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New-look linebacking corps set for spring game

Mike Sherels and John Shevlin should mean a lot to the defense’s success next year.

On New Year’s Eve 2004, John Shevlin and David Lockwood each debuted at new spots for Minnesota’s football team.

Lockwood coached his first game as the Gophers’ defensive coordinator against Alabama at the Music City Bowl, which was the same game Shevlin made his first start at outside linebacker.

The game produced positive results for a Minnesota defense that had been largely ineffective for most of the season. The Gophers held the Tide to 16 points, and Shevlin led with six solo tackles.

Heading into Saturday’s spring game at the Metrodome, Minnesota is hoping it can use a new-look linebacking corps under its new coordinator to spark a revitalization of a defense in desperate need.

“We’ve got a whole new attitude this year,” Shevlin said. “I think our play will show our excitement. I’ve been that much more amped this whole spring season.”

Terrance Campbell and Brandon Owens, both of whom saw significant time at linebacker last year, have been shifted to the secondary. That leaves Shevlin and his classmate, sophomore inside linebacker Mike Sherels, as the starting counterparts to senior outside linebacker Kyle McKenzie.

The fact that he’s the lone upperclassmen linebacker doesn’t have McKenzie concerned, he said.

“Shevlin and Sherels, they bring hitting, power, speed,” McKenzie said. “Sherels, he holds it down in the middle. He’s a big guy. I don’t think they’re going to run too many (isolations) at him.”

Leadership is a role that has been given to McKenzie this spring by default. And it’s a role Lockwood said McKenzie is taking to well.

“Kyle McKenzie’s had a great spring at the drop,” Lockwood said. “His leadership – he’s been a leader out there on the field.”

For his part, Lockwood’s influence on the defense has already been exerted, McKenzie said. Lockwood has made the defense a more attacking and aggressive group, but the coaches aren’t fully responsible for that change, he said.

Regardless, with some of their coordinator’s stated spring goals accomplished, the Lockwood effect is starting to resonate.

“There’s some things that we wanted to accomplish going into spring, and that’s swarming to the ball, playing with a chip on our shoulder, that mentality,” Lockwood said. “I think when you sit down and look at a couple of those things, I think that we’re heading in the right direction.”

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