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OLB Wells Having Standout Season For Buffaloes

Dec 2, 2020
OLB Carson Wells had four tackle for loss in CU's win over San Diego State.

BOULDER — Rather quietly, Colorado outside linebacker Carson Wells is having an outstanding season.

"Quietly" because his inside counterpart (and good friend) Nate Landman is having an eye-popping year, the kind that has made him a Butkus Award semifinalist, as well as earning him Walter Camp and Nagurski national player of the week honors.

But Wells, a 6-foot-4, 250-pound junior, is having an equally big impact on Colorado's defense. Through three games, he is third on the team in tackles with 15 (13 solo), and is the team leader in tackles for loss with seven (including two sacks).  He also has four passes broken up, three pressures and two third downs stops to go with an interception.

He is, quite simply, making plays in every phase of the defensive scheme — and his production isn't going unnoticed by those who matter most. That would be CU's coaches, who hope to see more of Wells' impact Saturday when the 3-0 Buffs travel to 0-3 Arizona for a 5 p.m. matchup with the Wildcats (FS1).

"He's not in the limelight, he's kind of in the shadows," CU head coach Karl Dorrell said Wednesday morning. "(But) he's a guy right now who is playing as good as anybody on our defense. He's got good production. Obviously Nate is on fire right now. But Carson has done a tremendous job in these first few games. He's been rock solid on getting guys ready and helping in the process of communication. He's playing really well and we're hoping he continues to do the things he's doing, because he's making a name for himself as well."

Wells has been a steady performer for the Buffs since 2018, when he started six games as a redshirt freshman. He bumped that up to 10 starts last season (he missed two games because of injury), and earned honorable mention all-Pac-12 honors by Pro Football Focus after finishing with 57 tackles (including a sack), five quarterback hurries and an interception.

But he has taken his game to another level this season after an offseason that saw him add muscle and increase his speed. Part of the offseason was spent on his family farm in Florida, where he got "country strong" working for his dad, before he returned to campus and dedicated himself to a summer of strength and conditioning under CU coach Drew Wilson.

"He looks like a different person than he did a year ago," said Buffs defensive coordinator Tyson Summers. "What you're seeing is a lot of hard work and a lot of talent."

Wells may have had his best game yet as a Buff in last weekend's 20-10 win over San Diego State. He finished with five solo stops against the Aztecs (his second game in a row with five solo tackles), and that included a career-high four tackles for loss.

While many positions underwent coaching changes when Dorrell was hired as CU's head coach last February, the outside linebackers remained under the tutelage of Brian Michalowski. That continuity helped Wells continue to develop, as did the return of Summers.

Now, they are using Wells' talents as a pass rusher and run stopper to put him in position to make plays — and he has improved his coverage skills as well.

"He's a big guy that really runs well," Summers said. "You're seeing his ability to make plays. You see that through his intelligence and where he's able to make them each week. He's playing at a high level right now."

FULL RESPECT FOR WILDCATS: On the surface, Saturday's matchup between the unbeaten Buffs and winless Wildcats has all the looks of a big edge to Colorado.

But nobody inside the CU locker room is taking Arizona for granted — beginning with every Buff who has been on the Colorado roster at any point in the last three seasons. Arizona has won the last three games in the series, enough to get the attention of every player.

Meanwhile, there are some impressive numbers underneath the surface when it comes to Arizona. The Wildcats led USC 30-27 with just 1:35 left in the game in Week 2 this year before the Trojans marched for the winning score with 25 seconds left in the game. Arizona also scored 27 points on Washington in the fourth quarter in a 44-27 loss, and last week drove inside the UCLA 10-yard line twice — but reaped only a field goal — in a 27-10 loss to the Bruins.

That despite losing starting quarterback Grant Gunnell on UA's first offensive play of the game.

"Arizona's a much better team than their record indicates," Dorrell said. "It's easy to fall into that trap. Offensively they can be very explosive. They have good skill players. It's a tremendous challenge for us. We need to stay focused on what's in front of us, doing the things that have put us in this position right now and execute and play a great game."

And, should the Buffs need any extra motivation, there's this:

With three losses this year, the Wildcats have lost 10 straight games dating back to last season. Their last win?

A 35-30 victory in Boulder on Oct. 5, 2019.

NO RANKINGS WORRIES: When the College Football Playoff rankings were released Tuesday evening, the unbeaten Buffaloes weren't included in the top 25. 

That was enough to draw the attention of Fox Sports analyst (and former CU quarterback) Joel Klatt, who tweeted that the rankings displayed a "disrespect" for the Buffaloes.

But Dorrell simply shrugged his shoulders at the rankings. If the Buffs continue to take care of business, he believes they will get the respect they deserve.

"Quite frankly I haven't really paid much attention to that," Dorrell said in his Wednesday morning press conference. "I'm kind of in a week-to-week march. We're trying to find ways to keep stacking up wins. If we continue to do those things, maybe we'll garner the attention we deserve."

Dorrell even noted that with only three games under their belts, the Buffs might need to add a little more to their resume´. 

"Right now, we haven't won enough games to really be in that picture," he said. "A lot of these teams that are in that poll, they've played eight to 10 games. We feel like we're just starting. We've played three. I think we have to continue to take care of the business we can take care of."

The Buffs did get some national love in the weekly Associated Press and coaches' polls, collecting votes in both.

CONTINUED COVID AWARENESS: Dorrell and his staff certainly don't need any extra reminder about the importance of remaining vigilant when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic, which has already canceled one of their games (Arizona State two weeks ago when ASU suffered an outbreak).

But just in case CU's players needed a point of reference, they don't have to look far this week, as Colorado's men's basketball team has been put on pause because of covid issues.

The lesson, Dorrell said, is that every player must remain on high alert.

"I've been preaching that daily to our players," he saidl. "This is not the time to get comfortable, thinking that because we've had great success being a healthy program so far this year it's OK for us to let down our guard. This is not the time to do that. If anything, we need to tighten it up."

The pandemic has added an extra level of concern and preparation for every coaching staff in America. Daily testing, rigorous protocols and constantly evolving prevention practices have become part of every staff's preparation.

"I'm nervous every day to be honest, but as we march through the week, it's a high-alert nervousness as we approach Thursday, Friday and the game on Saturday," Dorrell said. "I'm concerned every day, but it does get heightened as we go through the week. (But) for the most part, those football players and guys I'm getting a chance to coach and lead, they have done a tremendous job."

SATURDAY BROADCAST: Saturday's game will be televised by FS1 with Alex Faust and Evan Moore. As always, the radio broadcast will be available on KOA (850 am) with Mark Johnson and Gary Barnett.