Watching the Gophers' defense at spring practice, the unit that stands out the most is still the secondary. Even with Cedric Thompson headed to the NFL, they are loaded back there and could potentially start four seniors -- Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Eric Murray, Damarius Travis and Antonio Johnson -- with former Iowa State safety Charlie Rogers at the nickel.
This spring, the linebackers have made observers do a double take, too. Damien Wilson is headed to the NFL after being a mainstay in the middle, but the Gophers have more overall linebacker talent walking around the field now.
"We’ve got enough bodies [at linebacker]," defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said. "It’s just a matter of straightening out where it’s all going to go together."
Last year, you wouldn't have heard Gophers coaches say they had "enough bodies" at linebacker. They were really concerned about the depth.
They had their three starters -- De'Vondre Campbell, Damien Wilson and Jack Lynn (pictured) -- and a bunch of true freshmen and redshirt freshmen. Jonathan Celestin emerged as a hard-hitting force behind Campbell. Everett Williams started the Iowa game at middle linebacker. Those two were true freshmen.
The two leading candidates to replace WIlson are Williams and Cody Poock, who is back from his ACL injury.
"He’s got some natural instincts," Claeys said of Poock. The coaches really like Williams, too. Campbell was banged up last week, but Claeys said he'll be ready to go after spring break. The Gophers resume practice March 24, leading up to the April 11 spring game.
The five linebackers expected to get the bulk of the playing time this fall, in no particular order, are: Campbell, Lynn, Poock, Celestin and Williams. De'Niro Laster and Nick Rallis (recovering from ACL surgery) and Ray Dixon and Chris Wipson and newcomer Julian Huff will be among those looking to provide depth.
"I think last year, we wore down a little bit toward the end of the year," Claeys said. "With where we were at [at linebacker], we couldn’t substitute as much as we’d like to, just giving guys a break.
"I’ve been very pleased so far [this spring]. It’ll probably take all of spring ball to figure out how that puzzle’s going to fit together. But for the first time, we’ll probably have as much depth as we’ve had at linebacker, which is a good thing."