Gophers: In offseason of change, Cody Lindenberg & Tyler Nubin the defensive mainstays
MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - The University of Minnesota football team finished fourth in the nation in scoring difference, fifth in third down conversion percentage and eighth in total defense.
The Gophers’ defense was a big reason they finished 9-4 in 2022, and won at least nine games for the third time in four years. If that’s going to continue in 2023, it’ll happen with a lot of new faces. Since beating Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl, 13 players have left the program. The latest is defensive back Ryan Stapp, who was not at practice Tuesday and is no longer on the roster.
Stapp is one of 10 defensive players from last year not returning to Minnesota. Thomas Rush, Terell Smith and Jordan Howden graduated and are testing NFL waters. But Trill Carter, Donald Willis, Beanie Bishop, Braelen Oliver, Gage Keys and Flip Dixon are among the regular players from last year’s defense no longer on the team.
In an offseason of change, there are two mainstays on this year’s defense: Tyler Nubin, and Cody Lindenberg.
Nubin is back for a fifth season and got feedback after the season on what his NFL future might look like. He had 55 tackles and led the Gophers with four interceptions last season, and he’s one of the most respected players on the team.
His reasons for coming back for a fifth season had little to do with football.
"It was really just about me not being ready to be done here and wanting to finish my degree. I just knew I wasn’t done here and I wanted to come back for one more season with my brothers," Nubin said.
And if you ask him, his stats from the 2022 season don’t tell the whole story.
"I feel like I left a lot in the tank last year, honestly. People say I had a great year? Cool, but I feel like I’m a perfectionist and I always feel like I can do that much better every single game, every single practice," Nubin said. "Just seeing all that meat I’ve left on the bone, I feel like I could really take my game to another level if I came back another year. That really enticed me a lot, that’s what drove me to come back."
CODY LINDENBERG THE NEW LEADER AT LINEBACKER
Cody Lindenberg remembers having a conversation with Mariano Sori-Marin as the Gophers were having practices ahead of the Pinstripe Bowl. Sori-Marin told the former Anoka standout he was stepping back from being a vocal leader, handing Lindenberg the metaphorical torch.
The two have been close for three seasons.
"He pretty much told me it’s going to be my room next year. I’ve got to take responsibility. It’s irreplaceable to have a guy like that around for that long," Lindenberg said. "I give a lot of credit to Mariano, he did an amazing job with not only me, but the whole team."
Lindenberg played in six games as a freshman and made 10 tackles. He missed most of the 2021 season with an injury. Last year, he played in all 13 games, started the last six, finishing with 71 tackles, four tackles for loss and one sack. He earned All-Big Ten Honorable Mention honors.
Tuesday, he was on the field and middle linebacker as one of the veteran leaders on the defense.
"Cody got a little practice with his big brother looking over his shoulder. He’s picked up and done a really good job. He wants to lead and he wants to set the example, he’s a guy that does things the right way. He’s really found his voice," defensive coordinator Joe Rossi said.
Lindenberg says he’s getting more comfortable with more time on the field, and reacting instead of thinking.
"A big part of that was just getting comfortable with myself being out on the field, feeling plays out. A big part of it is getting to a point where you don’t have to think," Lindenberg said. "As soon as you have to think about what you have to do, it slows you down for a split second. That could be the split second you need to make the play."
The Gophers’ defense faces plenty of questions in spring practice, but the good news is they have time to figure things out before the Aug. 31 opener against Nebraska at Huntington Bank Stadium.