Buffs Position Preview: ILBs Have Talent, Depth
BOULDER — For the last four seasons, the Colorado Buffaloes had a rock as a fixture at inside linebacker, where Nate Landman served as a cornerstone of CU's defense.
When Landman went down with an injury last year in Game 7, the defense took a step back. When Landman moved on to the NFL last spring, the general consensus — at least from the outside — was that the Buffs' defense would struggle this year without his presence.
But after a productive spring and a robust fall camp thus far, a twist has been added to the equation.
Overall, Karl Dorrell's Buffs might actually be better at inside linebacker this year, and that could have a positive impact on the entire defense.
Not that the Buffs don't miss the physical and emotional influence Landman brought to the field every day. But after years of relying on that influence — and perhaps even leaning a little too heavily on his presence — the Buffs are seeing a host of new leaders emerge throughout the defense.
"Right now, there's eight or nine guys on that defensive unit that are all doing a great job of keeping everybody on the same page," Dorrell said after a recent practice.
Several of those players are in the middle of the defense, including inside 'backers Robert Barnes, Quinn Perry and newcomer Josh Chandler-Semedo.
Barnes and Perry emerged last year following Landman's injury. Perry finished as the team's second leading tackler, averaging more than eight tackles per game over CU's last five contests. Barnes, coming back from an injury that hindered him early in the season, finished with four consecutive games with at least six tackles, including a 10-tackle, two-takeaway performance in the Buffs' win over Washington.
Chandler-Semedo is a newcomer who arrived via the transfer portal from West Virginia and who is having an immediate impact. He's already getting plenty of repetitions with the No. 1 and No. 2 defensive units, is meshing well with Barnes, and is showing a knack for being in the right place at the right time.
"We were able to keep coaching and developing because we still got to play (after Landman's injury)," said defensive coordinator Chris Wilson. "We still got to have 11 guys on the field. Those guys got tremendous reps this offseason and you can't teach experience."
Indeed, inside 'backers coach Mark Smith now has a deep, talented room that includes several youngsters who are making plays in fall camp. They not only add much-needed depth inside, they could also provide some significant contributions this fall.
That group includes sophomores Isaac Hurtado and Marvin Ham II, second-year freshman Mister Williams, and true freshman newcomer Eoghan Kerry.
Perhaps most importantly, the increase in depth at the position has also meant more versatility in terms of scheme and defensive calls in certain situations. The Buffs can put speed, physicality or any combination thereof on the field, depending on the down and distance.
"They've completely revamped our linebacker positions," Dorrell said. "We have so much more depth and talent there than we've had. I feel really good about our first and second team linebackers."
POSITION COACH — Mark Smith is in his second year coaching ILBs for the Buffs, and has done a solid job on many fronts. He's been instrumental in helping CU's vets — Barnes and Perry, in particular — take their game to the next level, while also making sure younger players have every opportunity to continue developing. The overall result is that Colorado should be solid inside for the foreseeable future.
KEY RETURNEES — Robert Barnes and Quinn Perry bring experience and maturity to the position. Perry is a quintessential inside 'backer who is big and physical. Barnes, who has also played safety, brings great versatility to the spot and the Buffs can utilize him in a number of ways. Other returnees who could contribute this year include Marvin Ham II and Mister Williams
KEY NEWCOMERS — The Buffs made some nice additions in the offseason, beginning with transfer Josh Chandler-Semedo (West Virginia), a versatile 'backer who has played inside and out. He started 31 games in his career for the Mountaineers and had 110 tackles last year. CU also added junior college transfer Isaac Hurtado in the recruiting cycle as well as true freshman Eoghan Kerry. Both had solid springs and are progressing in fall camp, and both could see some playing time this year.
IF ALL GOES WELL … CU's veterans will take their game up a notch and give the Buffs a solid heart of the defense. Meanwhile, CU's youngsters will get some valuable playing time and make some contributions. With some good fortune, this position could very well be a strength that will play a key role in helping Colorado's defense take a step forward this season.