Cabral Facing Unique Coaching Challenge

Linebackers coach Brian Cabral has been tutoring the middle line of defense at Colorado since 1989. He's never faced a challenge like the one he's facing as CU prepares for the 2007 season.

Following a productive spring, it appeared linebacker would be a stronghold of the Colorado defense in 2007. Two off-field issues later and the position has gone from strength to question mark.

Michael Sipili's status is still up in the air. The sophomore is regarded as one of the best defenders on the team, but his arrest for alleged involvment in an off-campus fight over the summer has put his football future in limbo. A preliminary hearing in Sipili's case is scheduled for Sept. 6. Senior special teams captain R.J. Brown will start at the inside spot Sipili was expected to have.

While Sipili's 2007 is still an unknown, junior inside linebacker Marcus Burton will redshirt after failing to qualify in the classroom. Burton was slotted to back up starter Jordon Dizon.

That leaves Brian Cabral with a unique challenge.

"I've never been this thin (at linebacker)," Cabral said Tuesday. "I guess that's why they pay me. This year, depth wise, is unlike any other year."

The good news, Cabral said, is the three starters —Brown, Dizon and outside linebacker Brad Jones — are each having good camps. But if one of them should go down, there's almost no one with experience to replace them.

Among the six players listed at the three linebacker positions behind the starters on the depth chart, only sophomore Jeff Smart has seen any game action on defense. And that amounts to just seven plays.

Rather than panic, Cabral and his fellow defensive coaches will need to be creative.

"We've got to find the way to get the best 11 players — whether it's all linebackers or all DBs — we've just got to get the best guys on the field," Cabral said. "We've got to be creative, and we've got to be smart – put guys in situations that we know they can handle, where they can hold up."

Cabral said moving senior Joe Sanders back to linebacker from tight end — where Sanders is expected to excel this fall — is a possibility, but it's not one that's really been explored. The move doesn't make sense, unless a worst-case scenario — such as a season-ending injury to a starter — emerges, anyway.

Whatever transpires, it's likely a walk-on will get significant action at one or more of the three linebacker positions this fall, something Cabral said he doesn't remember occurring during his tenure at CU.

Here's a look at the three walk-on linebackers on the depth chart who could play this fall.

Jeff Smart, sophomore. 5-11, 210 pounds, in his third season with the team after walking on out of Boulder High School. He'll back up Dizon at one inside position. He's undersized but among the faster linebackers on the team. Cabral says Smart is — like his name — a smart player, and understands the defense after working in it last year and this year. Smart is the most experienced of the walk-on backups; he saw action in 11 games in 2005 on special teams and was in on seven plays on defense.

Jake Duren, sophomore. 5-11, 230 pounds. Duren transferred to CU fron UNC-Greeley last year, and sat out the season per NCAA transfer rules. At UNC, he started 11 games as a true freshman and was named the All-Great-West Freshman of the Year by the media. He backs up R.J. Brown at one inside spot currently. Duren has been on the team a year now, and is still learning the defense.

Bryan Stengel, sophomore. 6-2, 210 pounds. Stengel is listed co-No. 2 at outside linebacker along with redshirt freshman B.J. Beatty. He dressed for nine games but didn't see any action last season. After practicing last year at inside, he moved to outside position in the spring. Cabral says Stengel has a good grasp of the defense.

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