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CU's Smith Excited About Depth, Talent At Inside 'Backer

Aug 23, 2022
Quinn Perry is one of three veteran, experienced ILBs for the Buffs this year.

BOULDER — Colorado inside linebackers coach Mark Smith is exuding a quiet confidence these days.

It's not a display of false optimism. Despite losing one of the most productive defenders in Buffaloes history, Smith's group might be more versatile, deeper — and better — than the Buffs have been at the position for the last several years.

Experience? Try three veterans — Quinn Perry, Robert Barnes and Josh Chandler-Semedo — who between them have accounted for 55 career starts and more than 430 tackles. They are versatile, savvy and, as Smith said Tuesday, "There's not many situations they haven't been there or seen that before. There's a great deal of value in that. It gives me a real comfort level."

But Smith's group is far more than just the names atop the depth chart. He has two promising youngsters returning from last year who showed great promise in Mister Williams and Marvin Ham II, a talented junior college transfer in Isaac Hurtado, and two excellent young freshmen in Eoghan Kerry and Aubrey Smith, a pair that could become a foundational cornerstone of CU's defense for years to come.

"The group is deeper overall this year," Smith said. "We lose Nate Landman, and you don't replace a guy like that on your roster. But at the same time, we have a deeper group of linebackers here (this year). I feel really good. We have three lines of guys that I feel confident that they can execute what we want."

Smith's group is so deep that depending on what formation the Buffs open with, one of those experienced vets might not technically be a starter when CU opens the season Sept. 2 at home against TCU (8 p.m., ESPN).

While Colorado plays a base 4-3 defense, the Buffs are like virtually every other program in the nation — they have to adapt and adjust for today's wide-open offenses. That can mean an extra defensive back and one less linebacker, depending on down and distance.

But Smith is also confident that the top three members of his group will each get his share of playing time. 

"I hope it's pretty even between all of them," Smith said. "We've cross-trained Quinn and Josh. Rob, we've kept it at the same spot and he's got a real comfort level with that. But I really see those guys playing an even number of snaps throughout the course of a game."

Barnes is a converted safety who has retained his speed while adding some physicality — making him a versatile player who can play from sideline to sideline. Chandler-Semedo, who played inside and outside linebacker at West Virginia, also brings versatility to the equation while Perry has been "cross trained" this fall as well.

The result is all three are capable of playing against the run, in coverage and even adding an extra pass rusher when needed. All three had solid, consistent fall camps and appeared to work well within the system, no matter what duty they were assuming.

But Smith also knows that he will almost certainly lose all three of his veterans after this season, he also has comfort in knowing that he has a solid group of youngsters ready to step in.

"Eoghan is one of the smartest freshmen players I've ever been around," Smith said. "Aubrey is gonna be a very special player here … He is a big, strong physical athletic linebacker, exactly what you want to recruit. He's gonna make a lot of plays. He'll have an impact this year."

Returnees Williams and Ham, meanwhile, have also had their share of moments in camp and could be contributors this year as well.

Smith's linebackers, combined with a deep group of defensive linemen, gives the Buffs a strong front seven — something that should be a big plus as CU's defense breaks in what will almost certainly be a young secondary this season.