CU Season Preview – Linebackers



Roster – Outside linebackers:

— Seniors: Jimmie Gilbert; Tyler Henington; Deaysean Rippy; Aaron Howard

— Juniors: Derek McCartney; Treat Headley (will miss the 2016 due to a shoulder injury)

— Sophomores: Terran Hasselbach; N.J. Falo (suspended); Griffin Hansen

— Red-shirt freshmen:

— True freshmen: Sam Bennion; Pookie Maka

bold (returning starter from 2015) … italicized (walk-on)

Roster – Inside linebackers:

— Seniors: Kenneth Olugbode; Ryan Severson; Travis Talianko

— Juniors: Addison Gillam; Christian Shaver

— Sophomores: Rick Gamboa; Drew Lewis

— Red-shirt freshmen: none

— True freshmen: Akil Jones; Jacob Stoltenberg

bold (returning starter from 2015) … italicized (walk-on)



Reasons to be excited:

 Colorado has a linebacker lineup unlike that anywhere else in the country

There are several teams across the nation which have a three-time leading tackler returning for their senior season this fall.

Colorado, though, has a unique scenario. The Buffs have the leading tackler back from the 2013, 2014, and 2015 seasons … but in the form of three different players.

In 2013, Addison Gillam set a number of freshman school records in leading the team with 119 tackles (78 unassisted).

In 2014, with Gillam hobbled by injuries, Kenneth Olugbode led the team with 83 tackles (57 unassisted) … with Gillam finishing second with 79 tackles (56 unassisted).

In 2015, with Gillam missing the entire season with injuries, and Olugbode missing full games and parts of others, Rick Gamboa led the team in tackles, with 96 (58 unassisted).

If this trio can stay healthy (hopefully not a big “if”), it could be one of the better units in the Pac-12.

Gillam, for his part, is ready to go.

“The whole thing (the long layoff due to injury) has given me a chance to clear things,” Gillam told “It gave me a chance to step back, calm down and assess things. Going into last year, I was hungry after my sophomore season, which didn’t really go like I wanted it to.

“Now, it’s grown even that much more. If there’s a positive, it’s that I’m even more ready to get out there and play, mentally and physically.”

While the layoff has been frustrating on many levels for Gillam, there’s also been a silver lining, according to Neill Woelk. Gillam has added some weight back to his frame — he’s now a solid 225 pounds — as well as some upper body strength that will be invaluable in fending off offensive linemen. He looks bigger, stronger and healthier than any time in his stay at Colorado.


— There’s more depth there than you think

At first glance, CU’s linebacker corps appears to be “aces and spaces” … some stars at the top of the lineup and very little depth.

Look again.

Colorado technically runs a 3-4 defense, with only two of three stars listed above penciled in as starters. Rick Gamboa, who led the team in tackles last season, is not listed as a starter in the pre-fall depth chart. Gamboa, if the lineup holds as listed, will play as a backup to Addison Gillam at the Mike (inside) linebacker position.

The other starters at linebacker, other than Gillam and Olugbode on the inside, are Derek McCartney at one of the outside linebacker positions; Jimmie Gilbert at the other.

Now, to be fair, you are far more likely to see – in today’s game – a fifth defensive back on the field (Afolabi Laguda is listed as the No. 1 nickel back) than a fourth linebacker, there are other players listed at linebacker who can help the Buffs than you might recall.

There are no fewer than five – count ’em, five – senior linebackers who are listed as backups. Tyler Henington, Ryan Severson, Travis Talianko, Deaysean Rippy (yes, he’s still on the roster) and Aaron Howard are all there to contribute to the team’s success this fall.

And that does not count two other players who could have an impact:

– N.J. Falo was suspended from the team after being arrested this spring, but is “working his way back” onto the roster, according to head coach Mike MacIntyre; and

– Transfer Drew Lewis graduated from Eastlake (Wash.) High School in 2014 and signed with Washington. He red-shirted in 2014, but last July, he was dismissed for a violation of team rules.

