I recently provided a scouting report on Blake Cashman, linebacker from Minnesota. Unfortunately, we were unable to work out a time with Blake to come on the podcast. However, he was able to sit down in his dorm room and FaceTime with me for an interview. This transcript below is not word-for-word, but is an accurate representation of our interview. It was a pleasure speaking with Blake. I came away from the interview extremely impressed with him as a person.
Josh: Thanks for joining me for this interview Blake, I’ve been really excited about it. How’ve you been doing?
Blake: Doing well, you know being post-combine and all the stress and anxiety, your nerves are kind of gone. It’s kind of nice to just be able to work on your strength and conditioning and just focus on doing linebacker drills for my Pro Day.
J: I know you’ve been extremely busy, so thanks for fitting this into your schedule. I really appreciate it.
B: Yeah, no problem. My pleasure.
J: So let’s talk about the combine really quick. You performed very well. I’m not sure why but a lot of people didn’t seem to expect that from you. So in preparing for the Combine, how have you gone about prepping for the biggest job interview of your life?
B: I just take it one step at a time. I started training in mid to late December, just taking it one week at a time. Improving, getting better with strength, speed, agility-all those things. I knew going into the Combine that there is a lot of pressure. It is the biggest interview of your life. I think my agent and my trainer did a good job working with me. About a week before the Combine I did a lot of interview prep and spoke to a lot of people that filled me in on what to expect. So going into it all, I had a lot of confidence in myself and felt very comfortable.
J: Yeah, you performed really well at the Combine. Is there anything testing-wise that you’re trying to improve upon going into your Pro Day?
B: I don’t plan to do any testing at my Pro Day. I felt really good about where I was at. Credit to my trainer helping me along the way, he did a good job. I’m just looking forward to going into the Pro Day and meeting with more teams and maybe meet with some teams I didn’t get to meet with at the Combine because there were a few of them. Just working on positional drills that I already feel very comfortable at and have a lot of experience doing.
J: Is there anybody in the NFL that you try to mold your game after?
B: Yeah, that’s a very popular question. There are two guys that come to mind. First, is Blake Martinez-he has a similar build and size as me. What stands out about him where I compare myself is he prepares at a very high level. I’m someone that believes that you win the game during the week. You have to out-prepare your opponent and I think Blake Martinez demonstrates that by how he grades out and how active he is around the ball. Just from how much energy I think I play with on the field, I compare that to Harrison Smith. I think he is a very tenacious player and a great player and he loves to stick his nose into something.
J: So Blake, what is your favorite meal?
B: Pregame, you got a little bit of nerves so I like to keep my meals light. Usually grilled chicken, some green beans. I like pasta and lasagna as well, so that’s usually what I go with.
J: Playing linebacker, you said you feel comfortable in linebacker drills. Do you prefer playing inside or outside or 4-3 versus 3-4, does any of that matter to you?
B: It doesn’t matter to me. I look at myself as someone that is a quick learner and somebody that can adapt to either position. I feel like as long as I take the necessary steps to prepare, I feel like I will do fine at either position.
J: Did anyone ask you anything weird at the Combine?
B: I was fully expecting teams to ask some off the wall questions or something I wasn’t really expecting. A lot of my interviews were just questions getting to know me as a person and then some teams asked me about my journey of becoming a walk-on to captain and now the combine. They love to test your football IQ. They want you to teach them their defense, they may teach you a little bit about their defense and then have you teach it back to them. So that’s the kind of stuff I was asked about.
J: I watched your tape against Ohio State, Northwestern and New Mexico State and came away impressed. You are always around the football. At the end of every play it seems I see 36 in there. Is there anything NFL teams have told you they think you need to work on?
B: The main thing teams brought up and that I see in draft analysis of myself is working on shedding blocks. Going into the NFL guys are more talented, bigger, faster, more athletic so I just need to continue to work on that. I don’t necessarily see it as a weakness. I just see it as something to continue to improve upon.
J: Yeah, this year alone you had 15 tackles for loss, largely against Big 10 offensive linemen. The Big 10 regularly produces NFL quality offensive linemen. One thing I noticed on your tape was how comfortable you are in coverage. Your instincts and fluidity were a plus. What do you attribute your coverage skills to?
B: Yeah, credit to me playing defensive back in high school and doing those drills. I actually came in as a safety so for a whole year I got work in defensive back drills. I think that just carried over to the linebacker position. Going from safety to linebacker, you tend to deal more with tight ends and running backs, guys that aren’t usually as good at running routes as wide receivers. So I think that carried over and helped me a lot from just working on those drills.
