Colorado Buffaloes 2010 First Look — Linebackers

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Colorado Buffaloes 2010 First Look — Linebackers

2010 Linebackers – Returning Players/Recruits

Where would the Buffs be without Brian Cabral ?

Colorado’s associate head coach and long-time linebackers coach has been a constant in the Dal Ward center for the past twenty seasons. He has seen championships and scandals; embarassing losses and chest-thumping victories.

A middle guard turned linebacker in his playing days at Colorado (1974-77), Cabral enjoyed a nine season stay in the NFL, earning a Super Bowl ring with the Chicago Bears in 1985. After a brief stint at Purdue as a graduate assistant, Cabral returned to Boulder as a graduate assistant in 1989. This past season, Cabral celebrated his 300th game as a Buff. His linebacker unit has been like its coach—a constant when other units on the team were suspect.

When he left Boulder for the NFL, Brian Cabral was the Buffs’ all-time leading tackler (297). He is now tied for 16th on the list, and has notably coached eight of the players who have passed him: Matt Russell; Greg Biekert; Jordon Dizon; Ted Johnson; Chad Brown; Michael Jones; Thaddaeus Washington; and Jashon Sykes . Many of Cabral’s players have gone on to NFL careers of their own, though notably only Dizon is of recent vintage.

Cabral’s latest student of the game, senior Jeff Smart , finished his career just six behind his coach in total tackles, with 291 for his career. This past season, Smart finished second on the team in tackles with 93 (just behind defensive back Cha’pelle Brown’s 96). Fellow seniors Marcus Burton and Shaun Mohler finished tied for second amongst the linebackers in tackles, each posting 66 on the year.

Does the loss of the Buffs’ top three linebackers from 2009 mean that the unit will be a weak link in the Colorado defense in 2010?

Not if Brian Cabral has anything to do with it.

Despite the losses of Smart, Burton, and Mohler, Colorado remains relatively well stocked at linebacker, as four players return who have significant game experience.

Senior-to-be B.J. Beatty started ten games at strongside linebacker in 2009, while fellow senior Michael Sipili had three starts this past fall—and has had seven in his career at middle linebacker.

Other players returning with game experience will be sophomore Jon Major , junior Tyler Ahles , and junior sophomore Douglas Rippy (junior Josh Hartigan is listed as both an inside linebacker and a defensive end, seeing playing time in six games in 2009).

It will be left to Jon Major to fulfill the promise of the Colorado recruiting class of 2008, which included Mohler (as a junior college transfer), Major (as the top prospect in the state of Colorado), and Lynn Katoa.

Katoa was high on the list of linebackers nationally (Rivals had him as the second-best inside linebacker in the nation; Scout had him as the third-best middle linebacker prospect nationally). He enrolled early, got into a fight his first spring, was suspended, and ultimately left the program without ever playing a down.

The class of 2009 brought in two prospects, both of whom red-shirted this past fall. Derrick Webb , from Memphis, Tennessee, was ranked by Scout.com as the 23rd-best linebacker in the nation, and the seventh-best prospect out of the state of Tennessee last year. Liloa Nobriga was not as highly rated as Webb (74th-best outside linebacker in the 2009 class), but did lead the state of Nevada in tackles his senior season, posting 185 tackles in leading his team to the state championship game.

Not bad, but not great … What about the recruiting class of 2010?

With the loss of four seniors from the linebacker corps (Smart, Burton, Mohler, and Bryan Stengal , who saw action in four games in 2009), you would think that linebackers would be a priority for Colorado this recruiting cycle. So far, though, it has been fairly quiet.

The first linebacker commit for the Buffs (who has stayed with his commitment) came from Lowell Williams, from Missouri City, Texas.

Considered a three-star prospect, the 6′2″, 210-pound linebacker committed to Colorado back in September. The poor season for the Buffs did not deter Williams, who was recruited by other Big 12 schools including Kansas, Baylor, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M.

“I committed to Colorado on the last day of my trip (September 20th), and I am still committed to Colorado,” Williams told BuffStampede.com in November. “It is a wonderful place. The school is excellent.” Williams looks to play outside linebacker, as well as rush end, when he gets to Boulder.

Of more immediate help to the depleted linebacker unit is junior college transfer Evan Harrington . Playing the past two seasons for the College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, California, Harrington has raised his grades and his prospects. At 6′0″, 220-pounds, Harrington is ready to step into the spot vacated by Marcus Burton.

“They told me they wanted me at middle linebacker, to take advantage of my quickness, strength, and anticipation,” