Blake Cashman Takes Flight In Rookie Season
Sunday 27th April 2019. It was the third day of the 2019 NFL Draft. After a college football career that had seen him go from a walk on at the University of Minnesota, to a team captain and stand out linebacker, Blake Cashman was surrounded by his family. At the NFL Combine he’d put on a performance that had astounded and amazed analysts and scouts alike. There was a swell of opinion that suggested he might be snapped up within the first 3 rounds.
Yet the phone still hadn’t rang.
The longest wait.
“I was starting to have a lot of doubts on the third day of the draft. It was about half way through the fourth round, early on day 3, when I was taking phone calls from teams and they were kind of giving off the impression that they liked me a lot as a player but they felt like they could take me in free agency, as an undrafted free agent rookie. So that was very discouraging to hear, when you still had the fifth, sixth, seventh rounds to go. I kept on having my faith and believing that I was going to get the phone call.”
The fourth round ticked by and the fifth round began.
“It was about 10 minutes before I actually got the call. I looked at my family and I said, you know, I don’t wanna waste my time sitting here watching the TV, waiting for the phone call. This is stressing me out. I just need to start going about my day. So, I’m gonna give it another 15-20 minutes. If I don’t get a phone call we can end this party, and get on with our day.”
Blake Cashman: New York Jet.
15 minutes later, the phone rang and Blake Cashman was drafted by the New York Jets.
“Looking back at it, it was obviously very exciting. But more than anything, I was pretty overwhelmed. I’d put in so much time and work and effort leading up to that point. You’re waiting for that phone call forever. Minutes seem to go by like days, and as the rounds kept on going, I was stressing out a little bit, but when I got the call I was overwhelmed with emotion. I felt like I could finally breathe.”
As much as he’d put in the hard work and effort to make it to the NFL, there was still hard work to come. As a fifth round NFL Draft selection there is no guarantee of making a roster, let alone starting a game in the NFL. The first step on that journey begins with rookie minicamp and numerous training camps over the summer period. It’s a different schedule to the spring and summer camps that Blake was used to at Minnesota, and he talked me through the differences between college and the NFL.
Welcome to the NFL rookie.
“It’s a lot more meeting time, doing film study, learning the playbook. Then, you’re not really beating yourself up, putting on pads, and going full contact. You just put on helmets and just work on a lot of fundamental work, because guys are getting older. In the NFL there’s a lot of money on the line with a lot of players. So, they really have to be careful about keeping healthy and they’re taking care of you because they need you for training camp and the season. It was definitely an easier transition. You just have to get used to drinking coffee and staying up for meeting time.”
The long hours spent in meetings, film study, and on the practice field are an important time in building a strong team bond over the pre-season. For the rookies, having an established NFL veteran to help guide you through the early months can be critical. For Cashman, one man provided that direction.
“Harvey Langi, ex-Patriot, he actually was new to the Jets and he wanted to bring what he learned in New England, over here. That was to build a lot of team camaraderie and get guys together. He did a good job, not only with me but the other rookies, of getting us involved in things outside of practice and lifting, and things that relate to football. Because to be a good team it starts off the field with building team chemistry and friendship.”
“He was somebody that was really helpful with anything I needed help with, whether that involved football or just adapting to life in the NFL. I have to give credit to a lot of the guys in my position room. The linebacker group are good guys with a lot of experience and they’ve been really helpful in the transition to get the best out of my potential.”
NFL Pre-season for Blake Cashman.
After weeks spent building team chemistry and bonds, the NFL pre-season is a 4-week job interview that will ultimately break down some of those relationships. Now that NFL teams don’t cut the rosters down to 53 men until after the final game, players that see a lot of time in that game can be the most at risk of not making it. Cashman featured prominently in that final game against the Eagles, contributing 5 tackles including 1 for loss. Was there a moment where he thought he thought he might not make it?
