Thursday, August 28, 2014

Gophers Position Preview: Leidner Launch Targets

I choose you...

Since we are biting off more than we can chew as usual, we've decided to combine the tight ends and wide receivers.  This is apropos because the best receiving target for Leidner is likely to be the starting tight end, Maxx Williams.

At the wide receiver position, sophomores Drew Wolitarsky and Donovahn Jones will likely start on the outside.  Both are 6'3", with Jones being the more dynamic athlete and Wolitarsky now at a whopping 226 pounds.  When the hell did that happen?  Woli seems to have talent at finding openings in the defense and being more of a possession type receiver, but at that size may just decapitate corners at the line to get open.  Jones was used in a number of ways (JET SWEEP) last year to take advantage of his playmaking ability.

RS Senior Isaac Freuchte is back and will likely play plenty.  He's a terrific blocker and a high effort guy, but had just 13 receptions last season.  KJ Maye has been pretty highly hyped again this off-season and will probably be used out of the slot.  He had just 7 receptions and 2 carries last season. 

Depth includes RS Senior and back-flip-football-catcher-master Logan Hutton, RS freshman Eric Carter and freshmen Isiah Gentry and Melvin Holland Jr.  Let's face it, we seem to see a new wide receiver come out of the woodwork each year and make an impact and there's no reason to think this season will be any different.

As mentioned, Maxx Williams will be a leader among receivers after catching 25 balls and scoring 5 touchdowns as a true freshman.  His ability to go in the air and use his body to make the reception is outstanding.  He's also often open right over the middle because the attention the linebackers pay to the running game.

There is quite a bit of depth at the tight end position behind Williams.  Senior Drew Goodger has had a solid career at Minnesota and will again be in on two TE sets.  He has 22 career receptions and 4 TDs.  Junior Lincoln Plsek is another big TE that can block and catch the ball a little.  Speaking of big, 6' 10", 265 pound Nate Wozniak has also created some press this off-season and is a massive mismatch.  You won't miss him when he takes the field.

The position is strong enough where two incoming freshmen, Gaelin Elmore and Jerry Gibson, are playing at DL and WR respectively.  Freshman Brandon Lingen remains at the position and is more of a blocking tight end.

TRE's Grade

Rubric:  Ben Utecht B+

Utecht was a tight end that did a little bit of everything for the Gophers, including a little punting.  Over four seasons he amassed 82 receptions for 1201 yards and 15 TDs.  He went undrafted, but ended up playing with both the Colts and the Bengals.  He was a starting tight end alongside Peyton Manning during their 2006 Superbowl run.  Unfortunately, concussions cut his NFL career short.

Today Utecht is a renaissance man.  He's a Christian musician, an actor, a writer, a public speaker and he could probably change the oil on your Saturn if need be.  I encourage to check out his website, holy smokes. 

Gophers 2014 Tight Ends/Wide Receivers: B

This group is solid enough, especially with the tight ends included to deserve a B.  A lot of players had to learn on the job last year and now they can take the next step in 2014.  However, this is primarily a running football team, so we'll need to see if the passing games is allowed to develop a little more this year.

Frothy's Grade

Rubric: Tutu Atwell A+

If Still Got Hope has a friend of the site, it's Tutu Atwell. People search for him on Google and end up at our site. Oh, you thinking I'm kidding?

Yes, we appear. Our small, insignificant site with a dozen readers has moved the Google needle. We matter. Thank you Tutu, for making us relevant.

Also, the search results show us that Strib columnist Michael Rand co-opted TRE's WATNATG feature
on Atwell. If you're going to steal shtick, wait more than three months to do it, Brosef Stalin.

Anyway, Tutu was the man, amassing 171 receptions, 2640 yards and 17 TDs over his career.

Gophers 2014 Tight Ends/Wide Receivers: C+

There's a lot of potential here, certainly more than in past seasons; but it's difficult to go much higher than this until we've seen more. The argument could be made that Maxx alone brings the grade up to a B and there's probably some merit to that. However, the wide receivers have been something of a sucking chest wound the last few seasons. Even when a player does emerge, like A.J. Barker and Derrick Engel, they go all rambling manifesto or get injured, respectively.

Our three best performers last year, Maxx, D. Jones and Woli, were freshmen, so all signs point to a unit with tremendous upside. But potential energy don't get the bourbon in the glass, yo; you need that kinetic ish. The ability for this unit to gel with Leidner and exceed expectations is the difference between a six-win season and a nine-win season. I'm guardedly optimistic some of that potential will be realized. But I want to see it in action before I set my expectations too high.

(Frothy's starting word count: 13,211; Finishing word count: 13,496)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Gophers Position Preview: Barbers and Tapehs

The State of our Running Backs is Strong

Going into last season we were looking at a combo of bowling ball Donnell Kirkwood and the Nugget, Rodrick Williams.  We were left wondering who the big play back would be with many thinking true freshman Berkley Edwards would take on that change of pace role.  As Spiro Agnew once said, "My what a difference a year makes!"

David Cobb became the beautiful man that brought back the days of great Gopher running backs.  He rushed for 1202 yards on 237 carries.  Its especially impressive because in the first 6 games he only reached double digits in carries twice even though 5 of his 7 TDs were in the first 4 games.  In his last 7 games he had 169 carries for 828 yards.  Work effing Horse.

So, for 2014, we fully expect MOAR COBB.  Its not outlandish to think that he could surpass that 1200 yards since he's the man from the get-go.  However, as Thomas Tapeh said in his caption, the state of our RBs is pretty damn strong.  Donnell Kirkwood, who I still kind of like as a little bowling ball of a man is probably the #4 running back.  Nugget will be in the mix as a backup grinder and the long-awaited debut of Berkley Edwards will be this year.  I saw one of the knobs on BTN say that Berkley Edwards is THE key player for the Gophers this year.  That's a little absurd, but he really has some skills that this team sorely needs, namely SP33D.  He'll probably line up in a number of spots sort of like Donovahn Jones did last year and do a bunch of really cool shit.

The cherry on top for the Gophers is that it looks fairly likely that 4-star recruit and Washburn star Jeff Jones will be able to be at Minnesota this year.  WE have already admitted Jones, but the NCAA is still reviewing the case and a ruling is expected prior to September 2nd when classes begin.  Jones would redshirt one has to assume, but just having him here with the team is a massive win.

