Cashman takes on new, bigger role at linebacker

The linebacker from Eden Prairie has three sacks in the last two weeks.

Gophers linebacker Blake Cashman sacks Purdue quarterback David Blough on Saturday Nov. 5, 2016 at TCF Bank Stadium.

Meagan Lynch, Daily File Photo

Gophers linebacker Blake Cashman sacks Purdue quarterback David Blough on Saturday Nov. 5, 2016 at TCF Bank Stadium.

by Jack White

Gophers linebacker Blake Cashman has seen an increased role in his sophomore season.

He has six tackles in the past two games against Purdue and No. 19 Nebraska, including three sacks.

“He started off helping us out with special teams, and you can play guys like that,” said head coach Tracy Claeys. “We’re built for some of that. Once you get the lead, we’ve got some guys who can run and get after you a little bit, and he’s one of them.”

Cashman, a walk-on from Eden Prairie High School, played on special teams last season as a freshman. He said that he is locked in when he gets the opportunity to play linebacker.

“Throughout the week, myself and all the other linebackers, we do a lot of reps with each play call,” Cashman said. “I felt very comfortable with any play call that would’ve been called when I was out there.”

Linebacker Cody Poock was starting before going down with a season-ending injury last week.

While he said he only expected to have a special teams role this year, Cashman has filled in for Poock and started getting more reps on defense.

“I kept working every day, going through the routine and respectfully earn my spot and opportunity to play, and I’ve done an OK job at it,” Cashman said. “I just play with a lot of confidence, doing my best to keep it up.”

Cashman had the best performance of his collegiate career against Purdue when he recorded five tackles and two sacks.

One sack brought up fourth down when Purdue was leading 14-13 in the second quarter.

Defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel said that Cashman has met his hopes, but he still expects more.

“We always had a hope that he would be really good,” Sawvel said. “You have a hope that he would be what he’s being right now. He can run. He can really run … but he’s a thick guy. When he blitzes, he will put a dent in stuff.”

Cashman only had four tackles in the first three games, with zero tackles for loss.

Sawvel said Cashman short-circuited during fall camp but has since improved.

“He lost confidence in assignments and what he was doing, and when a player loses that, we lose that too,” Sawvel said. “It was one of those things that for a while, you just didn’t rep him much … Now he’s starting to get more assignment-sound and get where he needs to be, and the light has come on.”

Against Nebraska, Minnesota was missing two linebackers who had earned playing time to start the season. Poock was injured, and Nick Rallis sat out the first half because of a targeting call against him in the previous game.

The defense still held Nebraska to only 10 points in the first half.

“[Cashman is] a beast,” Rallis said. “We knew that he had this ability in him. He just needed to progress a little bit schematically and stuff early in the year, and once he got the hang of that, it was just a matter of time before his natural abilities take over.”

Cashman has played in every game this season. He said a scholarship is always in the back of his mind.

“I think every walk-on wants to earn a scholarship,” Cashman said. “It’s not my number one goal. I just take it step by step … My ultimate goal would be to start by the time I’m done here.”

Mike Hendrickson contributed to this report.