clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Minnesota Football 2023 Preview: Upgrade or Downgrade for the Gophers at linebacker?

Will the Gophers remain good at linebacker this year?

Iowa v Minnesota Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Linebacker was a position of concern heading into 2022 but turned out to be a relative strength of the Gopher defense. There will be more turnover this year, will this unit continue to be strong?


Starter: Mariano Sori-Marin, Braelin Oliver, Cody Lindenberg
Depth: Donald Willis, Devon Williams, Lucas Finnessy, Josh Aune, Derick LeCaptain, Maverick Baranowski

Sori-Marin followed up a great 2021 with a better 2022. In his final season, he led the team in tackles and had 6 TFLs, earning himself 3rd team All-Big Ten. He was unquestionably a leader on last year’s defense.

Cody Lindenberg is really the one regular linebacker from last year who you will see again in 2023. Last year, as a redshirt freshman, Lindenberg started the final six games of the season and had a really good year at the Will linebacker spot. He ended up second on the team in tackles and earned All-Big Ten honorable mention.

Braelin Oliver was frequently on the field last year, particularly when the defense went with 3 LBs on the field. Donald Willis also started 5 games, playing in all 13.

Also seeing action were Derik LeCaptain, Lucas Finnessy and Maverick Baranowski. LeCaptain is a walk-on who saw most of his action on special teams. But is also our emergency running back, should the pair and the spare are lost while the tire shop is close. Finnessy also was mostly on special teams last fall while Baronowski redshirted, seeing action in his 4 games allowed.


Starter: Cody Lindenberg, Ryan Selig
Depth: Maverick Baronowski, Joey Gerlach, Devon Williams

Gone are Sori-Marin, Oliver and Willis while Finnessy moves to rush end. Which means, the only returning linebacker who played any meaningful snaps is Lindenberg. This is a pretty significant problem facing the Gopher defense.

The good news is that Lindenberg is young and there’s every reason to believe that he’s going be an outstanding linebacker. To say that he’s the biggest playmaker of the Gopher front-seven is not a stretch. He’ll start as the weakside linebacker and truly is potentially an All-Big Ten caliber defender.

After that certainty, it gets a little murky.

Starting on the strong side is likely going to be Selig, a transfer from Western Michigan. Selig was a 2-year starter for the Broncos and is coming to Minnesota with 1 year to play. He will bring experience and some physicality to this room. And pushing Selig for snaps will be a couple of young guys. Baranowski is just a redshirt freshman, but he is a player that the staff is excited about. He participated in four games at the end of the season last year and is being groomed to be a multi-year starter for Joe Rossi’s defense.

The next group of names are inexperienced and seeking an opportunity to establish themselves in the rotation. Devon Williams is a redshirt sophomore who saw limited action last year who will also be in the mix. Joey Gerlach is a redshirt freshman who has really nice size for the position but saw zero action as a true freshman.


So this unit feels like a pretty clear downgrade.

Lindenberg could be great, and I mean he may be an elite linebacker that we absolutely fall in love with this year. And we could get some really nice production out of Selig and/or Baranowski at Mike linebacker.

But for this to be an upgrade (or even neutral), we are counting on the best-case scenarios all around. Which feels unlikely.

I like Lindenberg, I believe Baranowski has a bright future, but this is a year we are expecting improvement throughout the season. And this may not be our strongest unit on the defense.


Will linebacker be an upgrade or a downgrade for the Gopher defense?

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    UPGRADE - just you wait!
    (18 votes)
  • 38%
    NEUTRAL - in Joe Rossi we trust
    (56 votes)
  • 48%
    DOWNGRADE - too young and inexperienced this year
    (70 votes)
144 votes total Vote Now