TRE's Grade

Rubric:  Darrell Thompson A

Darrell Thompson started all four years at Minnesota and amassed some pretty incredible career numbers.  He ranks 8th in career rushing yards in Big Ten history (since 1956) with 4,518 yards.  He's also 14th in career TDs with 43.  In the midst of the Gutekunst era, Thompson unfortunately only played in one bowl game.  He was drafted by the Packers 19th overall in 1990.  He was a beast for those Gopher teams and is still involved in our community and with the Gophers as a broadcaster.  And here he is getting ice thrown in his face:

2014 Running Backs Grade B+

I expect big things from Cobb and I feel great about the depth and the changes of pace we can throw at teams.  I look forward to a boatload of yards from Cobb and some home runs from Edwards.

Frothy's Grade

Rubric: Chris Darkins A-

1994 was an odd year for Gopher football. The team was materially better than the God-awful 1992 and 1993 squads. They had closed the disparity in rushing yards per game from a whopping 60 yards in Jim Wacker's first season to a mere 15. The problem was one that would be a constant throughout Wacker's tenure: we couldn't stop anyone from scoring. Despite comparable passing and rushing yards per game, the Gophers allowed more than one touchdown per game than they scored. The ol' bend-and-break defense.

None of this was Chris Darkins' fault, mind you. He had a spectacular 1994 campaign with 1,443 rushing yards and 11 TDs. He contributed another 300 yards and two TDs receiving. There was a short-lived Heisman campaign for Darkins going into the 1995 season, but injuries limited him to only eight games. He also was drafted by the Packers, where he converted to DB and enjoyed his cup of coffee in the 1997 season before retiring.

2014 Running Backs Grade A-

Eff it, I'm all in with this crew. I think we've got a good finesse back in Cobb who will get the majority of carries, a couple hammers in Nug and Kirkland to mash the soft underbelly of opposing defenses and a diminutive slotback in Berk who will keep defenders honest on the edge. This is as deep a stable as we've had since 2003, with a really diverse set of capabilities. Cobb will remain the bell cow and will push the 1,200 mark he had last season. I suspect Edwards will get as many passes to the flat, in space, as he will carries, which should spread defenses out a little bit. And it will be interesting to see how Nug and Donnell are used. Both are capable, but, barring injury, there are only so many carries to go around.

(Frothy's starting word count: 12,899; Finishing word count: 13,211)

Know Your Enemy Week 1: EIU Pamfs

Zack knows.

Each week before the game I like to try and use the mysterious powers of the intergoogles to learn more about the given week's opponent.  For week 1 of the 2014 season the Gophers are taking on FCS power Eastern Illinois.  The FCS schools are a little tougher to research than say, Nebraska, but let's see what we can find out.

My first stop is to the official EIU Panthers Website and their preview against Minnesota.  As a side note, congrats to EIU grads Janelle and Warren for winning the USTA Mixed Doubles Grass Court Championships:

Janelle clearly carried the team.

Where was I?  Oh yeah, so the EIU site has 5 things to watch which amount to:

1.  Kim Dameron is their head coach and its his first year.  It's a dude named Kim; this is 2014, bro.
2.  Who will replace Jimmy Garoppolo at QB?  Answer, two guys that transferred from NMSU and Kentucky respectively.  NMSU guy Andrew Manley actually beat the Gophers in 2011 and if I recall correctly, is a ginger.  Suddenly I have the fear.  Jalen Whitlow started some games for Kentucky and was a dual threat type.

Wait, what?

3.  There's a new punter and new kicker(s) this year.  They're riding the "hot foot" at kicker.  There's a 70% chance the opposing kicker wilts under the glare of SANTOSO.
4.  They beat San Diego State in the opener last year and narrowly lost to Northern Illinois.  However, they are 0-6 against the Big Ten.
5.  Despite losing Jimmy at QB and WR Erik Lora, the recent Vikings undrafted free agent cut; they return 2900 receiving yards and two other FCS All-Americans.  They also return both running backs who combined for 2500+ yards in 2013 including Walter Payton Award watch listed Shepard Little.

More on Garoppolo

Not Related
If you're living an NFL-free lifestyle, you may not know the name Jimmy Garoppolo.  This spring he became something of a pre-NFL draft sensation; he was a late add to the Senior Bowl after playing well in the East-West Shrine game.  The guy threw for over 5000 yards and 53 touchdowns as a senior, breaking records that Tony Romo set at EIU.  He won the Walter Payton award which is like the FCS Heisman.  The Patriots selected him in the 2nd round, 62nd overall and he'll be starting the Pats final preseason game on Thursday while his Panthers take on the Gophers.  Word is he may play the whole damn game.  Clearly, losing Jimmy will be a big blow to this team, but this still a strong offense that the Gophers defense should not take them lightly.

Eastern Illinois All-Namers

WR Keiondre Gober - Fastest WR, deep threat!
DE Fedney Delphonse - OLB/DE SuperFedney
DB Elven Walker - Lives in a tree
WR Stephen Bravo-Brown - Hooray!
*Note:  Not a single apostrophe on the squad

How will the game go?

Under the previous regime, Garoppolo and friends ran a high-tempo, high-octane offense.  Dameron and new OC Greg Stevens intend to slow it down and use their very capable running backs tandem.  Dameron is considered more of a defensive-minded coach and has a lot of returning starters.  The defense has strength up the middle with DT DinoFanti and MLB Robert Haynes. 

The bottom line is this is another one of those non-conference games where the Gophers need to just execute and rely on the fact they are the bigger, better, stronger, faster, better looking team.  A strong start could be crucial.  If the Gophers can get the running game going and the crowd behind them, it could be all downhill from there.  If they make early mistakes and give up an early lead, it could be a painful slog.  We at SGH? believe our defensive backfield is a strength and this will be a great early test.  My dream would be a solid early lead with the opportunity to stretch the field for some passing to Jones, Maxx, Maye and Woli. 

TRE's Score Prediction:  Gophers 30, Panthers 17
Swan's Score Prediction: Gophers 35, Panthers 10

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Gophers Preview: BIG SLINGERS

So did you make it through all of the defensive previews?  You did?  No way! Color me impressed.  To the hundreds (dozens?) of you that are still here we have a special treat.  And to our repeated Ukrainian visitors that keep making their way here, let me say:

Привіт і спасибі за відвідування. Нехай усі ваші вороги вмирають у вогні

Allow those of us at SGH to introduce a new bit we're calling Gopher Numerology!!!  Watch as we confuse and bend numbers to our will in order to receive the outcomes we desire!  Be amazed at the mystic powers of Frothy and TRE as they accurately predict* the future!  Seriously, this is totally happening and you are not on purple drank stumbling around Block E.

In 2014 the quarterback position is as clear as hill people moonshine.  Mitch Leidner is the quarterback and the only way he loses the job is if he suffers from spontaneous combustion, or you know, another injury.  He will not fall on this face as other somewhat-hyped Gopher QBs have.  How do we know?  Freaking Numerology, son.

