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Spring Practices … First Look: Linebackers

Program Note … Spring practices begin March 18th (Spring Game: April 27th). Between now and the start of spring ball, previews will be posted for each unit of the 2019 Colorado roster.

… Previously posted: QuarterbacksRunning BacksWide Receivers/Tight EndsOffensive LineDefensive Line

The roster: 

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS/BUFF BACKERS (8 scholarship):

Seniors: Davion Taylor; Nu’umoto Falu; Alex Tchangam
Juniors: Jamar Montgomery*
Sophomores: Carson Wells; Jacob Callier
Redshirt freshmen: None
True freshmen: Joshka Gustav**; Alec Pell***

bold: denotes returning starter

* Junior college transfer, will not be on campus until summer.

** Gray-shirt, is enrolled and will participate in spring drills

*** Early enrollee; will participate in spring drills

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (7 scholarship):

Seniors: None
Juniors: Nate Landman; Akil Jones; Jash Allen*; Quinn Perry*
Sophomores: Jonathan Van Diest; Chase Newman
Redshirt freshmen: None
True freshmen: Marvin Ham

bold: denotes returning starter

* Junior college transfer, will not be on campus until summer.

The stats (2018)

Nate Landman … 619 plays … 123 tackles – a team-best (61 unassisted) … 4.0 sacks (third on team) … 9.0 other tackles for loss (second on team) … 12 tackles for zero (led team) … 10 third down stops (tied for third) …

Davion Taylor … 641 plays … 75 tackles (62 unassisted – the team best) … 11 tackles for loss (led team) … 11 third-down stops (second on team) … 16 quarterback pressures (led team) …

Carson Wells … 399 plays … 34 tackles (24 unassisted) … 4.5 sacks (second on team) … 13 third-down stops (led team) … six quarterback stops (third on team) …

Jacob Callier … 80 plays … six tackles (five unassisted) … one sack … three quarterback pressures …

Nu’umoto Falo … 41 plays … four tackles (three unassisted) …

Jonathan Van Diest … 23 plays … two tackles (one assisted) …

Akil Jones … 18 plays … two tackles …

Chase Newman … 14 plays … no tackles …

Old and the New … 

Colorado has two linebacker coaches: Ross Els, who coaches the inside linebackers (along with special teams); and Brian Michalowski, who will coach the outside linebackers.

In their careers, both of CU’s linebacker coaches have served as defensive coordinators.

If you are looking for similarities between Ross Els and Brian Michalowski … that’s about it.

Ross Els, who returns for his second season as CU’s inside linebackers coach is 52, and is a 28-year veteran in the collegiate coaching ranks (he coached his 200th game on the FBS level in 2017).

Ross came to from Purdue University, where he served as the Boilermakers’ defensive coordinator in 2016 under head coach Darrell Hazell.

Meanwhile Brian Michalowski, CU’s new outside linebackers coach, is 29 … which means that Michalowski was born just a year before Ross Els joined the coaching ranks.

Michalowski comes to Boulder after spending one season at the University of Georgia coaching outside linebackers, where he worked alongside head coach Mel Tucker and CU’s new defensive coordinator, Tyson Summers.

Michalowski’s defensive coordinator experience?

Michalowski spent the 2015 season as the defensive coordinator for Garden City Community College, a member of the Kansas Jayhawk Conference, one of the nation’s premier junior college conferences.

In 2014, Michalowski spent the season overseas coaching in the 16-team German Football League (GFL) as the defensive coordinator for the Cologne Falcons.

Els and Michalowski are not only a generation apart, they are a world apart in their coaching backgrounds.

That being said, both Ross Els and Michalowski “served as defensive coordinator” on their resumes.

And, considering that Colorado has a head coach who is a rookie in that role, having two linebacker coaches who have experience as coordinators is certainly a plus.

Nate Landman ready for a breakout season? … 

Landman led the Buffs in tackles last season … so, realistically, how much better can he get?

Well, the sky’s the limit, at least according to a 247 Sports article listing “10 players who will benefit most from coaching changes.

You’d think a defensive back would pop up on this list with Tucker’s background coaching defensive backs. But it’s not as if Colorado’s secondary suffered under Mike McIntyre’s tutelage. McIntyre helped produce some of the best defensive back groups in the country. Instead, let’s focus on the linebackers. Landman is already a star. He led Colorado in tackles and tackles for loss in 2018. Under Tucker’s direction (more importantly, in his defense), he could develop into a future NFL standout. Landman, a rising junior, fits the mold (6-foot-3, 215 pounds) of the middle linebackers Georgia and Alabama long had success with. Long, speedy and physical, Landman projects to become one of the nation’s best linebacker’s in Tucker’s system, which places much responsibility on its middle linebackers.

Want one suggestion as to how to improve Landman’s production?

Try keeping him on the field.

