Buffs Position Preview: Landman's Return Means Talent, Depth At ILB
BOULDER — Throughout fall camp, the sight of No. 53 on the field and making plays for the Colorado Buffaloes' defense has been a welcome, comforting sight.
Nate Landman is back — and the CU defense has its touchstone firmly in place for 2021.
Landman suffered a ruptured Achilles vs. Utah last December, in CU's regular-season finale. Because of the severity of the injury, there was no guarantee Landman would be ready to play this fall.
But an offseason of tireless rehabilitation put him on track. Now, CU has it's All-Pac-12 performer, 2020 Butkus Award semifinalist and 10th-leading all-time tackler in program history ready to make his senior season a memorable one.
Already, Landman has notched his place in CU history. He is just the third player in Buffs annals to average 10.0 tackles per game for three straight years, joining CU greats Barry Remington and Greg Biekert.
"He's a great leader for us," said CU head coach Karl Dorrell, who was no doubt elated when Landman announced last winter that he would return to CU for one more season. "He's a catalyst. He's a guy that leads by not only what he says but also what he does. You wish you had 120 Nate Landmans on your team to have that mentality."
Landman's return no doubt bolsters a CU defense that needs to take a step forward this year. His mere presence gives the Buffs a swagger, and combined with outside 'backer Carson Wells, they give CU one of the better linebacker tandems in the nation.
"You can see his leadership, how confident the defense is when he's out there," Dorrell said. "With Carson, when all those pieces are back and we're ready to roll, it's going to be special … They have a chance to be a really good defense."
In camp, Landman showed no signs of being hampered by the injury. In fact, position coach Mark Smith said he's seen nothing to suggest the senior star won't be at full speed.
"If no one would have told me he had an injury prior to being here, I wouldn't have gone out there and diagnosed it and said, 'Something happened to this guy,'" Smith said. "He's been in great shape and he has moved so well that it is really not noticeable at all."
But Landman's healthy return is only one piece of the inside linebacker puzzle. The Buffs also upgraded at the position in the offseason via the transfer portal, and a number of returning players have taken their games up a notch as well. Now, it may be one of the deeper position groups on the team.
Newcomers who could have a big impact right away include grad transfers Robert Barnes (Oklahoma) and Jack Lamb (Notre Dame). Both have had solid, consistent camps, and their versatility and athleticism bring an added dimension to the inside spot.
But it's not just the newcomers who bring depth to the position. Junior returnee Quinn Perry has had a very good camp, and junior Jonathan Van Diest is back as well. Freshmen Marvin Ham II, Alvin Williams and Mister Williams have all also flashed at times, and could be contributors as well.
It all adds up to a group that should be better overall than a year ago — and one that won't be leaning on Landman to perform all the heavy lifting.
"He doesn't have to make every play, which is what he did the last couple years," Dorrell said. "It's going to be good to have other players around him that are really good players. He can just do his job and allow those others to do theirs."
POSITION COACH — Mark Smith is in his first year on Dorrell's staff, arriving after a short stint at Long Island University. He has also worked at Arkansas, SMU and Oklahoma.
KEY RETURNEES — The Buffs have a solid core of returning vets, beginning with All-Pac-12 senior Nate Landman. Others returning ILBs with quality experience include juniors Quinn Perry and Jonathan Van Diest. Returning freshmen Marvin Ham II, Alvin Williams and Mister Williams could also earn some playing time.
KEY NEWCOMERS — The Buffs used the transfer portal to bring in some quality experience in Robert Barnes (Oklahoma) and Jack Lamb (Notre Dame), both of whom could be impact players early. CU also added some new freshmen to the roster, including Zephaniah Maea.
IF ALL GOES WELL … Landman will continue to be one of the most productive players in CU history and a couple of the returning vets/newcomers will provide the Buffs with a terrific one-two punch inside. If that happens, it will be a big step in Colorado's overall goal of improving its defense.
What CU coaches want is Landman not to believe he has to make every play. That's been the case all too often the last few years. If the Buffs can get some consistent play out of Lamb, Barnes or one of the youngsters — or any combination thereof — it will allow Landman to take care of business from his end while allowing CU coaches to utilize the other ILB in a variety of roles.