While we saw some moments from Leidner in 2013, especially on the run, we were left wanting more.  As I was consulting star charts and contemplating the color green I thought to myself:

How many quarterbacks started as a freshman or sophomore and had similar numbers to Leidner?  And self, how did those quarterbacks fare in their second year and how did their last season at quarterback go?
To the googles and I went.  They have this neat CFB search engine where I looked up 2000-2013 Quarterbacks with similar stats to Leidner.  I used the following thresholds: from 2000 to 2013, requiring Pass Attempts <= 150 and Passing Yards >= 400 and Rushing Yards >= 300 and Rush Attempts <= 150, sorted by descending Passing Efficiency Rating.

I threw out the military schools where they never pass as well as recent QBs that haven't finished their career yet.  I threw out position changes (except Colter) and players that lost their job (the mystics say Leidner will play the next three years). 

Using that list and those assumptions, we're left with a pretty small and interesting list. 

Looking at Leidner's peers here, only Colter and Lovecchio were not drafted by the NFL.  We have a Heisman winner and a finalist in Smith and Young.  Now granted, Leidner is last in passing yards and 3rd to last in rushing yards out of this group, but these are the thresholds that I randomly chose and he didn't play full time in 2013 with Phillip Nelson appearing in 11 games.

Some of these players are elite runners at the quarterback position, and I don't think we'll ever say that about Leidner.

Let's look at how these players performed in their second year:

Lovecchio lost his job to Carlyle Holiday and we'll see him in the final table as a member of the Indiana Hoosiers.  Counting numbers are up across the board with amazing rushing totals and touchdowns.  Smith and Harris clear the 2000 passing yard mark, but passer rating on average goes down as more INTs are thrown. Completion percentage is slightly up despite throwing nearly twice as often. 

Let's skip ahead to each QB's final year:

First, Kain Colter was kind of crazy productive, no?  I mean, this doesn't even count his 63 receptions at Northwestern.  Other than Lovecchio, this group ended up being very, very good.  Tyrod Taylor goes from 2:7 TD:INT ratio as a sophomore to 24:5 as a senior.  VY and Smith are insanely good obviously, with Smith going almost all pocket passing.  White and Harris were monster dual thread guys that really improved their passing numbers as well.  Look at the average, nearly 3000 combined rushing and passing yards and 28 touchdowns.  Sign me up for some of that!  The last Gopher QB to get 2800 combined yards and 25 combined TDs was Adam Weber in 2007... but he also threw 19 interceptions.  Prior to that it was Billy Cockerham in 1999.

I don't think we're sitting on the next Vince Young (but they are the same size!), or Troy Smith,  However, I do think there's evidence that quarterbacks have had a less than overwhelming start to their career and have really progressed, especially as a passer.  Can Leidner become an even better runner and do more damage through the air this year?

TRE's Grade

Rubric: Marc Trestman - F

I'm using Marc Trestman because when I was delving into I found myself checking out and being somewhat underwhelmed by Tony Dungy's stats as a Gopher QB.  It was a different era and stuff though, I get that.  In doing so, however, I came across the glory that is Marc Trestman's college football career.  Trestman of course has coached at a number of stops including some assistant work with the Vikings and is the current head coach of the Chicago Bears.  He's known as an offensive minded head coach and last year with the Bears he led them to break several offensive records including total yards.

At Minnesota, Trestman backed up Dungy for a couple of years and then Wendell Avery (who also ended up in coaching for awhile).

Trestman's career stats passing:  10-40, 151 yards, 0 TDs, 3 INTs
That's good for a 47.1 passer rating.  He did score a TD on the ground (32 carries for 31 yards career!).

It must have taken some amazing perseverance to stay in football after a career like that.  Oh wait, he WROTE A BOOK ON PERSEVERENCE!

:blowsout:  So anyway, we're certainly in better shape than that at quarterback with Leidner.  I'm cautiously optimistic about his growth as a passer and we already know he can do some damage with his legs.  Until I see more, hopefully a lot more, I'm giving the QB position a C grade.  If Leidner goes down by the way, hide yo wife and hide yo kids and go to the triple option.

Frothy's Grade

Rubric: Billy Cockerham - B-

Billy was the quarterback during my most formative years as a Gopher fan. And by that I mean I became booze legal during the Cockerham era. The realization that likker effectively numbed the pain of Gopher fandom was a critical finding and one I've wholeheartedly embraced in the subsequent years. Oh, Billy, thank you for being on the field while I walked the path to Robitussin-induced numbness for the first time.

Cockerham had a nice little career with the Gophers. He got some very limited run in his freshmen and sophomore years, split time with Andy Persby during his junior year and was the big man on campus for his senior year. Regarded as one of the better running quarterbacks in Gopher history, he had a decent passing season in the 1999 season, where the Gophers finished with a winning record in the B1G for the first time since Noah built that big boat.

I chose Billy because I think his senior year campaign is what we can expect to see from Leidner this year. Since this is our first run at GOPHER NUMEROLOGY, I figured I'd better include some stats:

My gut feeling is that Leidner 2014 and Cockerham 1999 are fairly comparable: both are oriented in a run-first offense (Thomas Hamner had 1,426 rushing yards in 1999), both are effectively entering their second seasons as contributors and first as full-time starters and both will rely on an opportunistic defense led by a strong secondary. I think Cockerham was a better pure runner than Leidner, but Mitch probably has better passing credentials than Cockerham did.

People have been speculating that, given our lack of experienced depth at QB (we won't be doing a depth chart in this post because the abyss, it is dark) Leidner won't be running very much. I'm not so sure that's the case. The offense is kind of the offense at this point, and I doubt the coaches are going to radically modify their philosophy to accommodate depth concerns at quarterback. In terms of percentage of total plays from scrimmage, I'd expect Leidner to rush less; but that's more of a function of him only passing on 29.7% of the plays. He won't be running on 70% the time, but he's still going to get a healthy share of carries. Begin purchase of Pepto Bismol now.

With regard to passing, I think Cockerham's numbers are at the high end of what we can hope for from Leidner. The completion percentage isn't where we'd like to see it, but I'd be happy with 2,000 yards passing and a 1.5-1 TD-to-INT ratio. Who knows, maybe there's some upside and I just need to believe in the dream? Grade: B-.

(Frothy's starting word count: 12,442; Finishing word count: 12,899)

*Predictions not guaranteed to be accurate.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Gophers Position Preview: Defensive Line

Life without Big Shede

I think TRE and I have been at this for over two weeks now. We're as surprised as you are.

