2008 CU Preview: Linebackers

At linebacker last year, Colorado got by with a gutsy performance by its senior leader, Jordon Dizon, the emergence of a walk on, Jeff Smart, and an underrated job by its coach. Thanks to some eligibility issues and a key injury, the Buffs were thin in their middle line of defense last season. The unit played above its head, even though it wore down as the season wore on.

This fall, however, linebackers coach Brian Cabral will have much more depth to work with. That includes the return of junior Marcus Burton (he was out due to academics last year) and sophomore Mike Sipili (he missed 2007 due to suspension). Both could be in the starting lineup by the end of August. Burton has a good combination of size and speed at the "will," one of the inside positions. Sipili is the team's fiercest hitter, and plays the "mike," the other inside spot. If Sipili is to earn a starting spot, though, he'll have to wrestle it away from Smart, who earned a scholarship for his dedicated and effective play in 2007. The former Boulder High ‘backer lives up to his last name on the field, and also displays a gritty nature, playing more physical than his size would suggest. He had 80 tackles last fall after moving into the starting lineup when R.J. Brown ended his career with a concussion vs. CSU.

Along with Burton and Sipili's return, the linebacking corps will be bolstered by a group of incoming players, most of whom are expected to make an impact this fall. Conventional wisdom says Shaun Mohler will be ready to contribute the soonest, as he's coming to CU after starring two seasons at Orange Coast Community College, where he was named his Juco league's most valuable player in 2007. He'll compete at the will and possible outside ("sam") positions. Jon Major is a big-time hitter and was a tackling machine at Ponderosa High School in Colorado the past couple of years. He's physically mature enough to compete for playing time right away at the inside positions. (If the Buffs feel like they have too many players at linebacker, Major could get a look at rush end in August, too). Freshman Doug Rippy has the kind of speed to impact the defense in 2008, as well, and will be in the mix at one or more of the linebacker positions. (The fourth incoming linebacker, Lynn Katoa, is slated to redshirt this fall.)

The most closely watched competition in August on the entire defense could be at outside linebacker, where sophomore B.J. Beatty really came on in the spring, putting the pressure on senior Brad Jones for the starting spot. Jones appeared in every game since 2005, and was the full-time started the past two seasons. Beatty has logged eight total plays. But the light came on for Beatty this spring, and Cabral rewarded Beatty by giving him lots of reps with the first team.

Sophomore Nate Vaiomounga has put on some weight (he's at 210 pounds), and will provide depth on the outside. Junior Bryan Stengel and redshirt-freshmen Tyler Ahles, David Goldberg, Brandon Gouin and Josh Hartigan round out a beefed-up depth chart at the inside positions.

The Roster
Tyler Ahles, R-Fr., ILB, 6-2, 240
B.J. Beatty, So., OLB, 6-2, 220
Marcus Burton, Jr., ILB, 6-0, 260
18 G, 36 T, 3 TFL, 1 S, 2 INT
David Goldberg, Fr., 6-1, 240
Brandon Gouin, LB, Fr., 6-1, 210
Josh Hartigan, E-Fr., OLB, 6-1, 205
Brad Jones, Sr., OLB, 6-3, 230
36 G, 164 T, 6 TFL, 2.5 S, 1 INT
Lynn Katoa, Fr., ILB, 6-1, 225
Jon Major, Fr., ILB, 6-2, 225
Shaun Mohler, Jr., LB, 6-3, 225
Doug Rippy, Fr., LB, 6-2, 220
Michael Sipili, So., ILB, 6-1, 255
10 G, 31 T
Jeff Smart, Jr., ILB, 6-0, 215
16 G, 80 T, 4 TFL
Bryan Stengel, Jr., OLB, 6-2, 230
Nate Vaiomounga, So., OLB, 5-10, 210

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