Spring Preview — Linebacker

One of the biggest concerns for the Colorado Buffaloes going into spring ball and the 2004 season is the linebacker position. In the coming weeks, CU will be implementing a new outside linebacker position in its fledgling 4-3 defense, and trying to find two starters at the other two linebacker positions. While five of the returning linebackers started 15 games at a variety of defensive positions in 2003, depth will be an issue at the position, as well.

As he has for the past several years, Brian Cabral will coach the middle and weakside linebacker positions, along with carrying out his duties as interim head coach through April 30. Defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz will coach the outside linebacker position, as well as one of the defensive end positions.

Cabral said that he's looking for some players to step forward this spring.

"What I've told them is that I'm looking for two starters," he said. "No one's got a starting position, nothing carries over from last year. Last year we saw a lot of faces, we saw a lot of people at different times. We've got a lot of work to do this spring. We've got a lot of growing up to do."

Hankwitz pointed out that the returners — none of whom are seniors — have a significant amount of game experience between them.

"We have the ability, so it's a matter of having to emerge," he said. "We're going to have excellent competition because we have a number of guys who have played, and that brings out the best in everybody and it also creates depth."

Starting off at weakside linebacker are junior Akarika Dawn (6-2, 230), sophomores Walter Boye-Doe (6-2, 230) and Jason Ackermann (6-2, 215) and junior Kyle Griffith (6-2, 200).

After playing at strong safety, middle and weakside linebacker in 2003, Dawn has the opportunity to become a solid contributor in the new 4-3 scheme. Boye-Doe, meanwhile, turned some heads when he started at linebacker at Kansas State last fall. He ended the season seeing action in five games at LB. Ackermann played linebacker in one game last fall, but also contributed on special teams, while Griffith is a walk-on who has been a special teams stalwart the past two seasons.

Sophomore Thaddaeus Washington (6-0, 235) and junior Chris Hollis (6-1, 240) will battle for the starting position vacated by graduating Sean Tufts. Hollis moves back to linebacker after playing some defensive end in 2003. Washington showed flashes of being a great run-stopper last fall and ended the season with 26 tackles in just 123 plays from scrimmage, the highest tackles-per-plays ratio on the team. Walk-on John Martin (6-4, 235) is third on the depth chart at middle linebacker.

Junior Brian Iwuh (6-1, 220) will man the new position in the 4-3. Iwuh cracked the starting lineup late in the 2002 season at safety as a true freshman. He started four games at strong safety in 2003, gathering 32 tackles on the season. Depth becomes a concern at the buff linebacker — the team's name for the new outside position — when you consider that walk-on sophomore quarterback Ben Carpenter (6-4, 210) has been moved to the position, and is currently listed as Iwuh's only backup.

Whoever is on the field, Cabral said the linebackers, particularly the two positions he coaches, will be the key to the defense's success next season.

"If the defense is going to be good, if it's going to be better, it's starts with the inside linebackers," he said. "That's our challenge, to get better as a group and then find the two best representatives as starters."

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