We conclude our preview of the defensive with our take on this year's line. Getting good defensive linemen to Minnesota has always been a little tricky. While Minnesota annually produces a few Big-5 (/waves goodbye to BCS) quality offensive linemen, there seems to be substantially less quantity with their defensive brethren and those we do produce have a tendency to go away for school. Consequently, our defensive line play has been inconsistent since the time I learned to walk. Every few years, we get a player who exceeds our expectations and drives our defensive productivity toward the upper half of the B1G. Said player performs at such a high level, he makes what is an otherwise ordinary line perform at an above average level. A shining, glorious halo of excellence in which the others can bask, if you will.

The question we face going into this season is whether Ra'Shede Hageman was such a catalyst for the 2013 Gophers defensive line. Above, I used the qualifier about defensive line players who "exceeded our expectations" and whether that applies to Hageman is debatable. As a high school player, he had the measurables and offers that, unfortunately, often apply to players who choose to leave the state. Frankly, we probably benefited by there being some ambiguity as to whether he would play tight end or along the defensive line in college. At 6'6" and 250lbs as a high school senior, he had offers from Florida, Ohio State and Oklahoma, along with much of the Big Ten. He chose to stay in state, began his career as a tight end and transitioned to defensive end before finally landing at defensive tackle.

Whether he exceeded expectations depends on your reference point. As a player with freakish raw talent, recruited by many of the premier national programs, his 2013 statistics and 2nd-round NFL draft position probably met expectations. As, again, a raw talent who languished for his first few years in the program and flirted with failing out at the end of the Brewster regime, Shede lived up to what we all hoped he would be and was a remarkable surprise for many Gopher fans last year. His stats from this past season largely speak for themselves:

I mean, eight passes defended? C'mon. He was second on the team in PBUs (behind Eric Murray) and tied for 10th in the conference, the only non defensive back to finish in the top 15. His 13 tackles for loss were good for tenth in the conference. He was an utterly explosive player, a once in a generation talent at Minnesota. It's just icing on the cake that he was an AINP.

Within that context, I believe that he exceeded expectations. I genuinely thought he was finished following his suspension in the last few games of the Jeff Horton half season. It smelled of academics and it seemed unrealistic he would return under the new head coach. When he was still on the squad under Kill the following spring, I believed that any production from Hageman was a bonus and, with that as the baseline, he launched my flaccid expectations into the sun.

But now he's gone. And thus, we come to the question that defines the narrative. Was the Gopher defense an aberration last year due to Ra'Shede's dominance?

What follows for the next few paragraphs is what some might call a blatant rationalization. I'm not sure I believe anything of what I'm going to say, but it's a coping mechanism that has served me well through 30-some years of Gopher fandom. Work with me here, people.

It's my belief that Ra'Shede was a fantastic player, but was not a talisman on whom the Gophers' defensive success was solely based last year. His stats suggest a dominant presence who regularly inflicted pain on opposing teams. He was an animal. But I maintain that there was an inconsistency to his play in that he would disappear for long stretches of games: sometimes he would be on the bench; at other times, he would be in the game, but a non-factor. He was just a man.

To support this position, I bring to you an SGH-derived stat: The Metric Associated with Nothing, an Impotent Measure of Assets and Liabilities. The MANIMAL.

The MANIMAL measures the extent to which a given player operates as a regular man capable of well-defined feats of human achievement or as a ravenous, killing beast that slays and drinks the blood of helpless bipeds. It is largely based on memory which, now that we're nearing nine months since the last game, is admittedly fuzzy.

We're giving 'Shede a 7/10 on the MANIMAL scale. This indicates he was more animal than man, a fact with which poor Taylor Martinez would probably agree. But there's a healthy percentage of man there. That, to me, suggests that while he may have been the best, most athletic defensive lineman on the Gopher roster last year, he may not have been the most consistent. And with that consistency, the line may have found ways to be productive without Hageman. Which, since the Gophers now exist in a Hageman-free state, brings us to this year.

Let's begin with his old position:

There's a few moving parts here, so take it for what it's worth. Scott Ekpe appears to be Replacement Shede to start the season. He played in every game last season and was pretty productive for a backup, registering 19 tackles, including one for loss. At 6'4" 295lbs, he has ideal size for a B1G defensive tackle and, entering his third year in the program, should be reaching his prime at the college level.

Demaris Peppers appears to be his backup, but things are a little, uh, fluxy with respect to the 3rd - 5th defensive tackle positions. Peppers also has legitimate size at 6'3" and 287lbs, but coming off of his red-shirt year, it's tough to flex too strong with confidence that he's ready to meaningfully contribute. Much like the linebackers, it's depth that's the concern, with a dependence on younger players to add substantial value. Unlike the linebackers, though, the defensive line regularly rotate, so we can expect to see second- and potentially third-string players log meaningful game time. We're all hoping that fifth-year senior Harold Legania can step in and provide some depth to this unit. Legania, one of the few remaining players recruited by Tim Brewster, has been a model student and important contributor; but his live-action reps have been limited. He's a traditional nose tackle in a 4-3 defense, meaning he's big, strong and there to keep the opposing centers and guards from setting up big runs through the middle of the defense. Unfortunately for him, the current Gopher regime requires defensive tackles to seek gap penetration to disrupt offensive flow. That's certainly no knock on him; it's just not necessarily one of his strengths. With four solid years of practice and conditioning, though, this could be his year to shine.

At the other defensive tackle spot, we have one guaranteed starter (barring injury, of course) and another hodgepodge:

Mr. Reliable is Cameron Botticelli, who, as far as I recall, has started every game at defensive tackle since the year of my birth. Honestly, unless I forcibly recall the days of Jewhan Edwards and Brandon Kirksey (and who isn't longing for those days?), it's tough to think of a time when Botti wasn't regularly in the Gophers lineup. C-Bot seems like one of those guys who is a complete pain in the ass to play against. Super high energy, gives his all on every play. There was a dude on my high school team who went full blast on every single play in practice. Coaches loved him "[Player X] makes everyone on this team better!" they'd yell. Yeah, well everyone on the team hated [Player X]. Except on game days when that sort of motor works in your favor. Anyway, my gut feeling is Botti is that guy on this team, irritating the piss out of his teammates except for the days where he's being a relentless wad to opposing teams.

Backing him up, at the moment, is a true freshman. I've stood five feet from Steven Richardson and 5'11" might be a generous measure of his height. But dude is a quick twitch, leverage machine. As I remarked to Kyle Goblirsch, the keeper of all things Gopher 247 (which is a fantastic site if you're interested in a more nuanced discussion on Gopher football - highly recommended), I have no idea how I'd block the guy. He's agile, has a ridiculously low center of gravity and is calm like a bomb. He was lightly recruited on account of his height, but, coupled with his quickness, that's an asset. He's likely to see time at both defensive tackle positions, and will be a regular part of what should be a four-man rotation.