J: What do you like to do in your spare time?
B: Being from Minnesota, the winters can get long and cold so I’m perfectly fine binge watching Netflix. I’m a college student so of course I love my video games. I’m an extrovert, a very social person-I like to be around people; whether it is fishing on the lake off my parent’s boat or grilling out on the lake or going bowling, I love to go bowling. I’m a very easy going guy and usually up to do whatever the group wants to do.
B: I used to play hockey up until middle school. I gave it up because I started playing basketball, I did AAU and spring ball league so that kept me busy during the offseason. So hockey wasn’t an option at that point. Being from Minnesota, everyone seems to be playing hockey at one point in their life.
J: You were a walk-on at Minnesota. Did any other teams try to recruit you?
B: There were some good Division II teams in the area that offered me good scholarships for that level. It is something that I considered heavily but from being a young boy I always want to go big or go home. Being from Minnesota, growing up 25 minutes away from the university, that was kind of always a dream. I figured if I didn’t take the opportunity to walk on, 5-10 years down the road I would look back and ask myself “what if” so I’m glad I did it. I may not be in this position today if I wouldn’t have taken that chance on myself.
J: How do you feel being a walk-on prepared you for the NFL?
B: From my perspective, I always feel like I need to prove myself and compete more that what scholarship kids are doing. You carry yourself with a chip on your shoulder and you’re fueled with motivation the entire time at your school. Whether it be winter workouts, spring ball, during the season-so that’s part of it. I’m just a very competitive guy, I hate losing. I have a lot of confidence and believe in myself to keep setting goals higher and higher and achieve anything that people say I can’t.
J: So you won the Gary Tinsley Award twice for the player that best exhibits that underdog mentality. What goes into winning that award and how is it viewed at Minnesota?
B: You definitely have to demonstrate that you’re not a selfish player, you’re a team player and you have to be someone who works hard and is dedicated to the process of how we run things at Minnesota. Being a walk-on and earning more playing time every year I just gained a lot of respect from my teammates and coaches. The Gary Tinsley Award was named after a linebacker that passed away in his dorm room here. He was somebody that was very competitive and always striving for more so that is what the award is based on and it is heavily respected around here.
J: What was it like when you finally earned that scholarship?
B: I’ll never forget that day. It was hard to put into words how I was feeling. I think what stuck out to me the most was just the love I felt from my teammates. Being in college football, there are so many players that come from so many different places and different backgrounds. We all came together to form this brotherhood that is striving for one goal and that’s to win games and win championships. You do so much sacrificing and put in so much work together that they were almost more excited for me than I was for myself. That moment was very special to me because it just showed how much they cared and appreciated me. I was overwhelmed with emotions and it was very special and something that I’ll never forget.
J: At one point you had surgery on both shoulders. How did it affect you if at all? And are you healthy now?
B: I feel great right now. My shoulders are stronger and more stable than they’ve ever been. I did go through those surgeries and I don’t think it limited my game at all. I never missed a game because of it. My shoulders were actually injured before the season even started and I battled through it throughout the year. It just showed during the offseason when I couldn’t be doing everything in the weight room that my team was doing and I missed spring ball, so you’re missing out on reps and time on the field.
Then you aren’t able to get as big and strong as you’d like in the offseason. With the game of football, that is what the offseason is dedicated to; getting strength back and getting healthy, putting on or losing weight. So that is where it hurt me. Thankfully going into my senior year I was able to really dedicate myself in the weight room. I think it really helped me to put me in good position for my senior year.
J: Are you a Lakers fan?
B: I’m a LeBron James fan, I’ll put it that way. He’s been my favorite player since his rookie year. I’m a Timberwolves fan so being from Minnesota I want them to do well, but I’m a LeBron James fan first and he’s been someone I’ve idolized and loved cheering for so wherever he goes, that’s where I’m going.
J: Well then, if the Rams decide to draft you, welcome to Los Angeles man!
B: That would be pretty cool!
J: Which teams have shown the most interest in you?
B: Tough question. I felt like every team I’ve spoken to, it went really well. From my agent, I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from teams so that is good news to hear. The Vikings have expressed some interest. The 49ers as well, enjoyed watching my special teams play. But it’s hard to tell. As it gets closer to the draft there is so much that you can’t predict, it’s hard to really tell who is pursuing you. I don’t pay much attention to it, as long as my meetings are going well and I’m getting positive feedback from teams.
J: You elected not to participate in the Golden Gopher’s bowl game. What went into that decision?
