ILB: Alec Pell, Marvin Ham, Quinn Perry, Jon Van Diest, Ray Robinson, Mister Williams, Akil Jones, Davin Lynch, Chase Newman, Nate Landman
OLB: Guy Thomas, Jamar Montgomery, Carson Wells, Alvin Williams, Jason Harris
There are two defensive holdovers on the Colorado Football coaching staff — Brian Michalowski and Tyson Summers. Summers, a utility knife that can and has coached everywhere but DL, is the inside linebackers coach as well as the defensive coordinator. Michalowski, a pleasant surprise on the recruiting trail, is coaching the OLBs and pass rushers for the 2nd straight year. Given that the offense is shifting to a new system in 2020, it’s reasonable to say that the linebacker group has the most continuity on the entire team. With the established talent at the top and some exciting new pieces, especially on the edges, my hopes are unreasonably high for this linebacking corps.
Let’s not beat around the bush and save him for the end. The face of this group, and potentially the team as a whole, is Nate Landman. The senior has shot his way up the record books with consistent productivity and run-stopping ability. He burst onto the scene in 2018, with what seemed like 2000 tackles against CSU and a crucial 4th down stop at Nebraska (plus a pick!) and he hasn’t looked back.
Landman is probably the best linebacker that CU has had since Jordan Dizon, and he might edge Dizon out before his time has done. He’s an automaton on the football field - consistent effort and excellence every game, every play. Last year, once he figured out how to move in space, he became a solid coverage LB, too. Landman just destroys running lanes, and it is hard to imagine a better figure in the middle of your defense. 6’3, 240 pounds, hits like a truck and runs like a deer. Everything this defense does is built around Landman making the right calls and the right plays. What an asset for Karl Dorrell in his first year.
He is not the only plus player playing inside linebacker. Akil Jones was a pleasant surprise near the end of last season. He is a great run-stopper who does a great job keeping Nate Landman clean. Jones is shorter, at around 6 feet, but he is stout and does a great job standing up to offensive linemen. His experience will serve the ILBs well.
Behind those two established starters, there are plenty of young faces to be excited about. Marvin Ham has great sideline to sideline speed and plays with aggression. Alec Pell has moved around quite a bit on this defense, but he has nice size at 6’3 and he’s very athletic. Quinn Perry is a JuCo transfer that should play quite a bit on special teams, and Ray Robinson should factor in there as well. I’ll be interested to see what Chase Newman can bring, as he is probably the best LB in coverage.
Brian Michalowski has done a great job stocking the pass-rushing cupboard. However, it remains to be seen if the Buffs can generate consistent pressure, because CU hasn’t done so since 2016. The onus is on Michalowski to turn the talent into sacks.
The starters at this position should be relatively straightforward. Carson Wells, the last recruit Jim Leavitt brought to Boulder, is entering his redshirt junior year as an undisputed starter and a versatile piece off the edge. Wells is one of the best players on the edge against the run, and he also can push the pocket. He is surprisingly adept in coverage, and has shown a propensity to bat down balls. All in all, Wells is just solid everywhere. He has to try to create more plus plays rather than preventing bad ones.
On the other side, Guy Thomas is slotted to play and play a lot. Thomas is another highly-touted junior college transfer, by way of Nebraska. He has yet to play a snap in Division 1 football, but he is more prepared than most newcomers for a career in Power 5 football. Thomas is a nice size at 6’2 and 230 pounds, and he has possibly the most athleticism of the group. It’s hard to know exactly what his game will look like, but Thomas has been getting good reviews over the offseason for his work ethic and leadership.
Behind those two are Jamar Montgomery, who will continue to up his snap count after a good finish to last year. I think he’s a great fit at ILB, and I think he’s a solid player, but I don’t know if he has the speed to get to the QB consistently. After these three, there is a bevy of freshmen that have plenty of talent.
Alvin Williams comes from Georgia and he is way bigger than I was expecting. Williams has plenty of giddy-up and played at the highest league of Georgia high school football. If you can perform there, you can do well at the college level.
The most anticipated recruit on the defensive end may be Jason Harris, who was a 4 star recruit. He is stupid long at 6’7, but he’s really skinny and really raw. He will probably see the field on obvious passing downs and not much else. Or, best case, he pulls a Mark Perry and forces himself onto the field.
Finally, we reach the STAR position. Or the Buff position. Or whatever you wanna call it. This S/LB hybrid has been a staple in Boulder since 2016, when Ryan Moeller popularized the look. Davion Taylor took the spot to new heights last year, and used the flexible position to play his way into the 2nd round. The STAR has to learn the coverages, the run fits, cover TEs, RBs, and maybe slot WRs, all while standing up to OL. It’s a lot. This year, it looks like it is a bit more coverage focused.
Chris Miller is practicing at STAR. From CB to S to Star, Miller is a smart player that has speed in spades. It remains to be seen if he can put on the weight needed to play the run effectively, but it’s possible that Tyson Summers wants this position to perform a little differently. Behind Miller is presumably Mark Perry, who started at the spot this offseason, and newcomer Jaylen Striker, who has the right size for the position. This spot looks to be a little bit more interchangeable with the safeties this season, which should help bolster the depth at both positions.