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Depth galore in Colorado’s ILB room

A peek inside the doors of Colorado’s inside linebacker room.

NCAA Football: San Diego State at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Four months after injuries and COVID-19 wrecked Colorado’s inside linebacker room in spring camp, the Buffs have taken a near 180 in the influx of quality options. Nate Landman will again guide the ship but transfers Robert Barnes and Jack Lamb have also flashed leadership abilities.

The list continues with Jon Van Diest and Quinn Perry both worthy of more snaps this fall. Both will be hard pressed to find a lot of playing time behind Landman and Barnes, but there may be an opportunity available if Landman is still easing his way back. Perry did see action in all six games last season but was more of a special teams weapon than a defensive fixture. Rounding out the group are a slew of first, second and third-year freshmen.

But first, let’s get to know Barnes and Lamb. A former four-star recruit, Barnes spent the first four seasons of his collegiate career at Oklahoma before transferring to CU in January. He started 10 games at safety and linebacker during his Sooners’ tenure. The biggest plus with Barnes is probably his big game experience. He had seven tackles and a forced fumble in Oklahoma’s 2018 Big 12 Championship win over Texas. He added another three tackles against Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinal that year. He has, however, been limited this preseason camp while managing a soft tissue injury.

Another four-star recruit, Jack Lamb bid adieu to Notre Dame in January to join the fighting Buffaloes. His big game resume includes recording three tackles against then-No. 1 Clemson in 2020 and an appearance in the College Football Playoff semifinal. Lamb was a major special teams threat for Notre Dame and even led the ACC in special teams tackles last season. Health may be another concern for Lamb, who had season-ending hip surgery in 2019. Karl Dorrell made it clear, though, that his new addition was at 100% entering camp. More from Dorrell on Barnes:

“He’s in our leadership group and I think that tells you a lot about a guy that’s new to your program,” Dorrell said. “He just gets here really in May and he entrenched himself within this football team and they respect who he is. That tells you right there that they have a lot of respect for what he’s done in such a short period of time.”

Lower on the depth chart, Zephaniah Maea, Mister Williams and Alvin Williams, who moved from OLB to ILB this year, will probably use 2021 as a learning year. Both Williams and Williams saw considerable time on special teams but are still working their way into the defensive unit while Maea comes to Colorado as a three-star recruit out of Nevada. Van Diest thinks highly of the trio of young talent.

“Mister, for one, is a really smart player. Nate and I have talked before (and) as a freshman, he’s picked up things better than we did when we were freshmen,” Van Diest said. “Alvin and Zephaniah are both hard workers. They’re growing up in what it means to just put effort into work and all those things that it takes freshman to get acclimated to. They’re doing really well and it’s just adding to the depth of our room and our defense.”

The future is on hold though with Nate Landman still in the building. Eight months after rupturing his Achilles’ tendon on a snowy Folsom Field, Landman’s final ride in Boulder should excite any Colorado fan, or any college football fan for that matter. Landman appears on several preseason award watch lists (too many to list) and is poised for another big year.

“Physically, I feel great and mentally, I’m super excited,” Landman said. “I got blessed with having another year to play here at CU and you can only play college football for a certain amount of years. I’m super lucky to be back and I love this program and excited to give it all for CU one last time.”