True freshmen don't often start football games. Let alone the season opener. Let alone the season opener against nationally ranked Michigan.

Yet that's the predicament linebacker Cody Lindenberg found himself in Saturday in the Gophers' 49-24 loss.

The Anoka native was a three-star recruit and arrived on campus as an early enrollee in January but managed only a handful of spring practices before the coronavirus pandemic interrupted the routine. The 6-3, 235-pound linebacker never even had a real training camp, with the delayed season and COVID-19 protocols limiting contact practices essential for defense's tackling work.

Lindenberg started alongside Mariano Sori-Marin and Josh Aune. That should have been Braelen Oliver's spot, but he was not available to play after a spring practice injury.

Defensive coordinator Joe Rossi said Lindenberg's length, speed and athleticism will help him in his next game, with the Gophers playing at Maryland on Friday night.

"He's probably a guy that over the course of my career, probably on top end in terms of his ability to learn," Rossi said. "You teach him something on the board, and he's able to go out and do it. Obviously, first game, there were some mistakes. But overall, I thought he played well, and he has a very bright future. I think he can diagnose and see things. But as you see him go, I think each week you'll see him make tremendous strides."

Cornerback Coney Durr, as a fifth-year senior, said the more experienced players have tried to mentor the younger guys such as Lindenberg.

"He doesn't really know how we practice on a day-to-day basis during the season," Durr said. "So it's leading by example. 'OK, that is how you do it.' Just bringing those guys up to the standard."