"The biggest key for us is learning the defense, understanding the defense," he says.
It's the defense the new coaching staff began installing a year ago, the one the team played all last season. But, according to Cabral, the players are still riding the learning curve.
"We just kind of learned as we went along last season," he said. "They didn't really have a grasp of what they were doing and why they were doing it and, really, how to do it."
Cabral said he's pleased with the film study the linebackers have done the past two months. Now it's time to implement more of it on the field. One of the promising players in the bunch is sophomore Mike Sipili. The 6-1, 235-pound inside linebacker got his feet wet early in the fall before starting the Baylor game midway through the season. He saw his snaps increase later in the season with 31 tackles. Cabral expects to see good things from Sipili as he continues to gain experience, even over the next six weeks.
"It will be night and day between last season and hopefully the end of this spring," Cabral said. "I don't think he had any idea what he was doing or why he was doing it, he was just doing it (last year). So he'll make a lot of ground. But I think that's true for everybody. It's a brand new defense. It's a lot of new technique."
Fellow inside linebacker Jordon Dizon picked up the new scheme the best last fall, Cabral said. Dizon registered 137 tackles last season. But Cabral thinks he's got room to grow, too.
"We need him to know exactly what we're doing," Cabral said. "He'll have a better year because of it, understanding where he fits in the defense, how to execute the defense. I expect with that and his experience, he'll have a great year."
Brad Jones is ready to go at the outside linebacker position. Developing depth at all three linebacker spots will be another key of spring practices. One player expected to have a chance to see the field in the fall is outside linebacker Josh Hartigan, who graduated from Northeastern High School in Ft. Lauderdale in December and is enrolled at CU and working out with the team.
"He shows a lot of promise," Cabral said. "This is probably the hardest time in his life right now, working out with college intensity while still being a high school-aged kid. The dividend for Josh is going to be when he reports in the fall. But he'll compete for a back up role along with B.J. Beatty."
Nonu on hold
Redshirt-freshman linebacker Justin Nonu will miss spring ball, Cabral said. He's spending the spring semester getting his grades in order, and trying to get closer to playing weight. He's also still dealing with a back injury he had when he came to CU last fall.
Nonu is still listed at 6-2, 300 pounds. Though he carried that weight well in practices last fall, Cabral has maintained that Nonu needed to lose 40 to 50 pounds to compete for playing time.