Rating the Colorado Roster – Linebackers

Note … This is the sixth in a series of weekly unit reviews for the Colorado roster, which will lead us up to the start of Fall Camp on August 4th.

Previous posts: Quarterbacks, Running Backs, Wide Receivers and Tight Ends, Offensive Line, Defensive Line

Colorado Linebacker Roster

Players lost: Brady Daigh; Woodson Greer III; K.T. Tu’umalo; Thor Eaton

Seniors: Hunter Shaw

Juniors: Addison Gillam; Kenneth Olugbode; Ryan Severson; Deaysean Rippy; Travis Talianko; Jaleel Awini

Sophomores: Christian Shaver; Trent Headley

Redshirt-freshmen: Rick Gamboa; Grant Watanabe; Lance Cottrell

Coming this fall: N.J. Falo

bold = starter in 2014; italics = non-scholarship player


2014 Statistics for returning players

– Kenneth Olugbode … 792 plays … 83 tackles (57 unassisted) … one tackle for loss … eight third down stops

– Addison Gillam … 524 plays … 79 tackles (56 unassisted) … 3.5 sacks … six tackles for loss … four third down stops

– Christian Shaver … 262 plays … 18 tackles (nine unassisted) … one tackle for loss … one third down stop

– Ryan Severson … 71 plays … nine tackles (five unassisted) … one tackle for loss


Spring/Summer news

There was a dearth of production from the linebacker corps last season at Colorado.

True enough, the two leading tacklers for the Buffs in 2014 were Kenneth Olugbode (with 83 tackles, 57 unassisted) and Addison Gillam (79 tackles, 56 unassisted). After that, however, there was not much help.

Other than the 18 tackles put up by Christian Shaver, who actually played defensive end last season, the next leading tackler amongst the returning linebackers is Ryan Severson, who had all of nine tackles in 2014.

This just in … keeping Addison Gillam healthy this fall would be very helpful to CU’s chances at posting a winning record.

But there is help on the way.

As noted, Christian Shaver is being moved to linebacker from defensive end, a spot where coach MacIntyre believes he belongs. “That’s where he played in high school,” MacIntyre said of Shaver. “We felt like last year, going into the season, that he has progressed well enough to play where we could drop him (back). We didn’t have enough guys out there especially when Markeis Reed had the hernia surgery and we had some other situations”.

Also answering the call was Air Force transfer Jaleel Awini. The former Falcon quarterback is now looking to call signals for the defense.

“He looked good moving around out there,” said MacIntyre of Awini’s efforts at linebacker this spring. “He looked good in space, he looked good moving around and running. He showed his athleticism … He didn’t look like a fish out of water. I think one of the biggest tests will be how he reacts when the ball is snapped on defense. He was a good safety in high school so I think it will be all natural. To see how he reacts and see how his instincts are there will be the biggest thing, because he’s definitely athletic enough.”

Awini’s new defensive coordinator is also pleased with Awini’s early efforts. “For Jaleel, it’s hitting and tackling and getting physical and all those kinds of things,” Jim Leavitt said. “I know he runs around pretty good. That’s going to be the big part for that.”

While Shaver and Awini help supplement the roster, CU would be better served by improved play from two other players who have made changes to get where they are.

We’re talking, of course, about transfers Deaysean Rippy and Travis Talianko. Rippy came to Boulder from Pitt; Talianko from the College of the Canyons. Last season, the two combined for 19 … special team points.

This spring, with Addison Gillam nursing injuries, Kenneth Olugbode was tied for the team lead in tackles in the three spring scrimmages, with 12 (nine unassisted, with a sack). Of the players the Buffs are looking to for increased production, Ryan Severson had nine tackles, with Travis Talianko picking up eight tackles and Christian Shaver six.


What others say about the Colorado linebackers

Lindy’s … “First-year coordinator Jim Leavitt has to fix a run defense that finished last in the conference … Colorado is relatively deep at linebacker and in the secondary. Addison Gillam (six tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks) returns to lead the linebackers, along with fellow junior Kenneth Olugbode“.