“Going into it, I knew I was a rookie, I’m a young player, I’m going to get a lot of snaps, a lot of opportunity. I had heard that the coaches and the front office liked me a lot as a player. But I’m someone who’s never really satisfied, never feels too comfortable where I’m at. I’m always looking to be better, always looking for that next step. So, going into that game I was like, it’s the last preseason game, I don’t want to leave any doubt on the table. I’m sitting there the night before the game and I’m like, damn we have a lot of talent on this team, a lot of good players in the linebacker room. As a general manager, I was like, how do you even decide who to keep and who to get rid of?!”
“I just told myself, I’m going to have a lot of opportunities, I’m here, don’t blow it.”
Another long wait.
After spending hours waiting for a phone call back in April, the roster cut deadline was spent hoping that the phone wouldn’t ring.
“For most guys, you gotta stick around close to the facility because you’re either going to get a phone call asking you to come in which means they’re letting you go, or else you’re not gonna a phone call. I just laid low, did things to keep myself busy, just counting down the hours hoping I wouldn’t get a phone call.”
“Sure enough, the Saturday at 3 or 4pm was the deadline, the clock hit, and that’s when I knew, like, I’m a New York Jet!”
From special teams to starting in the NFL.
Like most rookies, Cashman’s primary role to start the season would be on special teams. He played 70% of the team’s special teams snaps in the season opener against the Buffalo Bills. However, he also saw some time on defense too as he explained to me.
“I know the coaches liked me for coverage purposes, on longer down and distances. They told me to be ready to get in on snaps on defense, maybe in third down situations. As a rookie, you have to play special teams if you’re not locked in as a starter. That goes for every player in the NFL, regardless of whether you’re a rookie or not. That’s how you make your roster spot. Going in to my first game I expected to maybe get a few snaps on defense but really it would be all special teams.”
“Sure enough, there’s always a chance of guys getting injured, and we’ve taken a hit at the linebacker position for our team. Guys got injured, and it’s the next man up. I had to step up and fill in for the Buffalo game. For the rest of the season I was one of our starting inside linebackers. It definitely wasn’t the role I was expecting but it’s been a blast because I’m getting all that valuable experience as a young player. I’m learning so much, getting those game time reps and that’s what you expect in the NFL. It’s your profession, it’s your job, and you’ve got to be ready.”
“I truly felt for the Buffalo game that was the worst game that I played, defensively. When I look back at the film of myself, and I evaluate myself, I’ve definitely come a long way from that first game to my last.”
Getting better every game.
In between those games, Cashman has played 73% of his team’s defensive snaps. Only 4 other players have seen more defensive game time. He has racked up 40 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack and 1 fumble recovery.
The highlights of his young career include that first sack against Cleveland, and two games against New England where he recorded career high tackle numbers.
However, it’s a different game that Blake chooses as his standout game.
“The best game I’ve played so far, and my coaches agree, is the Jacksonville game. I was seeing things really fast, I took care of my assignments, I did really well in coverage, and I was able to make some plays. Of course you have your mistakes. You’re going to have mistakes every game, but it was the first game where I played a clean game, and didn’t really have any missed assignments or mental errors. That’s something that you want to see in yourself as a player and you know the coaches want to see that. If a guy is going to make a career in the NFL, you want to see that he improves and takes the right step every week and gets better.”
Frustration and finding a way to win.
Where Cashman has seen improvements in his game as the season has progressed, the same can’t be said for the Jets. They currently sit at 2-7, and are bottom of the AFC East.
“It’s frustrating, I think anyone would say that. But, we’ve had a lot of obstacles to get over whether that be injuries, or guys being sick. Some things haven’t gone our way in games. That’s just how football goes at times, and you can’t control that. You just have to continue to find ways to win. Guys understand that it’s their job to go out and perform and to win games. That’s how you’re evaluated in the NFL at the end of the day. It’s not fun losing. Guys have that mindset that it’s frustrating, but we have to continue to find ways to get better, because what we’re doing currently isn’t working.”
