Buffs Linebackers Having Solid Spring
BOULDER — When the Colorado Buffaloes started spring ball this year, there were no doubt some rather large holes that needed to be addressed.
From a perspective of on-field performance, leadership and sheer football presence, none may have been bigger than the absence of linebacker Nate Landman, a mainstay in the middle of the Buffs' defense for four seasons.
But truth is, the Buffs actually had a head start on that task last year, as Landman missed the final five games of the 2021 season with a shoulder injury. That gave some extra time to other players on the roster, who made the most of the opportunity.
Now, that group has hit the ground running this spring, giving inside 'backers coach Mark Smith a relatively experienced and very competitive group.
Among the players who saw more playing time in the last five games last year are seniors Robert Barnes and Quinn Perry and sophomore Marvin Ham II — and all three are back this spring.
Barnes, after battling injury early in the season, came on strong down the stretch. He had at least six tackles in each of his last four games, including a 10-tackle performance in CU's win over Washington, when he also had a fumble recovery and interception to set up a pair of scores.
Now, he figures to be a central part of the Buffs' defense.
"The physical part of his game has just come so far throughout spring," Smith said. "Robert was really good in coverage and doing things there and he fit the runs well, but I challenged him to be more physical in the run game and he accepted that challenge. When you challenge Robert with something, he's going to absolutely go out and try to get that done. He had the most physical scrimmage I've seen him play since we've been here on Saturday."
Perry also seems ready to step up his game after a strong finish in 2021. He played roughly 50 snaps per game over the last five contests after hitting that mark just once in the first seven and averaged more than eight tackles per game. That included a career-high 11 in Colorado's win over Oregon State and 10 against Washington.
Ham also had a strong finish when Landman went out last season. After not playing more than nine snaps in the first seven games, he played at least 22 in CU's next four games, finishing with 15 tackles in those four games.
Also getting plenty of repetitions at linebacker this spring are freshman Mister Williams and true freshman Eoghan Kerry. As CU tweaks its defense to fit available personnel, the Buffs are using more of a 4-3 alignment, with two edge rushers flanking two defensive linemen and three linebackers behind the line.
Williams, who has been hampered by injury in the past, is having a solid spring and was among CU's leading tacklers in last weekend's scrimmage.
"He's very instinctive," Smith said. "He can just turn something that looks bad and do a great play. Few players have that ability to do that. So his instincts are what separates him from some of the other guys in terms of making plays."
Kerry, an early enrollee, is already making his mark and showing great instincts early.
"That guy's very smart," Smith said. "He's got a very, very high football IQ and he's able to play in and out of different positions, which is very difficult for a freshman, especially an early enrollee. He should be going to the prom this coming weekend. But he's out here so he's really impressed me with what he's bringing to the group."