Yoshoub Timms is something of a wildcard. He looked good in the first two games last year, then was limited in his participation throughout the rest of the season. A non-participant in this year's spring practice due to injury, he figures to be in the rotation due to his size and athleticism; but the extent to which he will be a contributor is unclear. Now in his third year in the program, he should be entering his prime and providing some veteran stability to a fairly young position group.

To the defensive ends!

Of anyone on the defensive line, Thieren Cockran ostensibly benefited from Hageman's presence the most. With an aggressive defensive tackle forcing a double team, Cockran would have been left one-on-one against the offensive tackle, providing opportunities to disrupt the offensive team's flow. Certainly, his production last year was good. He grew into his 6'6" frame and retained the majority of his speed and agility, earning Second Team All B1G honors. He will earn the bulk of his scholarship money this year, though, now that Hageman is gone. His 2013 stats were not far removed from pre-season All American Shilique Calhoun. The question remains whether he can be productive in a line without Hageman's disruptive capabilities or become an ordinary defensive end. His production will be the linchpin on which the rest of the defensive line turns.

Backing him up is junior Alex Keith. At 6'3" and 245lbs, Keith is a little smaller than Cockran, but has been a productive defensive end, first as a pass-rushing specialist in his freshman year and a more all-purpose player last season. He has legitimate speed off the edge, but has had less than ideal size to hold the point against rushing-oriented B1G teams. 

This is probably the deepest position along the line, with proven upper classmen in the two deeps. Appearing to back them up, at the moment, is true freshman Andrew Stelter. Like Keith, he is in the 6'4" range and about 245lbs, but he appears to be a little thicker than both Keith and Cockran. While he's looked good in the limited workouts I've seen, there's been speculation he's ultimately destined for defensive tackle. He certainly doesn't have the size to play there now, so may get some run this year at end in the event of injuries. Ideally, he can red shirt, spend a year in the strength and conditioning program and see whether he is better suited for the tackle or end positions.

The two deep at the other end position is probably as well defined, but the productivity has been lacking.

Michael Amaefula has started 30 games at defensive end. Did you know that? My mind leaked into my beer glass a little when I added it up. A starter by the end of his true freshman season, he has been in the starting lineup for every game the last two years. I mean, I've known he's there. I've seen him with the ones in practice, seen him on top of the depth chart on the Thursday evenings of game weeks, watched him appear regularly on the field. I was just surprised to see he had 30 starts. I guess I feel a little bad I don't have more to say about him. He's clearly fairly competent at his job, he's just never really stood out to me. That's a me problem, not a him problem, though.

Next in line is Hendrick Ekpe, a true sophomore who saw action in ten games last year. At 6'5" and 251lbs, he's one of the bigger defensive ends on the roster. I would expect his productivity to increase this season as he's now accustomed to the speed of the college game and has added some weight in the strength and conditioning program. He was the team's Outstanding Defensive Freshman of the Year last season.

At the first open fall practice last year, I found myself standing next to this tall dude wearing Gopher warm up gear. He was watching practice while casually chatting with a buddy and I figured he was just another Gopher knob like me. Turns out, that was Robert Ndondo-Lay. A walkon transfer from Winona State who sat out last season, it wouldn't shock me to see him get some playing time this season. He's pretty athletic and has apparently been getting run at both defensive tackle and defensive end.

One final wildcard is the news that freshman Gaelin Elmore, he who chose to come to the Gophers despite an offer from his home-state Badgers, has been moved from tight end to defensive end. Of anyone currently on the roster, he has the most potential to be the next Hageman. As an incoming high schooler, he is already 6'6" 260. Check. He is a converted tight end. Check. He had interest from many of the top national programs. Check. Having made the switch, he will almost certainly see some playing time this year at one of the end positions. His play this season will be fun to watch and, depending on the amount of reps he gets, the MANIMAL scale may very well be in play.

Frothy's Grade

Rubric: Jewhan Edwards - B+

Ain't no party like a Jew Jew Party, right?

You might never admit it to your partner or work friends, but there's a part of you that wants to be former Gopher defensive tackle Jewhan Edwards. Giant, strong, athletic and doesn't give an eff about anything. Who wouldn't want that? Jew Jew played three years for the Gophers and in 2010, during his junior year, led the Gophers in both tackles for loss and sacks, with 11 and three, respectively. (As an aside, how bleak were those years where the team leader in sacks had three? Good gravy.) Edwards was poised for great things going into his senior year.

Of course, Brewster had been fired midway through that 2010 campaign and when Kill was hired to replace him, he set up some new parameters around what was expected from his players. These didn't sit well with Jew Jew and, before too long, he had been booted from the team and infamously posted his displeasure with that decision on Facebook. Good times.

I'm not a fan of the way he scorched the earth and salted the land when leaving the program; but he was one of very few bright spots for Gopher fans during that ill-fated 2010 season.

Frothy's 2014 DL Grade - B

(Frothy's starting word count: 9,855; Finishing word count: 12,442)

TRE's Grade

Rubric:  Lamanzer Williams - A

Lamanzer had 18.5 sacks in 1997 for the Gophers and went on to be drafted in the 6th round and had a short stay in the NFL, mainly with the Jaguars.  That sack total puts him at a tie for the 19th highest season total in CFB since 1980 (FYI - Derrick Thomas holds the record with 27 sacks in 1988 for Alabama) In 1997, he received All-American and All B1G first team honors.   At 6'4' and about 270 lbs, he was a dervish on the outside for the Gophers.

He's also been a force on the coaching scene the last several years and now is the AD and Co-Head coach of Ypsilanti, which is where he went to high school.  Here he is kicking ass in an interview about the upcoming season: 

I'm excited about Thieran Cockran in 2014.  I hope that he is able to build off of his great 2013 campaign and go Lamanzer on the league.  As Frothy mentioned, an important part of that is replacing the production of Hageman on the interior.  As those amazing stats suggest, when he wasn't bearing down on the quarterback, he was using his size to get up in the air and bat down passes.  Quarterbacks obviously were aware of this tendency, and I'm certain some of the sacks were due to a passer being forced to delay or pull down a thrown due to the SHEDEWALL.