Shortly after that dismissal, he landed at Coffeyville Community College in Kansas. This spring, Lewis became a Buff.

“I feel that I’ve really matured going through this process and it put me back in my place and I realized that I can’t make mistakes,” Lewis told the Daily Camera. “I have to hold myself accountable for (mistakes)”.

If the Buff linebacker corps can stay healthy, they could contribute mightily towards the resurgence of the Colorado defense.


Reasons for concern 

— Did you mention the “H-word”?

Addison Gillam was on an NFL trajectory after his record-breaking freshman campaign … but that was two full seasons ago.

Since then, Gillam has been hard pressed to stay on the field, missing more games in the past two seasons than he has played.

Gillam was injured in the second game of last season, and hasn’t had real contact since, being held out of spring practices for precautionary reasons. This translates to almost a full year between Gillam’s last live action and his next game against Colorado State.

“It was hard not being out there and being able to fully understand everything we’re doing,” Gillam acknowledged this spring, which he watched from the sidelines. “When you see what we did this spring, you know we’re going to have a really good fall and I want to be a part of it. We have the chance to be a great defense next year and I can’t wait to get back out there and get it going again”.

And then there was Kenneth Olugbode, who led the team in tackles in 2014, when Gillam couldn’t make the lineup for the entire season.

On the fifth play against Oregon last fall, Olugbode was hit in the calf while making a tackle. Olugbode played until the third quarter even though his leg began doubling in size due to swelling.

A few hours later, he underwent emergency surgery for acute compartment syndrome, a painful condition where blood flow to a muscle is restricted and results in tissue trauma.

Olugbode returned to the lineup a month later, but Buff fans have yet another potential star about whom they will have to keep their fingers crossed this fall.


Numbers still working against Buffs

Nothing brings a Buff fan down from a Kool-Aid high than a glance at CU’s statistics.

Yes, Colorado made significant strides last year in the most important defensive statistic of all – points allowed. The Buffs went from surrendering 39.0 points per game in 2014 to 27.5 points per game in 2015.

Otherwise, there is still work to be done.

Sacks, largely the province of the outside linebackers/defensive ends in CU’s defensive scheme, were hard to come by in 2015. Colorado was 10th in the Pac-12 (and 67th nationally) with 27 sacks last year. Jimmie Gilbert led the team with six sacks last season, followed by Derek McCartney with five.

In red zone defense, where linebacker play becomes increasingly important on a short field, Colorado was 92nd in the nation, giving up points 87% of the time the opposition got past the Buff 20-yard line.

Another yardstick for linebacker production is third down defense. Colorado gave up a first down on third down attempts 42.2% of the time in 2015, ranked 94th in the country.

Hate to sound like a broken record, but when these numbers improve … wins will come.


Bottom LineIf the Colorado linebacker corps can stay healthy throughout the season, and if the Buff linebackers live up to their potential, they could be a major contributor to CU’s long sought after magical resurgence.

Gillam, Olugbode and Gamboa have taken turns the last three seasons leading the team in tackles. If Gillam can return to form, and play at the level Buff fans know he is capable of, he could be an All-Pac-12 performer. Olugbode could also make some all-league lists, and don’t forget about transfer Drew Lewis, who was a highly-sought after recruit when he originally signed with Washington out of high school.

Like most of the rest of the team, Colorado, with its linebackers, now has in place a unit which can compete in the Pac-12. That in an of itself is a step up from a few years’ past.

Whether this unit can take the next step, and become one of the best groupings in the Pac-12, remains to be seen.



One Reply to “CU Preview – Linebackers”

  1. I, for one, am very confident in the LB corps. In general, I’m full on the cool-aid, and will be sorely disappointed without a bowl game win. I’m considering flying out to the Michigan game with a UM alumn friend with tix in hopes of a win.

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