B: Well you only get one shot at the NFL. I wanted to focus on getting stronger, faster to make sure when I did have that Combine or that Pro Day that I knocked it out of the park. It felt like I needed to put up good numbers to get people’s attention. I wanted to utilize as much time as possible and that’s what went into that decision.
J: Do you foresee that trend growing moving forward?
B: It does seem like it is becoming more popular. I think it depends on the player’s health, where they’re projected to go. If they’re a high pick they don’t want to risk injury, but guys on the bubble between mid to late rounds feel like they have a lot more to prove. I think it just depends on the player’s status at the end of the season and what the outlook is for them.
J: I noticed your sophomore year you had 7.5 sacks. What do you attribute those sacks to? Was it how coaches used you, right place right time?
B: It was how the coaches were utilizing me. We had some packages and on those packages is where I got a lot of those sacks. We put a lot of speed on the field and had different blitzes and guys in different places to confuse the offense. I’m someone who runs well and is a sure tackler, they bring me on blitzes.
J: Do you feel NFL teams can utilize you in the same way and scheme those packages for you?
B: I’d love it if they did! I had a lot of fun on those packages, whether it be in coverage or blitzing. In those packages I blitz from depth which I really enjoy because when you’re coming downhill from four to five yards back and get a running start, it’s really easy to make a move on the offensive lineman. I really enjoy doing that and it will be awesome if they do. I’ll just be happy wherever they put me however they need help on defense.
J: What was your most memorable moment or game in your college career?
B: Good question. One memory that sticks out, which a lot of Minnesota fans would remember, is actually my freshman year. It was our first game against TCU, opening night, they came into our house as the 2nd ranked team in the nation. I was a true freshman, walk-on, first college game ever and I was playing special teams.
So I was out there on kickoff and I was really nervous, I almost blacked out. There were so many nerves running through me but I was so excited to have the opportunity to actually be on the field, it was so surreal. I came down on kickoff and hit the returner who is a very talented and speedy receiver. I tackled him on the 12 yard line. To me that’s one of my favorite memories because it was my first game. The atmosphere was electric at TCF Bank Stadium and being a freshman walk-on it gave me a lot of confidence knowing that I could play at this level.
J: You volunteer for Loaves and Fishes, can you tell me a little bit about that?
B: Loaves and Fishes is something that I did with my family back in high school. Coach Fleck is really into serving and giving, so we do a lot of community outreach. The past two years I’ve been there a lot with my teammates serving food to people, either they’re homeless or can’t always afford good meals. With me focusing on my training, I have a lot of time on my hands so the past two months I’ve spent a lot of time there helping out whoever comes through the door.
J: What would you say to an NFL team, why should I draft you?
B: I would tell them that I’m someone who can come in right away and positively impact their special teams. That’s a big phase of the game and I think people overlook it but some games are won and lost on special teams. I have a lot of good tape out there; kickoff, kick return, punt I think I can come in and improve special teams. I’m a versatile player, I can play inside or outside and utilize my speed. If we draw up different blitzes and coverages, I can help in those areas as well. Given those factors, I think I can play two or three different positions, wherever help is needed.
J: Who is the best offensive lineman you faced in your college career?
B: No specific name, but Maryland’s offensive line. They were a bunch of big guys but athletic too. They move really well so if they do any pulling or things like that, you really have to get on your horse and get going. That was really tough this past season.
J: Who is one quarterback and running back you’d love to put a good hit on?
B: I don’t want to cause any beef with any future teammates, but it doesn’t matter who it is. If I get the chance to light someone up, I want to do it. It is something that us linebackers enjoy in general, always something that creates a lot of energy and excitement in games.
J: Who would you say was your favorite guy to tackle in college?
B: A lot of running backs, a lot of games played. I didn’t make a big hit because the game went by really fast for me since I got ejected. Someone I have a lot of respect for though is Jonathan Taylor from Wisconsin. He was somebody that was a very strong back. I remember I got into the backfield really fast and was right there to make a tackle and I was about to lunge at him and he made this really nice jump cut. He turned his shoulders and started running toward the sideline. I had to get on my horse and chase him down. But there are a few of them (running backs) in the film archives of me putting a lick on them.
J: Alright Blake thanks again for joining me for this interview. Good luck through the rest of the pre-draft process, your Pro Day and everything. I wish you the best of luck and can’t wait to see you playing on Sundays. If you don’t end up on the Rams, just try to stay out of the NFC West, we don’t need those type of problems. Thanks again and take care.
B: I really appreciate, thank you!