Going into 2013, I was never all that impressed with Cameron Botticelli, but my opinion of him changed tremendously over the course of last season.  My initial impression is that he was undersized and often overwhelmed, but I think I was probably just an idiot.  There is no doubt though that 2013 was his best year as a Gopher.  He's a workhorse as Frothy mentioned, and is often all over the field making plays.  He has 38 games as a Gopher, with 50 total tackles to date.  I think we could see a 30 tackle season from him this year.  

We'll also get a chance to see even more of Scott Ekpe at defensive tackle.  I've like what I've seen from him, he has moments where he looks quite explosive.  ***BREAKING*** your boy Harold Legania is apparently moving to help on the offensive line, so we are likely in for a load of Steven Richardson, Demaris Peppers and Yoshoub Timms Cup rotating in at DT.  

It will be interesting to see if Amaefula can produce some big plays in his senior year as a Gopher as it feels like there are some playmakers in the waiting with Henrick, Ndondo-Lay and freshman Elmore in reserve.  Speaking of which, I already feel like we need a nickname for Elmore.  Does one exist?  How about "Gael Force"?

TRE's 2014 DL Grade - B-

While there is a lot of inexperience in the depth chart, many of those players have some exciting skills that I'm looking forward to seeing.  Losing a beast like Hageman leaves big shoes to fill though, so I have to stick with the B- grade for now, but I see a lot of room for growth in this group.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

100k Words on Gophers Football - They Were Only Freshmen

This is part of a series to attempt to write 100,000 words on Gopher football from the start of fall camp (I changed the rules - it was to begin a week before the first game, but I need all the time I can get) through the week after the conclusion of the regular season. In the event I fail, I will donate $500 to a charity chosen by my Twitter followers (nothing related to Wisconsin or Iowa athletics).

Starting word count: 8,226

Word has started to leak out over the last few days, providing some insight into which true freshmen might see the field this year. Always an exciting time, it affords us the opportunity to dream a little bigger about the kids who will come into the program and, through athleticism, tenacity and football smarts, displace an incumbent member of the two-deep roster. Here, we’ll hop into the Ship of the Imagination with you and outline our thoughts on which 18-year olds will change the face of Gopher football this year.

Part of what makes Still Got Hope special, what gives us our sustained competitive advantage, if you will, is that we have no insight into the program whatsoever. Our interactions with the coaches have been limited to shaking Jerry Kill’s hand in a tailgate lot once. We have never requested, and would likely never get, media credentials to attend practices or watch the games from the ivory tower of the Jim Souhan Pressbox at TCF Bank Stadium. Nay, we are men of the people, just like you. We attend the practices to which the plebeians are allowed. We read all the blogs, articles and tweets. We parse over every coach-speak utterance from members of the staff like the lawyers we are not. But we have no special knowledge. We’re simply idly speculating to entertain other rubes and fulfill absurd, self-directed word count challenges.

We’ve broken this analysis up into three total subjective categories:
  1. Will probably see the field as a position player this year – this is pretty self-explanatory: the player will line up on offense or defense in his primary position, though maybe not much
  2. Will probably see the field as a special teams player this year – also self-evident: the player’s redshirt will be burned, but only in the capacity of special teams play
  3. Will probably redshirt – won’t see the field this year

Will probably see the field as a position player
DE Gaelin Elmore
DT Steven Richardson
WR Melvin Holland
WR Isaiah Gentry
CB Craig James 

This group is pretty small which, frankly, is how it should be going into the fourth year of Kill’s regime. The justification for the above players seeing the field this year fall into one of three reasons: pure skill and talent, depth and coach’s preference.

Elmore and Richardson fall into the first camp. Richardson is like Roland Johnson 2.0. Short but powerful, he already has the ability to shoot gaps (a requirement for defensive tackles in this system) as well as the strength to hold the point of attack against opposing centers and guards. He will certainly be in the four/five-man rotation at tackle to start the year and it wouldn’t shock me if he were to get a start toward the end of the season.

For similar reasons, Elmore will be playing some defensive end this campaign. The coaches have been playing a little coy about him getting on the field this year, but my sense is that he’s too good to not play. Already 6’6” and 265lbs, he led the state of Wisconsin in tackles for loss as a high school senior. Further, Kill suggested Elmore is probably on his way to the 285lb range. Gaelin probably isn’t quite as game ready as Richardson at this point; but with his size, athletic ability and instincts, will certainly be a factor in the rotation at end.

The wide receivers noted above will play this season under a different rationale: depth. While both Holland and Gentry possess a fairly unique set of skills with vis-à-vis the players currently on the roster – the former with what appears to be an immensely developed football IQ and legitimate size; the latter being the tall, fast deep threat that was lacking last year – they’ll see the field because the Gophers lack quality depth at wide out. The coaches have been virtually mum on the quality of the freshman class of receivers and their likelihood of playing this year. My gut feeling is that this is some gamesmanship to keep an element of surprise going into the season. In terms of non-slot receivers, we have Donovahn Jones, Drew Wolitarsky, Isaac Fruechte and Logan Hutton who have engaged in any meaningful game time. Both Jones and Wolitarsky have a lot of potential but, as true sophomores, one could expect some bumps in the road. The latter two, while fine players, have really made a name for themselves as run blockers. While a critical function in this offensive scheme, the Gophers need help advancing the ball through the air. I just don’t see that happening consistently with the current two deep. Consequently, Holland and Gentry will get their opportunities to contribute. 

Craig James will get in because, by all accounts, he’s ready. Perhaps more important than that, though, is this staff’s inclination to play true freshmen defensive backs. Every year at least one contributing member of the secondary was in his first year in the program and, as the only scholarship defensive back recruited in the 2014 cycle, I expect James will continue that legacy. The secondary is deep, though, so his participation will be situational. Keep an eye open for James in the TCU game as their new Air Raid offense and 90+ degree heat may necessitate participation from the full corps of defensive backs.

Will probably see the field as a position player
DE/DT Andrew Stelter
 TE Brandon Lingen
 LB Jonathan Celestin
LB Everett Williams
While it’s possible any of these four could get in spot duty at their primary position, I think it’s more likely they are used exclusively on special teams. This is a great way to let guys get their feet wet in live action, without needing to understand the nuances of their positions within the larger offensive and defensive schemes. It gets them acclimated to the speed of the college game so they are prepared to meaningfully contribute next year. Attrition due to graduation is a contributing factor here. As upperclassmen move on, getting younger guys ready to fill their position through special teams duty is a tried and true practice. I think that’s the primary motivation in getting the above four guys into the action this year.

The general consensus is the Stelter’s future is at defensive tackle. With Cameron Botticelli graduating after this season and unproven depth behind him, getting Stelter accustomed to preparing for game days, traveling with the team and the particulars of B1G football would be a wise move. With an injury or two a defensive end, it’s possible he sees the field this year, I just think the chances are fairly low.