Landman led the team in tackles, but was only sixth on the defense in terms of participation. There were 871 plays by the opposition in 2018, and Landman was on the field for 619 of them, or 71%. Landman was often pulled on third down passing possessions … and was often right back on the field after the Buffs gave up a first down to the opposing offenses.

One way to help Landman “become one of the nation’s best linebackers” … figure out a way to keep him on the field.

Tyson Summers promises an attacking 3-4 defense … 

New Colorado defensive coordinator Tyson Summers cut his defensive coaching teeth on a 4-3 scheme.

He coached a 4-3 at Central Florida under George O’Leary for three seasons, including a year as defensive coordinator, on teams that compiled a 31-9 record and appeared in three bowl games. He also coached a 4-3 for a year as Colorado State’s defensive coordinator in 2015, and as Georgia Southern’s head coach in 2016-17.

Then Summers joined Mel Tucker at Georgia, and has become a 3-4 disciple.

“I wanted to learn the 3-4 and be in that MelTucker-Kirby Smart-Nick Saban system that has had the success it has had,” said Summers. “It’s been really successful for them, and for me, it was a great way to get into the 3-4 world. We’re going to be very similar here to what Georgia has been the last three years with Coach Tucker.”

Smart, a former defensive coordinator for Saban at Alabama, and Tucker built a standout defense over the last two years in Georgia. As a defensive quality control coordinator, Summers had the opportunity to work closely with the defense and learn the intricacies of the 3-4 scheme.

“Offenses no doubt go faster today,” Summers said. “But as offenses are evolving, we are evolving as well. There was a period of time where Xs and Os stayed very similar. But as offenses have evolved, particularly with the RPOs and people being more and more spread and stretching you the entire width and length of the field, it continues to force us to do the same things.”

The challenge, Summers said, is making sure offensive coordinators don’t achieve their goal of getting playmakers in space on the perimeter in one-on-one situations.

“The best defenses are those where there are two or three people at the point on the tackle,” Summers said. “That’s what you saw a lot of 10 years ago, but now people get caught up in scheme and overdoing it, so you end up shortchanging your fundamentals.”

Summers wants to make sure that devotion and dedication to sound technique and fundamentals are a staple of Colorado’s defense.

“No matter what kind of defense you run, it starts with being fundamentally sound,” Summers said. “When you have great fundamentals and great technique, then you can always be attacking. We’re going to be a team that is always attacking and one that is known for the effort we play with. When you do that, you create big plays. We want to create takeaways and not give up explosive plays.”

CU does have an attack dog in outside linebacker Davion Taylor. From the sounds of it, Taylor, along with import Jamar Montgomery and sophomores Jacob Callier and Carson Wells, could be called upon to be the game-changers of the linebacker corps.

Sounds good, but, as they say, “everyone is undefeated in March”.

Overall … The Buffs lose two stalwart linebackers from last season’s team.

Rick Gamboa finished his career with 47 consecutive starts (second on the team? Steven Montez, with 22). Gamboa finished second on the team in 2018 in tackles, with 96 (43 unassisted).

Also moving on is Drew Lewis who had 18 career starts, and was fifth on the team last fall in tackles, with 66 (46 unassisted).

But the Buffs also return two starters, in Nate Landman and Davion Taylor, along with Carson Wells, who has six career starts to his credit.

Add to that not one, not two, but three junior college transfers – Jash Allen, Quinn Perry, and Jamar Montgomery – and you have a unit which is not lacking in experience.

Then sprinkle in some returning role players and some talented freshmen … and you have a unit which has the potential to be one of the best in the Pac-12.

It’s now up to a veteran coach (Ross Els) and a relatively young coach (Brian Michalowski) into a cohesive unit which can dominate games this fall.

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4 Replies to “Spring Practices … First Look: Linebackers”

  1. Jordan Dizon, I believe our last LB stud that started his Frosh season. But from a ‘look’ landman is a bit more similar to Gillam, Dizon came in as (2 Star) hybrid backer/safety if memory serves.

  2. Is Ray Robinson still going to be considered an OLB (“Buff”-backer) or is he going to move back to safety?

    Also, don’t forget about two talented “walk-ons”: Danta Sparaco and Jake Yurachek!

  3. was it Addison Gillam that had a phenomenal freshman season only to flame out in the following years? I know he was dealing with injuries at one point but it seems his motivation disappeared as well. I am hoping Landman continues to be a rock and a star.

    1. If my memory serves me didn’t Gillam after that outstanding freshman year start dealing with serious medical problems? I was also curious about Landman after what was a pretty darn impressive first year. This last year he seemed even better to me. I think if he stays healthy he could be one of the best in a long line of great Buff Linebackers. Staying healthy is the key.

      Also if I also remember Gillam was sort of a free spirit and I guess was more interested in hiking the Continental Divide Trail. To each his own.

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