I could probably finish the outside linebacker preview there, but I’ll soldier on just for you. The Colorado Buffaloes have some untested depth that should be exciting in the future, but really, it’s as simple as the beginning of this preview. The position of OLB is the Carson Wells show.
After vacillating between under-used and underrated, Wells finally strutted his stuff last year for everyone to see. In an abbreviated season, Wells had 37 tackles, an interception and 6.5 sacks. Good numbers. Now, I failed to mention the 16 tackles for loss. 16 TACKLES FOR LOSS. That number put Wells up with the best of the country last year and by far the best on a per-game basis. Carson Wells lived in the backfield as a junior. Now, a year bigger, older and wiser, he looks to maintain that production while also having more attention thrown his way. Wells will undoubtedly be the focus of opposing offenses on passing downs, so he will have to fight through traffic to keep the same production. In the new defensive system, Wells will also find his hand in the dirt from time to time. His frame, 6’4 and up around 250 pounds, will let him play defensive end relatively well, but we really haven’t seen that side of his game on the field. I think his overall athleticism (watch his interception against UCLA last year) allows Carson to stay on the field in multiple different roles. I cannot emphasize enough how much of a weapon Carson Wells is for this defense. He is a Swiss Army knife, in that he is good in run sets and pass sets, but he also is a butcher knife, in that he is the best sack master on this team. Another year with Wells and Landman together is a gift that Chris Wilson does not take lightly.
Now, there is a three-headed monster for who will be the other “outside” in the linebacking corps. Let’s start with Guy Thomas. The former Nebraska linebacker (emphasis on the “former”) is a “first off the bus” guy. He is JACKED. Thomas has plenty of athleticism, and good size, but has not been able to see the field yet for the Buffs. After a good fall camp, Thomas has put himself in position for playing time. At 6’2, he’s slightly shorter than Wells, but he’s plenty big and fast enough to stay with running backs and tight ends out of the backfield. Expect him to rotate heavily this year.
Another of the triumvirate of ‘backers is Joshua Gustav. The German with a VERY German name has impressed coaches since the beginning of spring ball this year. At the risk of overplaying the stereotype, he’s known for working every snap and providing a hard-nosed approach to the position. Gustav, like Carson, has the added versatility of putting a hand in the dirt at times. Joshua may be the starting OLB, at least at the beginning of the year. However, it is guaranteed that he will rotate heavily with the other two pieces.
Finally, we have Jamar Montgomery. The little-recruited junior college transfer has moved from ILB to OLB. Montgomery has been a solid presence for the Buffs the last two years, and the junior is going to play on the outside of the front seven. He is solid, but not spectacular, and the numbers reflect that. Montgomery will not lose you games or break plays, but he rarely gets pass rush and he’s not really asked to. He may be one of the best linebackers in short zone coverage, and his smarts allow him to diagnose early. I’d love to see more from him as the season goes on.
Let’s finish this article with a look at the future. I don’t expect any of these people to play a lot of snaps, but they are exciting pieces. Devin Grant is a great fit in a 4-3 scheme that is used to playing DE, and he will continue to bulk up. Alvin Williams is a gigantic live wire that’s full of athleticism. As a second-year freshman, Williams has great pass rush potential. Zion Magalei, out of Arizona, is the longest of the bunch and is a natural pass rusher. Overall, Brian Michalowski has a great group of talent ahead of him.