There have been 2 comments, comment now

Countdown to Spring Practices – Inside Linebackers

… Program Note … Colorado’s first of 15 spring practices will be conducted on March 18, with the spring game scheduled for April 27th at Folsom Field.

In addition to a look at the current roster and questions which Coach Prime & Co. will be looking to address this spring, we’ll take a look at the odds of whether the described unit is likely to add new players – or face attrition – after the spring.

Previously posted:

Up next: Defensive Backs … Coming Wednesday

— Inside Linebackers (9) …

Returning starter (bold); walk-on (italics); early-enrollee (EE); summer-arrival (SA):

  • Seniors … LaVonta Bentley … Trevor Woods … Brendan Gant … Demouy Kennedy
  • Juniors … Jaylen Wester
  • Sophomores … Bo Simmons-Lapenna
  • Red-shirt freshmen … Victory Johnson … Morgan Pearson … Kofi Taylor-Barrocks
  • 2024 Signees … Kyeran Garcia … Gage Goldberg

The Stats … 

The good news … CU has most of its inside linebacker corps from the 2023 season returning.

The bad news … CU has most of its inside linebacker corps from the 2023 season returning.

Okay, that might not be entirely fair, but one of the biggest holes in the Colorado defense last season was its linebackers. Between injury and non-production, matters got so bad that safety Trevor Woods, all 6’2″, 205-pounds of him, was playing linebacker for much of the second half of the 2023 campaign.

Last fall, returning starter LaVonta Bentley was second on the team with 68 tackles (safety Shilo Sanders had 70). That sounds pretty good, until you realize that the numbers put up by Sanders and Bentley were the lowest total for the team’s leading tacklers since Nate Landman had 61 tackles in 2020 … which was a six-game season.

The last time CU’s leading tacklers had 70 and 68 tackles, respectively, in a non-COVID season?

Umm … well … never.

The CU record book tracks season leaders back to the 1964 season, and never before – the 2020 season excepted – has the team failed to produce such a low total.

Still, Bentley did his part, he just didn’t receive much help from his teammates.

The 2023 tackle totals from CU’s other returning linebackers … Demouy Kennedy: 13 … Brendan Gant: 5 … Victory Johnson: 0 … Morgan Pearson: 0 … Kofi Taylor-Barrocks: 0.

At least Johnson, Pearson and Taylor-Barrocks have the excuse of being red-shirt freshmen, but the fact remains that of the six returning inside linebackers, five have a grand total of 18 tackles between them heading into the 2024 season.

So … welcome back to the room, Trevor Woods. The returning senior played and started in nine games, missed three games due to injury. Of those nine games, Woods started four games at inside linebacker, recording 42 unassisted tackles and 56 total tackles, third-most on the team during the season.

Nationally … CU in 2023 … 

  • Rushing defense … 176.4 yds/game … 107th nationally
  • Passing defense … 276.9 yds/game … 124th nationally
  • Total defense … 453.3 yds/game … 127th nationally
  • Scoring defense … 34.83 pts/game … 121st nationally

What to watch for …

(Program Note … In case you were wondering, I am using a 4-2-5 model to break down the unit previews. The most recent previews were for the defensive line, a/k/a the interior defensive linemen and the edge rushers. With this preview we are looking inside linebackers. On Wednesday, we’ll move on to the defensive backfield).

Where have you gone, Nate Lundy?

Over four seasons at Florida State, Lundy played in 45 games with 17 starts. Lundy played in a rotational role in all 13 games of FSU’s perfect 2023 regular season. He produced 54 total tackles, six tackles for loss, and two sacks. He also had one interception, four pass breakups, and a QB hit. In his career, Lundy had 183 total tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, and one forced fumble.

And Lundy was going to be one of the crown jewels of CU’s 2024 Transfer Class.

Unfortunately, the emphasis here is on the “was”.

Lundy committed to Colorado on Christmas Day, only to change hi$ mind two week$ later when the $eminole$ made him a better offer. Lundy will now be a featured linebacker for Florida State.

Enter Plan B … Jaylen Wester.

The junior transfer from Florida Atlantic was productive in 2023, with 55 total tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss. The downside is that Wester is 6’0″, 200-pounds, almost the exact same size as Trevor Woods … and Colorado fans have already seen that movie.

Which leaves linebackers coach Andre Hart exactly what to work with?

Four seniors – a proven commodity in LaVonta Bentley, an undersized but effective Trevor Woods, two parttime performers in Brendan Gant and Demouy Kennedy – plus a smallish transfer from a G-5 program, and three redshirt freshmen.

Sounds like another season in which the record low for the CU’s leading tackler may again be in jeopardy.

Burning questions for spring … 

  • With better talent along the front line, will LaVonta Bentley be able to take the jump from quality starter to All Big 12 performer?;
  • Will Trevor Woods (6’2″, 205) and Jaylen Wester (6’0″, 205) be the answer at inside linebacker … or will the lack of size continue to be a hole in the Colorado defense?;
  • Will any or all of the three red-shirt freshmen – Victory Johnson, Morgan Pearson, Kofi Taylor-Barrocks – turn heads and make Buff fans more confident about the position?

Addition/Attrition likelihood … High … It’s not likely that another four-star linebacker the likes of Nate Lundy will be available come late April, but that doesn’t mean that Colorado won’t be shopping. Along with the search for another running back, another tight end, and the endless search for quality offensive and defensive linemen, the hunt for an inside linebacker will be one of the top priorities for the coaching staff in the second Transfer Portal window. To make room, there be a loss or two from the existing roster.


2 Replies to “Countdown to Spring Practices – Inside Linebackers”

  1. To my my knowledge, Pearson has moved to TE to bolster that room. Wester, a true LB in college, had a great PFF grade against the run last year (like 8th nationally), so comparing him to TW is just not appropriate. TW is listed on the CU roster as just an LB, so he could play OLB or ILB on passing downs. That is not to say that TW might not have put on weight, kept his speed, improved agility, is more familiar with the gaps/keys, and can be coached up. However, the the transition from S to ILB is a huge one. His does hit well and tackle decently, but he has to get off blocks too. Kennedy and Gant were injury RS’s, so we don’t know what we have with them. Kennedy did better at the end of the season. Also, one of the Wade brothers played LB at Kentucky, and he may have the size/instincts to move to ILB.

    Lastly, per the CU roster, they no longer list edge, just ILB and OLB, except for TW as just a LB. If the down lineman play better (they are bigger, faster and with more P-5 experience), I expect to see a 4-3 on running downs. The 4-2-5 is the staple of the of the B-12 and we are deep at S, however it may be a more traditional defense on 1st and 2nd running downs with more beef up front. This will probably be dependent on what sets to opposition bring out on the field. Better DL play could make the LB’s job much easier.

    I do see some attrition and CU looking around for a stud ILB, but that may be hard to find. Certainly, not a Lundy type; but who knows who becomes available. I guess Bentley has made huge strides in the weight-room and conditioning, and is an absolute beat.

    Go Buffs!!

  2. Well hopefully some of the recruits of the last 2 years flash in Spring.
    Had to look it up…
    Nate Landman just resigned by Atlanta. Got playing time after starter had an injury.
    Started 14 games…110 tackles, 7 for loss, 3 forced fumbles, 2 sacks, and an interception
    Prime don’t forget CU has a long tradition of great backers !!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *