Major's health key for Colorado linebackers

Colorado will depend on junior linebacker Jon Major to stay healthy this season.

BOULDER - Jon Major was well on his way to a great season in 2010.

Through the first six games, the then-sophomore linebacker led Colorado in tackles. He was also taking on a leadership role on the defense.

Then, it all came to an end. Major suffered a sprained MCL in his knee during the seventh game, against Texas Tech. He missed the rest of the season.

"It hurts (to miss games), but what can you do? It's life," the junior said recently. "It lights a bigger fire this year. The new goal is to stay healthy and just play the game that I know how to play."

That's a goal not just for Major, but for the entire Colorado defense. Graduation hit the linebacker position pretty hard, leaving Major as the second-most experienced player in that group. (Backup Patrick Mahnke has 23 games played, while Major has 13).

Fellow starters Douglas Rippy and Derrick Webb played just 151 snaps between them last year. The Buffs also have a true freshman - middle linebacker Brady Daigh - on the second team.

"Jon Major is key to my group," linebackers coach Brian Cabral said. "Jon Major is the leader of my group. Jon Major needs to stay healthy this season."

So far, he has been unable to do that. Injuries have impacted each of Major's three seasons in Boulder. He missed his entire true freshman year in 2008 after tearing his ACL. Still recovering in 2009, he slowly worked his way back into the lineup, but a sprained knee and shoulder injury limited him that season to just six games.

If Major can stay healthy, the Buffaloes believe they've got a good group of linebackers going into the 2011 season.

"I really like the group that I have," Cabral said. "It's a young group that should be getting ready to mature. Our challenge has been to take the next step. Our challenge has been to start becoming what they're capable of doing. So, I like the group as a whole."

Major has moved to outside linebacker and he could be one of the top linebackers in the Pac-12 this season. Phil Steele's College Football had him on the midseason All-Big 12 team in 2010.

Rippy, a junior starter in the middle, has made as big of a leap forward as any player in the program since last season. He shined in spring ball and has carried that through fall camp.

"He is really starting to turn it on," Cabral said. "That's part of the coming of age we need from the whole group."

Webb has also been impressive, as he has earned a starting job on the outside.

"He's always been a passionate player and he just needs to be passionate about his preparation, as well, and he's starting to do that," Cabral said.

On the second team, Liloa Nobriga returns after recording 46 tackles in 2010, tied for sixth on the team. Mahnke is also back. Cabral calls him a "jack of all trades." Mahnke made 35 stops in 2010.

Then there's Daigh, who has been very impressive so far. Just a few months removed from high school, Daigh is backing up Rippy in the middle.

Asked of he would be comfortable starting Daigh in the middle if Rippy got hurt, Cabral said, "Possibly."

"He's got a lot to learn, but he's way ahead of the freshman curve," Cabral said. "That's good news."

Although 2010 starters Michael Sipili and B.J. Beatty have graduated, and part-time starter Tyler Ahles has moved to fullback, the linebackers do benefit from consistency. It is the one position group on the team that didn't have to adjust to a new coach.

"We're really blessed to have that," Major said, referring to Cabral, CU's long-time linebackers coach. "Cabral will always be Cabral."

With Cabral once again leading the way, Major looks around and sees a talented group that could help the Buffs succeed.

"We're young, but I've said it before, we all want to be really good," Major said. "We're going to take those steps to be good. We've been here long enough to know how demanding coach Cabral is and he just wants the best for us."

The key to it all, however, could be Major's health. So far, he's felt great in camp. But, there are 13 grueling games on the schedule.

"It's not so much his leadership (that needs to improve) as it is him just getting through a season unscathed," Cabral said.

Major is hopeful, and he said he's ready to pick up where he left off in 2010.

"I'm just going to come back with that fire and help this team win and hopefully we can do some great things this year," he said.

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