Return to Glory

Return to Glory

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Analyzing Depth at the Linebacker Position

Mike Rallis: is a redshirt senior and the leader on this Gophers defense. Mike started all 12 games in 2011 as an outside linebacker and recorded 83 tackles, 5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. He also started 6 games at linebacker as a sophomore, so Mike enters 2012 as an extremely experienced linebacker. Mike hit the weight room hard this offseason and added 15 lbs to his frame to get up to 245 lbs without sacrificing any speed. There has been speculation that Mike would slide inside to replace Gary Tinsley and early indications from spring practice are proving that to be true. Sliding Mike inside to middle linebacker continues the Gophers theme of injecting speed into the defense. I look for Mike to play at an extremely high level and provide strong leadership on what will prove to be an extremely young defense.

Keanon Cooper: is a redshirt senior that hails from Dallas, Texas where he played at the football powerhouse Skyline. He was a highly touted recruit coming out of high school. ESPN had him rated the #128 overall player and #12 outside linebacker in the country. Keanon weighs in at 6'0" and 220 lbs. He has seen significant playing time over his career with 10 starts as a sophomore in 2010 and started all 12 games as a junior in 2011. Keanon had 77 tackles, 6 tackles for loss and 1 sack during the 2011 season. Keanon is without question one of the best athletes on the Gophers defense and I look for him to be a dynamic contributor in his senior season.

James Manuel: is a junior that hails from Indianapolis, Indiana. He weighs in at 6'2" 215 lbs and just this spring is making the transition from safety to linebacker. James will inject additional speed into the Gophers linebacker position and after his struggles at safety I look for this position switch to be a positive. I look for James to make an impact as an outside linebacker for the Gophers moving forward.

Lamonte Edwards: is a redshirt sophomore from Woodbury, Minnesota. He weighs in at 6'2" 210 lbs. In 2011, Lamonte underwent a transition from running back to linebacker. He was able to start the game against Purdue at linebacker during 2011. In 2011, Lamonte recorded 17 tackles during the season. Lamonte has a ton of athletic ability and should be an asset to the linebacker position. He will benefit from having an entire spring and fall practice schedule to acclimate to the linebacker position. He held up well last year considering the transition was made on the fly during the season after the game against Miami (Ohio). I anticipate Lamonte pushing for time as a starter as early as this year and he should be a solid linebacker in the years ahead.

Dwayne Mitchell: is a redshirt sophomore from New Orleans. He played for high school powerhouse Edna Karr and helped lead them to a 11-2 record as a senior and earned all state honors. In fact, Dwayne holds the school's record for season and career sacks. Dwayne is 6'2" and 210 lbs. ESPN ranked him the #71 outside linebacker. Dwayne has yet to really see any live action, but he has a high motor and demonstrated an ability to explode out his stance and cause disruption in the backfield. The issue that remains to be seen is if Dwayne has the size to hold up against the run. Jerry Kill has been preaching speed over and over again and Dwayne has it, so I look for him to also be an active part of the rotation this season. In particular, I could see Dwayne getting after the quarterback in obvious passing situations.

Jephete Matilus: is a redshirt freshman from Delray Beach, Florida. ESPN ranked him the #75 outside linebacker. Jephete weighs in at 6'1" 230 lbs and as a result has some added size to hold up against the run. Jephete has excellent speed and athleticism for the outside linebacker position and displays sound tackling technique. His high school tape demonstrated an ability to beat blockers with his good hands and quickness. While he didn't play during the 2011 season, accounts I have heard are that he was one of the more impressive practice squad players. I look for Jephete to ultimately anchor one of the Gophers linebacker spots in the upcoming years.

Peter Westerhaus: is a redshirt freshman from Chanhassen, MN. He was named Minnesota's Mr. Football for 2010 and actually was second team All American as a tight end by Rivals. ESPN ranked him the #100 outside linebacker. He has prototypical linebacker size at 6'3" and 230 lbs. Based on the other lighter athletic players already mentioned, I think it is likely that Peter's future is manning the middle linebacker spot for the Gophers. He has proven to be a high motor guy with good instincts and sheds blockers at the point of attack.


Nick Rallis: welcome the next of a line of Rallis brothers to suit up in the maroon and gold. Nick is the younger brother of senior Mike Rallis. Nick was a member of the 2012 recruiting class and will arrive on campus this fall as a true freshman. He played his high school football at Edina. Nick was ranked the #8 player in the state of Minnesota and the #65 outside linebacker in the country by Scout. Nick is a great athlete that played both ways in high school, but should settle in at linebacker for the Gophers. He has great speed and size at 5'1" 220 lbs. The scouting reports state that he has good speed, solid tackler and simply allows finds himself around the ball. I think he will be an outstanding player in upcoming years, but will almost certainly redshirt this season.

Conclusion: When you initially look at the position depth it is alarming to see Mike Rallis, Keanon Cooper and Spencer Reeves all as graduating seniors this year. There is no question they have all been solid multi year starters on the Gophers defense. However, as you examine the younger guys left on the roster I believe there is a lot to be excited about. There is no question that in the years ahead the Gophers will be putting more speed on the field at the linebacker position than we have typically been used to. Players like James, Lamonte, Dwayne and Jephete all are extremely athletic guys, but with the exception of Jephete also undersized. The key to the success of the Gophers linebackers moving forward is whether the advantages of increased speed will outweigh the disadvantage of being undersized. Outside of conference play, I think it will prove to be beneficial but I have some concern that teams like Wisconsin, Michigan State, Nebraska and Michigan may take advantage of that weakness. This weakness gets nullified if we can get good push from our defensive line, which will help keep blockers off our linebacks and allow them to flow to the ball. The good news is that with the exception of James Manuel all these guys are still underclassmen and have another year to develop behind the seniors Mike Rallis and Keanon Cooper. Overall, I would say that linebacker remains the strength of the Gophers defense and not a crucial immediate recruiting target.

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