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Gophers’ Cashman and Greene ready for NFL Combine stage

Minnesota linebacker Blake Cashman (36) celebrates his third down stop of Fresno State running back Jordan Mims (22) in the first quarter of an NCCA football game at TCF Stadium in Minneapolis on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018. John Autey / St. Paul Pioneer Press

MINNEAPOLIS -- Few observers would have forecast Blake Cashman and Donnell Greene as NFL prospects back in 2015.

Instead of going to Division III St. Thomas, Cashman became a freshman walk-on special teams player for the Gophers, finishing with four tackles in 13 games his first season. Greene was redshirting as an offensive tackle at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College before accepting Minnesota’s scholarship offer over Missouri and four smaller schools.

This weekend, the two former Gophers will be among 338 college players invited to participate in the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. Greene, of Marietta, Ga., will run through drills on Friday, March 1. Cashman, of Eden Prairie, Minn., will go Sunday.

Greene built up his name by playing in 36 of Minnesota’s 38 games over three seasons. Last year at 6-foot-5 and 335 pounds, he anchored the left tackle spot for the Gophers’ best statistical offense since 2006.

Cashman, who earned a scholarship in 2017, was the U’s full-time starting weak-side linebacker in 2018. At 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds, he made 104 tackles, which was tops on the team and eighth-highest in Big Ten. His 15 tackles for lost yards tied the team high and were fifth in the conference.

The U pair now must attempt to convince NFL scouts and front office executives to use draft pick on them. Last year, Minnesota had no players at the combine and none drafted, ending a four-year streak with at least one Gopher going in the draft.

If Greene is selected, it also would end a 12-year drought without a Gopher offensive lineman selected. Center Greg Eslinger went to Denver in the sixth round of the 2006 draft, with guard Mark Setterstrom going to St. Louis a round later.

Gophers coach P.J. Fleck, who had seven players drafted from his four-year tenure at Western Michigan, has made it an emphasis for U alums to go on to the NFL. For the coach entering his third year at Minnesota, there is no greater sticking point than the dearth of U offensive linemen drafted.

Cashman and Greene circled this weekend’s showcase on their calendar back in December, when they said they would skip the Gophers’ 34-10 victory over Georgia Tech in the Quick Lane Bowl. Cashman had multiple shoulder surgeries during his collegiate career and suffered a concussion when he won defensive MVP at the Holiday Bowl in 2016, while Greene opted for earlier meniscus surgery to jumpstart his rehabilitation process.

Cashman appears to have the better prospects of hearing his name called during the NFL draft April 25-27 in Nashville.

CBSsports.com pegs Cashman as the 250th overall prospect, with 256 players picked, while Greene is ranked 387th. One list on that site had Cashman as the 22nd best linebacker, and Greene as the 66th best offensive lineman.

Chris Trapasso, also of CBS, has Cashman much higher on his list, pegging him as an “instant impact starter” and the fifth-best available linebacker.

“Cashman is very under control and steady,” Trapasso wrote. “Almost always in the right place at the right time, and is a textbook wrap-up tackler. He’s aggressive as a blitzer and is smooth enough moving in any direction to be an asset in coverage.”

Trapasso, however, does not include Greene in his 16-player breakdown of offensive linemen.

But NFL.com has a different perspective, giving Greene a 5.33 grade, eighth highest on its 13-level scale from “once-in-lifetime player to “likely needs time in development league.” Greene’s mark means he is considered an “NFL backup.”

NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein wrote: He’s a “wide-body tackle prospect who could get looks as a backup swing tackle but would likely benefit from a full-time move inside to guard. Greene’s holes in pass protection can be improved but not fixed as he lacks the athletic traits and technique to handle life on an island.”

Meanwhile, Cashman was given a slightly lower grade, 5.11, or “Better-than-average chance to make NFL roster.”

“Limited (weak-side) linebacker who isn’t big and isn’t fast but plays with determination and a nose for the ball,” Zierlein wrote on nfl.com. “Former walk-ons usually have chips on their shoulders that are permanent fixtures and Cashman is no different. He’s made the most out of every opportunity he’s created for himself, but his lack of athletic traits and length create a small margin for error in his play.

“If he can improve in taking on blocks and play more instinctively, he could have a chance as a back-end backup and core special-teamer.”

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