The stern warning of “44’s your Mike!” will once again echo through Folsom Field this fall. More importantly, the Colorado Buffaloes will have at least one big reason to be confident at the linebacker position heading into the 2014 season.
They will be welcoming back team captain Addison Gillam, the budding playmaker and leading tackler in the Pac-12 from a year ago. After becoming only the second true freshman in Colorado football history to start at inside linebacker, Gilliam went on to have a sensational, record-breaking season.
When it was all said and done, he’d averaged 8.9 tackles per game, a mark good enough for the top spot in the conference. He led the Buffs with 119 tackles, three sacks, and an interception. His most impressive game came against the high-octane Oregon Ducks, as he recorded 18 tackles, including a sack.
Gilliam finished the 2013 campaign with his name all but penciled in atop the depth chart entering the offseason. After losing Derrick Webb, the rock-solid four year starter, the Buffaloes will have to rely on Kenneth Olugbode and Woodsoon Greer III to accompany the star sophomore at the second level. There are certainly improvements to be made on the defensive side of the ball, but there is a growing sense of optimism among the young, deep linebacker core.
Projected Starting Lineup:
Mike (Middle) Linebacker- Addison Gillam (6-foot-3, 225-pounds, Sophomore)
Enough said above. This guy is an absolute beast at the middle of the second level. He should continue to progress in every aspect of the game during his sophomore season. His innate ability to find the ball and make a play with speed made him one of the best linebackers in the country as a freshman. It’s safe to assume that he’s going to be the main focus of every opposing offense.
Will (Weak) Linebacker- Kenneth Olugbode (6-foot-0, 210-pounds, Senior)
The special teams star will get a chance to start on the weak side in 2014. Olugbode, who’d never played a snap at the linebacker position before last season, will be manning the spot of departed linebacker Derrick Webb. His knowledge of the game and high football IQ has landed him in the good graces of head coach Mike MacIntyre and defensive coordinator Kent Baer. Although he’s a bit on the small side for his position, he possesses incredible speed. If he turns the burners on in the open field, there are few who will be able to outrun him.
Sam (Strong) Linebacker- Woodson Greer III (6-foot-3, 225-pounds, Senior)
Similarly to Olugbode, Greer III will add much needed speed to the linebacker core. The senior will start on the strong side during his final season with the Buffs. Last season, Greer III saw action in 8 games, recording 34 tackles before going down with a shoulder injury. Playing in the Pac-12, a conference notorious for spread offenses and speed, bodes well for the big linebacker. His combination of toughness and speed should push him to become an every game starter this season.
Others names to keep an eye on during the 2014 season include:
Brady Daigh (6-foot-2, 250-pounds, Senior)
Daigh has spent most of his Colorado football career as a special teams player. Unfortunately for him, he enters his senior season behind Gillam on the depth chart at middle linebacker. This spring, he has pushed Gillam to improve and compete, but he likely won’t see nearly as much action. Barring any injury to Gillam, he should continue to see most of his playing time on special teams, with the occasional snap in the defensive rotation.
Ryan Severson (5-foot-10, 200-pounds, Sophomore)
Severson will be Olugbode’s main competition at weak side linebacker entering the season. He spent the entire 2013 season on special teams as the lead kickoff return man. He saw action in 11 of 12 games, returning 36 kickoffs for just under 800 yards. After converting to the linebacker core, Severson will be hoping to get up to speed and impress coaches, in order to earn himself a spot in the defensive rotation in 2014.
Deaysean Rippy (6-foot-2, 215-pounds, Sophomore)
A former Pitt transfer, Deayshawn Rippy will be competing for the strong side position against Greer III. As a four-star recruit coming out of high school in 2012, he redshirted in his freshman year at Pittsburgh. When he wasn’t able to find a spot in the Panthers’ rotation, he transferred to Boulder. He adds some much needed depth to the linebacker core and should see plenty of playing time in the Buffaloes’ two-deep rotation.
In a defense that needs to advance in almost every category, this group of linebackers has potential to vastly improve the second level. Gillam has already proven his worth and should continue to see success in 2014, as the Buffaloes continue to build around their star in the making.