There aren't 125 Blake Cashmans on the Gophers' roster, but that's the goal for head coach P.J. Fleck.
Cashman, an Eden Prairie, Minnesota native, had just 12 tackles and zero sacks coming into the Michigan game last week. He filled in for a hurt Jonathan Celestin, and had his best game of this season in the 33-10 loss. He made six tackles including a sack, and Minnesota's head coach has been impressed by the junior.
“That’s how you should play the game,” Fleck said. “If we had 125 Blake Cashmans, that’s the goal.”
With a new coaching staff implementing new schemes and new players on defense, Cashman has made less of a mark as a scholarship player than he did last year as a walk-on. He played mostly on third down packages and special teams this year prior to the Michigan game.
Cashman’s season-high performance was a bright spot in an otherwise tough game for the Gophers.
“I was excited to get in there. It was a hard loss... I felt sick, we didn’t play well and that was definitely a game coming in to the Big House that you want to get,” Cashman said. “It gave me some confidence, and I can’t wait to hopefully get back out there and get some snaps maybe on first and second down if my number’s called again.”
The Gophers defense has used Cashman mostly on third down packages this year, and the linebacker said he has around 100 snaps on defense, not including special teams.
Celestin, another middle linebacker, has been dealing with a shoulder injury and Fleck said the speed of the Michigan running backs made him switch Celestin with an uninjured Cashman.
Cashman played all of last season without a scholarship. He tallied 45 tackles and a team-high 7.5 sacks. He is seeing less action this year as Thomas Barber, with 82 tackles, and Celestin, with 64, have most of the playing time at middle linebacker.
“[Cashman’s] become more than just a third down guy for us,” said defensive coordinator Robb Smith. “He loves playing the game, whether it’s special teams, first downs, second down, third down. He loves playing the game and we love having him out there.”
In this week’s game against Nebraska, Cashman will have the opportunity to play against old high school teammate JD Spielman.
Spielman, went to Eden Prairie high school where he played varsity football with Cashman for three seasons. Spielman earned Minnesota’s Mr. Football Award in 2015, which is given to the best football player in the state. He also takes kick returns for the Cornhuskers. Cashman has played on Minnesota's kickoff team this year, which means the two could clash on Saturday.
“Hopefully, we get to start the game on kickoff and I’ll be able to go down there and try to make a play on [Spielman],” Cashman said. “That will be exciting. I’ll reach out to him at some point this week to talk to him, see him after the game.”
Heading into this week’s game against Nebraska, Fleck said Cashman is the model for what he wants his Gophers teams to look like in the future.
“If you could take Blake Cashman, and in three years down the road sit there and say that’s what the team will look like at every position? That’s my vision of the football team."