Athlon’s … “There is not a lot of experience behind Addison Gillam and Kenneth Olugbode. Both need to stay healthy, which has been a problem for Gillam. Redshirt freshman Rick Gamboa came out of the spring as Gillam’s backup, followed by defensive end convert Christian Shaver. Travis Talianko is second on the depth chart on the weak side behind Olugbode. The defense needs former four-star recruit Deaysean Rippy to reach his potential. He will start at outside linebacker, a position that CU had on the field only about 30 percent of the time last season”.

The Sporting News … “The Buffs should be better defensively, and with good experience returning on the line and in the secondary, and Addison Gillam can be one of the Pac-12’s best linebackers if he stays healthy. Gillam suffered a host of maladies last season, including concussions and bronchitis”.


The Bottom Line

For the past four years, Jim Leavitt was the linebackers coach for the San Francisco 49ers. Prior to that, as Buff fans well know, Leavitt was tasked with helping to rebuild the Kansas State Wildcat program from the ashes, and build the South Florida program from scratch. Along the way, Leavitt has built a reputation for creating strong defenses, as well as for having a ceaselessly optimistic attitude.

In other words, he is just what the Colorado defense, and, in particular, the Colorado linebackers, need heading into the 2015 season.

First and foremost on Leavitt’s to do list is to keep Addison Gillam healthy. As a freshman in 2013, Gillam looked as if he had a very bright future indeed. In earning unanimous first-team Freshman All-American honors (Athlon Sports,FWAA, Sporting News, Phil Steele’s College Football, collegefootballnews.com), Gillam was the first freshman to ever lead CU in tackles since they were first tracked in 1964 (a sophomore had only led the team five times in those 50 seasons).

Last season, though, Gillam was out for the Washington and Arizona games, and missed parts of several others. After posting 119 tackles as a freshman, Gillam’s numbers dropped to 79 tackles last season.

This won’t come as a surprise … for Colorado’s defense to be effective, Addison Gillam needs to be on the field and productive.

Gillam does have a suitable running mate in Kenneth Olugbode, but after that, the Buff linebackers are a collection of “maybes”-

– Maybe Jim Leavitt can turn the light on again for Deaysean Rippy.

– Maybe Jaleel Awini’s and/or Christian Shaver’s position changes will pay dividends.

– Maybe Travis Talianko will remind us why we were excited to get this transfer to join the Buffs last season.

– Maybe Ryan Severson … or Christian Shaver … or Grant Watanabe … will prove to be game changers.

We’ll see.


CU Linebacker Roster Grade … C-. Addison Gillam and Kenneth Olugbode have led the team in tackles the past two seasons, and both return as junior starters this fall. That bodes well for a defense which is trying desperately to get out of the 100’s in defensive rankings.

Keeping Gillam (and, for that matter, Olugbode) healthy will be job one for defensive coordinator (and linebackers coach) Jim Leavitt. After that, the task will be to create production from a group of players which has lacked in that area the past few seasons. Colorado was 78th in the nation last year in forced fumbles, and the interception total, as we know, sat at three for the entire team last season (all three by Tedric Thompson, with all three coming in the first five games of the season).

CU needs its linebackers to be playmakers, but, in addition to not creating fumbles, the linebackers have posted exactly one interception in the Buffs’ last 32 games. Addison Gillam had a pick in the 2013 finale against Utah, but, other than that, you have to go back to the 2012 game against Washington State to find a linebacker (Jon Major) with an interception.

If Colorado is to have any hope of posting enough wins to go bowling in 2015, the defense will have to be much improved.

And the play of the defense will largely depend upon the production from CU’s linebackers.




One Reply to “Rating the CU Roster – LB’s”

  1. The linebackers should be more effective IF the d-line steps up. Too often the linebackers were the first hit the opposing backs experienced, and that not only wore down the linebackers but was the significant reason for opposing teams running success.

    Leavitt will get this turned around and I believe sooner rather than later.

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