggest question around this unit.


Starter: Mariano Sori-Marin, Braelen Oliver
Depth: Cody Lindenberg, Donald Willis (will step on to the field in traditional 4-3 sets), Josh AUne, Derik LeCaptain, Lucas Finnessy

Sori-Marin is the leader of this group. The 5th year senior showed some real promise in the 2019 season, only to really struggle in 2020. As mentioned, he had a phenomenal 2021 season alongside Gibbens. The hope here is that he Sori-Marin has a rock-solid grasp of the defense, has trust in those around him to do their jobs and he becomes a leader in the middle of this defense.

Oliver, also in his 5th season but with an additional year of eligibility remaining, has had some injury setbacks throughout his career. He showed some real talent as a freshman before missing 2020 due to this injury. He started 7 games and should be just fine stepping into the Will position.

Willis is going to take the Sam linebacker position when the team goes to a traditional 4-3. The athletic redshirt junior has played in 20 games over his career and is the type of kid I expect who will begin to make more plays with more opportunity. Behind him expects to be Josh Aune who has recovered from an injury that forced him to miss the 2021 season.

Cody Lindenberg and Lucas Finnessy are two names you can expect to see as part of the rotation or will be guys getting a lot more run, should there be an injury. Both are in their third seasons with the team. Lindenberg had some buzz during his freshman season, seeing playing time in 6 games during the shortened 2020 season. Finnessy has mostly played special teams.

Upgrade or Downgrade?

This unit is going to really miss Jack Gibbens. His leadership and his ability to be in position to make plays is not sexy, but so valuable. So...can Sori-Marin fill those leadership and playmaking skills? Can Oliver be an impact player now that he is expected to see more snaps?

This defense, with 2020 being the one exception, has had good linebacker player under the leadership of Joe Rossi. And I expect that this year’s group will maintain this level of play. Officially I’m saying this unit will be NEUTRAL for 2022.


Upgrade/Downgrade? Will the Gopher linebackers be an improved unit this season?

This poll is closed

  • 13%
    UPGRADE: Marin is going to perform at a very high level with good players around him
    (37 votes)
  • 52%
    NEUTRAL: Expect similar production and playmaking
    (142 votes)
  • 33%
    DOWNGRADE: We will miss Gibbens
    (91 votes)
270 votes total Vote Now