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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Gophers' linebacker Cody Lindenberg’s improvement has been ‘a tremendous leap’

Lindenberg made his second straight start against Nebraska last weekend and had a team-high eight tackles in the Gophers’ 20-13 victory.

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Minnesota linebacker Cody Lindenberg pursues Nebraska quarterback Chubba Purdy during a college football game in Lincoln, Neb. on Nov. 5. 2022.
Kelly Hagenson / University of Minnesota Athletics via St. Paul Pioneer Press
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MINNEAPOLIS -- How Cody Lindenberg produced his first collegiate sack on Saturday resembled the first three years of his University of Minnesota career.

The linebacker from Anoka filled the “B” gap but was driven back three yards by Nebraska’s pulling guard Ethan Piper. Down but not out, Lindenberg fought off the block and brought down Cornhuskers quarterback Chubba Purdy for a 2-yard loss.

It was similar to when Lindenberg started as a true freshman against Michigan in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, but was set back by a season-ending injury in the third game in 2021 and returned strong this season.

Lindenberg made his second straight start against Nebraska last weekend and had a team-high eight tackles in the Gophers’ 20-13 victory at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb. He has played in all nine games this year and is third on the team with 39 total tackles. He earned a bigger role in the past four games, playing at least 34 snaps since the Illinois game in Week 7.

Before the Nebraska game, head coach P.J. Fleck said on his KFXN-FM show that Lindenberg’s performance against Rutgers was the best of his young career. “That kid is going to be a stud, and you already are starting to see it,” Fleck said.

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During the pandemic season, Lindenberg was thrust into a starting spot against the Wolverines before he was fully ready; a season-ending injury to Braelen Oliver and no upperclassmen winning the job contributed to Lindenberg playing having to step up a bit early in his development. He was roughly 227 pounds then, well under his current 240, and had been playing high school football in Minnesota the previous fall.

“It wasn’t pretty at the beginning,” Gophers defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Joe Rossi said Wednesday. “He missed tackles and he didn’t fit the right gap. He was unsure of things.”

But Lindenberg’s overall defensive grade on Pro Football Focus has climbed each year, going from 54.4 in 2020 to 67.3 in a small sample size in 2021 to 76.6 this fall.

“It’s been a tremendous leap,” Lindenberg said, crediting Rossi and fifth-year linebacker Mariano Sori-Marin. “I think that has been a huge part of my progression. Keep my head down and working. There are going to be hard days out there, not bad, but there are going to be hard days.”

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Lindenberg spoke to reporters for the first time as a Gophers player after the Rutgers game, and safety Tyler Nubin followed up on one of Lindenberg’s answers. “This is one of the hardest workers we got on this team, for real,” Nubin said. “One of the most dedicated guys that we got on this team.”

Rossi said Lindeberg’s increased playing time this season is, in part, an effort to get Minnesota’s three best linebackers on the field at the same time in their base look: Lindenberg at weak-side linebacker, Sori-Marin in the middle and Oliver on the strong-side.

This personnel will help the Gophers against Northwestern’s standout running back Evan Hull of Maple Grove at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Huntington Bank Stadium. After Saturday’s game, Minnesota will play two pro-style offenses in Iowa and Wisconsin.

“We felt like that combination versus 12 personnel (one running back and two tight ends) and some of the bigger-people personnel was good for us,” Rossi said last week.

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Sori-Marin has played 54 games to Lindenberg’s 18, but the youngster has been applying what he has learned and is impressing his “big brother.”

“He teaches me a lot of things too when he is out on the field; he’s calling things out before I am sometimes,” Sori-Marin said. “To be able to have that communication and have that trust in the guy next to you is tremendous.”

Lindenberg said there can be timidity to asking questions in the linebacker room. Rossi said that’s possible, with the standard of expert-level understanding passed down from Thomas Barber to Sori-Marin.

“But I think for me seeing it with (Lindenberg), it was more him when he knew he was right, he was afraid to step up and say that he was right and not step on guys’ toes,” Rossi said.

Now Rossi sees Lindenberg preparing and performing. “He’s earning a lot of credibility,” the coordinator said. “Here is the scary thing: There is way more there, guys.”

Up and coming

Minnesota’s underclassmen on defense among the team’s top 22 players in snap counts:

  • CB Justin Walley — 399
  • DE Jalen Logan-Redding — 312
  • NB Michael Dixon — 292
  • LB Cody Lindenberg — 268
  • DE Danny Striggow — 222
  • DE Jah Joyner — 166
  • DE Gage Keys — 74
  • S Coleman Bryson — 52
  • DT Devin Eastern  — 51

Notes: Underclassmen are players in their first, second or third seasons; Minnesota has run 530 defensive plays so far in 2022, according to Pro Football Focus.

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Related Topics: MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS
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