Colorado Buffaloes Defensive Breakdown - Linebackers

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Promoted to the front page. Check out Adam's other breakdowns in the FanPosts - JW

As another season comes upon us, we are looking to a pivotal year for the Buffaloes. With Coach Mike MacIntyre now entering his fourth year with the program, as well as seeing improvement on the field, expectations are continuing to grow for the young team. Looking to improve from a 4-9 that doesn’t tell the story how competitive MacIntyre’s charges were, with several games coming down to a play on either side of the ball that would have resulted in a win. While the program continues on the upswing and brings in talent that can compete with upper echelon teams in the Pac-12, the natives are beginning to get a bit restless in Boulder. With Coach Mac coming in as a someone who could turn around a program, and now entering this season still looking for its first post-season appearance since 2007, this is shaping up to be the season that proves either the Buffs are on the doorstep back to national prominence, or if it’s time to find someone else to take them to that next level.

In the coming days and weeks, we will take a look at the roster and positions and take a closer look at potential strengths and weaknesses of each group. Finally, we will project where each group will have success, as well as where it could have some problems. Today’s look will take a look at the stalwarts called the linebackers:

Projected Starters (in a base 3-4) – ILB Kenneth Olugbode (Sr) ILB Addison Gillam (Jr) Derek McCartney (Sr) and Jimmie Gilbert (Sr)

Top Backups – Ryan Severson (Sr) Rick Gamboa (So) Terran Hasselbach (So) Christian Shaver (Jr) Tim Coleman (Sr)

Strengths – Along with the safeties, this group has the potential to be backbone of a defensive unit that could range from solid to very, very good. The two stars that stand out are Olugbode and Gillam who are both poised for breakout years, providing the injury bug doesn’t strike again. In watching the Colorado State game last year, it was hard not to find number 31 somewhere around the ball and, had not an injury knocked him out in the same game, would probably have been the team leader in tackles. If I’m the CU coaches, I’m wrapping Gillam in bubble wrap and monitoring his day-to-day interactions closely. The fall from grace has been steep for the oft-injured linebacker, ranging from concussions to a knee injury last year that was initially diagnosed for a return for the start of Pac-12 play, an injury that ultimately kept him out the entire year. At the same time, if not for those injuries, we not have been able to see the maturation of Rick Gamboa who would lead the team in tackles last year, despite virtually seeing no game-time before the injuries to both linebackers. If both are healthy, there is no reason to think that the Buffaloes will be stouter against the run and better equipped to have 3-down linebackers, something every team nowadays needs and covets.

Coach Jim Levitt doesn’t go by a strict 4-3 or 3-4 lineup so hybrid ends like Jimmie Gilbert and Derek McCartney will see time in a standup rush role, as well as putting their hands in the dirt on the defensive line. The good news for the rush linebackers are that the leading sackers will be back this season in McCartney and Gilbert. The bad news is that the team as a whole only had 28 sacks and neither player contributed double digit totals. Both ends are super-athletic and the switch from a traditional 4-3 defensive end could prove beneficial, as both players could flourish in a scheme that will ask less of them to take on blocks and more on getting to the quarterback in the pass-happy Pac-12

Weaknesses- Injuries, injuries and injuries. The Buffs have been beset by injuries, which prompted a move on the staff of Coach MacIntyre to go with a different athletic trainer in Drew Wilson, as the Buffs were one of the leaders in players lost to injury. In backups, Shaver, Severson and Gamboa, you have great special teamers who can start in a pinch but would affect the depth if they had to take over on an extended basis, while also taking away their impact on the coverage units. The team is loaded with potential and the rush linebackers fit under that title neatly as both Coleman and Hasselbach have flashed the ability to get after the quarterback, just not consistently.

Conclusion – There is a great mix of everything with this unit. Experience, athleticism, potential, as well as ability. If this team isn’t having chunks of a season taken away to any one of the starters, it would be safe to assume that some of these players won’t challenge for all Pac-12 honors, especially Olugbode and McCartney. If the lessons have been learned from last season and more consistency is found within the group, there is no telling how much improved the Black and Gold will be in the linebacking core.

Coming up next will be the analysis of the Defensive Line. Till next time, GO BUFFS!

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