Similarly, Lingen will get some reps this year with Drew Goodger graduating after this year. Lingen will likely fill a similar role in the offense as a blocking tight end, so getting him some reps on special teams this year would benefit his development and capability to step in next season as a sophomore. There’s enough depth at tight end this year where it would be surprising if he got much time in offensive sets. Given Limegrover’s predilection for running packages with six tight ends/H-backs in the formation, though, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility.

Celestin and Williams will get some run this year – the former because Kill doesn’t speak more than five words without praising him and the latter to get him ready to play a substantial role in the defense next year. Going into camp, it seemed everyone had penciled these two in as players absolutely certain to redshirt. Both were lightly recruited and there was some uncertainty about their position at the next level: safety or OLB for Celestin and OLB or MLB for Williams. Celestin now appears to be an OLB and has been all over the place in camp. A sure tackler with decent speed, Kill has all but guaranteed he will play this year. I believe Williams will get some run because it will be necessary to get him prepared to play next season. At 6’1” 230lbs, he appears to be settling in as a MLB. With Damien Wilson graduating next season and limited certainty around who will take his place, allowing Williams a year to get situated will help the program for the 2015 season.

Will probably redshirt
WR Desmond Gant
 WR Connor Krizancic
 TE Jerry Gibson
RB Jeff Jones
RB Rodney Smith
 DE Julien Kafo
DT Gary Moore
 OL Connor Mayes
OL Luke Rasmussen
OL Jared Weyler
QB Dimonic McKinzy
Of the 20 scholarship true freshmen on the team, I reckon 11 will redshirt. This is probably a little less than ideal, but given the increased quality of the 2014 recruiting class and depth concerns at a few positions, this still leaves us in pretty good shape. Of the players above, I wouldn’t be floored if either Jerry Gibson or Connor Mayes got in this year; I’m mostly just hoping that they don’t. Gibson is something of an athletic freak who hasn’t really settled into a position yet. With that in mind, it’s hard to see him contributing substantially at tight end or h-back this year in the event his shirt is burned. He’ll be a much more effective player in 2019 than he would be in 2015. 

The same applies to Mayes. In all probability, he’ll be equally capable as some of the offensive guards currently in the two deep by mid year. But getting him another year of development, to grow and gain a more nuanced understanding of the Limegrover’s line philosophy, will pay off in spades three and four years down the road. We appear to have reasonable depth at C/G going into this season. I’d rather see Mayes as a 22-year old monster in 2019 than an 18-year old mini-monster this year.

Ending word count: 9,855

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Gophers Position Preview: Linebackers

So, we're all feeling pretty good about the Gopher secondary. Let's move on to linebackers next.

First, a quick rant. I recognize a few things about ESPN's B1G blog: they have to pander to the national programs, such as Ohio State, Nebraska and Michigan, because that's where the eyeballs come from; it's August and they're desperate for content; the $100 it takes to buy a 75-minute flight from Chicago to Minneapolis on occasion would send the world wide leader into a financial death spiral. But I've always thought they were better than Tom Dienhart. Old jaundice tooth Tom, who thought Chris Hawthorne was the dark horse candidate to be the Gophers kicker this year and that the Gophers lacked secondary depth despite the presence of Phantom Antonio Thompson.

I'm less sure of that after Monday's ranking of the B1G teams. Not based on where the Gophers were ranked, which was 10th (that would be the bottom end of where I'd rank them, but it's not beyond the realm of possibility - one could go as high as 5th or 6th, but you'd be huffing lacquer thinner if you bought into that at this point). No, I take umbrage to their blurb justifying the position:

"On paper, the Gophers look several steps behind 
the top teams in the league across the board"

Ok, I get this to a degree. Recruiting rankings do have some correlation with results on the field, so by that measure, we probably are several steps behind. Right or wrong, that's a defensible position. But across the board? We lose three starters on offense and four on defense, is that materially worse than the top teams in the conference? We start upper-classmen at 16 of the 22 non-specialist positions, that can't be horrific, right? I get that the Gophers always need to be stuck with a Sisyphean narrative, but we don't need hyperbolic hyperbole on top of it.

"What's their strength, running the football?"

C'mon, man. How about the 4th best scoring defense in the conference and the 24th best in the country? That has to be a strength, isn't it? I know our passing offense was shit last year and so it's easy to waggle the dong about how running the football was a strength. But the defense was legitimately good last year. And no, that wasn't all Ra'Shede Hageman and Brock Vereen, so find another tack.

"Still, coach Jerry Kill and his staff get the benefit of the 
doubt because of their remarkable progress a year ago."

Come again? What benefit of the doubt are we getting here? Ranking us over Indiana, whose defense is comprised of the chalk on the Memorial Stadium turf? Over effing Buttgers? Or over Illinois and Purdue, who combined for a whopping one conference win last year? They played each other! One of them had to win! Where are we if we don't get the benefit of the doubt, pray tell?

Again, the ranking is fine. But that justification is flaccid. Do better ESPN.

On to the linebackers!

*    *    *
Linebackers always scared me a little bit. Not piss-your-pants frightened, scared; more like, y'all are freak of natures scared. I was an undersized offensive tackle, weight-wise, and was reasonably fast for my size. My feet were okay, but as a tall guy, I always had issues maintaining leverage and getting lower than the shorter defensive players. But here were guys who were my weight, maybe an inch or two shorter and way faster than me. And the good ones had superb leverage. They could get a running start and blow me up on blitzes, which hardly seemed fair. I like to think I gave as good as I got, but I'm lying to myself. The semi-concussions, arms covered in contusions and severe facial tick I have to this day are mostly due to linebackers. Hate you linebackers.

I love the Gophers linebackers this year, though. We've got size, as most of the two deep are at or around 240lbs, height as most are around 6'0 to 6'2" and, incredibly for us, speed. How about that. The big concern, and this will become immediately clear, is depth (also mentioned in my review of the open practices).

We start with De'Vondre Campbell, who is my height (6'5"), my weight (245lbs) and looks absolutely nothing like me. Where I'm fat, slow and balding, Campbell is ripped, fast as a damned deer and has the flowing locks of Predator that are becoming the hallmark of this defense. That is blessed. Campbell was a spot starter last year, but spent most of the season backing up James Manuel at WLB. He accounted for 41 tackles and generally looked pretty competent out there. Since then, he's added about 20lbs of weight and is apparently still fast enough to be an asset in pass coverage. He was a raw talent last year, so there may be some learning curve issues now that he is the full-time starter; but he has athletic ability and size we haven't seen at the linebacker position too often here at Minnesota.

