Spring countdown: Linebackers

Colorado will open spring practices Friday with only eight linebackers on the roster, which is partially a result of two former linebackers switching to offense with a starting fullback job up for grabs. Competition should be hot for the three starting jobs in the Buffs' 4-3 defense. Get inside for a look at who will be in the mix

Much like previous coaching changes in Boulder, venerable linebackers coach Brian Cabral survived the change and returns to continue coaching the players he did last year.

While there is change in the Colorado defensive scheme as a whole, this is probably the one spot on the team where players will hit the ground running Friday knowing exactly what is expected of them from their position coach.

There is an oddity about the depth chart at linebacker this spring with one position -- the SAM (outside) linebacker -- having four players competing for one job while the four others compete for two jobs on the interior at MIKE and WILL.

A betting man might favor Jon Major, Derrick Webb and Liloa Nobriga to earn the starting spots because they have played and are probably the three most talented players among the eight.

But senior-to-be Patrick Mahnke and fourth-year junior Doug Rippy will have their say. Fans and coaches have been waiting along time for Rippy to meet the expectations earned from a lofty recruiting ranking in the fall of 2007, but he has been moved around every year in the program and never has proven consistent enough to earn major playing time defensively. He played only 27 snaps defensively last season.

Rippy will compete with Webb at middle linebacker and Mahnke will have his hands full with Major at the Will spot.

Major has been prone to injuries in his CU career, which is a concern at the outset of spring ball considering the lack of depth.

Major seemed to be blossoming into CU's primary playmaker at linebacker last fall until his season ended prematurely after seven games because of a sprained knee ligament. He still finished as the fifth leading tackler with 57 total stops and a memorable game-clinching fumble recovery against Georgia.

Nobriga came on strong down the stretch last season at outside linebacker, making him the favorite to start entering spring. He made 14 tackles (seven solo, seven assists) in the 2010 season finale against Nebraska and finished the year as the seventh leading tackler on the team in just nine games.

Nobriga's top competition in the spring might come from senior David Goldberg who has put in a lot of hours of practice in Boulder without a lot of reward on Saturday afternoons. Goldberg played only 11 snaps spread over three games on defense last year.

Redshirt freshman Lowell Williams and walk-on redshirt freshman David Blaha also will compete at the outside linebacker position.

The lack of real depth could lead to the possibility of playing time for one of three true freshman scheduled to join the program this summer. CU signed KT Tuumalo, Brady Daigh and Woodson Greer in February.

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