As frustrating as losing is, it always strikes me as being infinitely more difficult somewhere like New York where the media is famously tough on their sports teams. Do the players and people within the organisation feel an additional pressure from the media?
“I don’t know if players feel it as much as coaches do. It seems that it stresses out the coaches more than the players. The coaches have to deal with tougher questions from the media, and have to deal with the media more than the players do. We always said in Minnesota, and in some ways we say it here with the Jets, what’s important regardless of our record, is what’s going on inside our four walls. Everybody believes it, and everyone sticks to it.”
Coaches past and present.
One of the coaches that is no stranger to the media spotlight is defensive co-ordinator, Greg Williams. He’s one of the biggest personalities in the league. What’s it like working under him?
“It’s been a lot of fun. As a player, especially a defensive player, you like a coach who likes to dial it up and get aggressive with his schemes. He demands a lot of his players. It doesn’t matter if you’re Jamaal Adams, or me as a rookie linebacker, he expects everybody to take care of business. He expects everybody to play fast and physical. His expectations and standards are set so high that it just pushes you to be better every week. That’s what a coach’s job is to do. The way he does it is a little different than most coaches but the energy he brings to the meeting room, to the practice field, to game day, is contagious.”
Whilst we’re on the subject of coaches, we get in to two others that have played a part in Cashman’s career path up to now. When I spoke with him, the Minnesota Golden Gophers were undefeated under the guidance of the inspirational P.J. Fleck. What was it like playing for him?
“He’s an awesome coach. He brings so much energy to everything you do as a team. It’s unmatched. I haven’t seen one person able to keep up with him. I don’t know where he gets it, where he finds that energy. He’s an extraordinary person, he’s a great coach, and he’s an even better person off the field. I know I loved playing for him, and everyone who’s played for him has a lot of great things to say.”
A permanent coach.
The other is his father, Steve. During Blake’s playing days at high school and college, Steve had been like a coach in the home. Now he’s transitioned to the NFL is his dad still coaching him up?
“Oh yeah, absolutely! I had to tell him to stop calling me so much.” Blake laughs as he speaks. “He wanted to know every time after practice, he wanted to hear what was going on. He’d call me and talk to me on the phone for hours. I’d be like, I’ve got things I need to get done tonight. I’ve gotta sit and watch more film. He’ll come to the games and watch the games live. Then he’ll go home and watch them on the DVR! The first Monday night game, and my first start, was against Cleveland and he re-watched the game four times. It’s hysterical to me. But I know it’s because he’s really proud of me and he loves me. He won’t miss a beat to tell me what I’m doing well, and what I need to work on.”
A premature end to the season.
Unfortunately for Cashman Sr, it will be re-watching games for the rest of the season. Following his best game of the year against the Jaguars, Blake suffered a season ending shoulder injury during practice. The injury required surgery and the Jets placed him on IR, ending his rookie season prematurely.
“Honestly I couldn’t even tell you the exact play or day that I injured it. During practice I just kinda tweaked my shoulder a little bit, I felt like something wasn’t right. So I got it checked out and received some unfortunate news. It’s frustrating, it’s not fun to deal with another shoulder injury. But, it’s something I’ve been through before and recovered well from and came back stronger. I fully expect to have a great recovery and to go in to my second season in the NFL better than I did this year. I’m someone who likes to look at the positives. So, the great thing is I’ll be ready to go for OTAs. I’m going to get all the work in the offseason that I need to get better and improve. If you don’t improve in this business, then you’re not going to last.”
The injury may have ended his rookie campaign prematurely, but Blake Cashman isn’t prepared to let an injury get in the way of his NFL dream.
”I’m not ready to hang up the cleats anytime soon.”
Feature Image Credit: New York Jets
Oliver Hodgkinson is a College Football writer for The Touchdown. He also writes on the NFL for the Pro Football Network. You can hear his opinions on all things College Football as one third of the College Chaps Podcast.