Backing him up are, uh, yeah, there's that depth issue. It wouldn't surprise me (and this won't be the last time I say this) if the linebackers are switched around a little bit in the event one of them is injured. At this point, De'Niro Laster appears to be second team at Will. He's got the size, but as a red-shirt freshman, I'd be a little concerned about tossing him out there on a full-time basis. He looked like a monster in the latter half of this past weekend's scrimmage; but I've been burned too many times by breakout scrimmage performances to lend too much credence to that.

The one thing I do like is that we have two Apostrophe-In-Name Players (AINPs) in the two deep at WLB. Also blessed.

If you can imagine it, the depth at the strongside linebacker position is even more bleak:

Blurgh. Jack Lynn spent much of last year as the nominal backup at MLB, but didn't get much run, as he only played three games. He's big, at 6'3, 238lbs, so he should have enough size to fight off lead blocks to attack the run and, though I didn't pay much attention to at the practices I attended, has enough speed to be capable of guarding a tight end in man-to-man situations. I like Lynn; I just don't know very much about him given limited game experience

Backing him up are Rayfield Dixon and Cedrick Dicke. Dixon is of a little different mold than Lynn, with the same height, but at only 209lbs. He has decent speed and, in my know nothing opinion, is probably versatile enough to move over to the weakside spot should Campbell get hurt. Dixon has looked good in my limited practice observations, showing good reactions in both rush and pass defense and, despite being undersized, has been capable of shedding blocks and making tackles. Dicke was a PWO for the Gophers and we love him for that. 

Another guy worthy of mention, but not listed here, is true freshman Jonathan Celestin. He has looked very solid in camp and received rave reviews from the coaches. I fully expect him to red shirt, but given the depth at all of the linebacker positions, if injuries begin to mount, he may get some run.


Damien Wilson is a monster who gets no love. The guy was majestic last year, with 78 tackles, 5.5 for loss and one sack and has failed to show up on any pre-season all conference lists (correct me if I'm wrong, of course). With the attrition at the Mike position in the B1G following the 2013 season, I would have expected to see a 3rd-team spot somewhere. But, nay, no love for Damien. Such is the life of a Gopher.

I could go on about Wilson, but superlatives begin to fail at a certain point. He was always around the ball, tackled anything that was close and made very few mistakes. Coming in as a JUCO transfer, that's about all you can ask for. There was some question about Kill's staff's ability to recruit and develop linebackers ("question" is relative, of course - in this case I mean relative to their abilities to recruit and put defensive backs and linemen into the NFL, which are largely beyond reproach), but Wilson mitigated that concern to a large extent. I expect him to have a big season and contend for all conference honors.

Backing him up...hey, depth concerns again! Nick Rallis backed up All Walk On American Aaron Hill at Sam last year, but is now the provisional favorite to back up Wilson at MLB. Brother of soon-to-be WWE star (and former Gopher MLB himself) Mike Rallis, Nick is on the shorter side of MLBs at 5'11", but will carry on the Rallis Gopher legacy with pride. Wipson redshirted last year after tearing his ACL as a high school senior, but may get some run on special teams this year. I also wouldn't surprise me to see Laster move to MLB in the event of typhus breaking out at the starting linebacker table.

So, we've got decent to good starters and a whole lot of untested depth behind them. Come to me, Rolaids.

Frothy's Grade

Rubric: Mike Sherels - B-

I would be remiss if I didn't include Mike Sherels as my favorite all-time linebacker at the U, first, because it's legitimately true and second, because he's the new linebackers' coach. I've always admired his passion for the Gophers and it's great that he's been able to hook on with this staff and lead the position he played with such tenacity.

Sherels was a walk on to the football program, but by the time he graduated, he was a two-time captain (the first time a walk on ever held that honor for Minnesota) and led the 2006 squad with 104 tackles. Ski-U-Mah, Mike.

I'm giving this current team a C. I love Wilson and think Campbell will play in the NFL in two years, but there are just so many unknowns with this position. Is Lynn ready to be a full-time starter? Can the crew of red-shirt freshmen capably fill in if a starter goes down? Can we all get on liver transplant lists now or do we have to wait?

(Frothy word count: 1,734; total 100k challenge word count: 8,226)

TRE's Grade

Rubric: Karl Mecklenburg - A

When I thought of Gopher LBs, my first thought was of Mecklenburg.  Not because I remember him playing for the Gophers all that well since I would have been 5; but rather as a member of the Denver Broncos.  There is some significance there because I remember having pride that this beast of a linebacker was one of us.  Mecklenburg led the team in tackles for loss in 81 and 82 and was selected in the last round of the NFL draft and went to be a key member of the great Broncos teams of the 80s.  He played in a gang of Pro Bowls and had a pants load of sacks.  As a pro he was nicked named the “Snow Goose” and the “Albino Rhino”, how incredible is that?   Mecklenburg was also an awesome defender to control in Tecmo Bowl and as wiki puts it, “Mecklenburg's character mirrored his real-life skills, especially his ability to make seemingly impossible interceptions”.  Here’s to hoping that this year’s Gopher LBs can wreak havoc in a similar way.

A lot of the Gophers’ success this season will be determined by the play of their linebackers.  More specifically, the play of the two JUCO transfers playing in their second season with the team.  Damien Wilson, a senior, will be given the chance to build off a solid campaign where he was second on the team in tackles.  I would like to see him make the jump from solid-starter-dude to crushing-impact-player-dude. 

De’Vondre Campbell has apparently gone from Predator-popsicle-stick to a more bulked up full-diesel-Predator.  Articles abound regarding his access to better foods and baller strength and conditioning program helping him get to around 240 pounds.  Campbell, a redshirt junior, will find himself playing more of a full time role with the team in 2014 after backing up James Manual much of last year.  As always, his ability to see in heat signature when necessary is a huge advantage. True story: I bought a jersey t-shirt last year that was #26 and on the back I put TREVONDRE because you can’t use actual player names.  Big fan.

Jack Lynn appears to be the third linebacker that will start, but Nick Rallis is also an option.  Both are redshirt sophomores.  With Lynn (6’3”, 238), the Gophers would have very good size and athleticism across all three spots. 

Depth is a concern here, especially after the Cody Poock ACL tear in the spring.  Redshirt freshman De’Niro Laster has size and a fantastic name, so I’m pulling for him to be in the mix this year.  Rayfield Dixon is another redshirt freshman that could make an impact.  Can you imagine how awesome it would be to have De’Niro and De’Vondre starting together?  Maybe this is something we can hope for with the 2015 De’fense.

Overall TRE'VONDRE grade: B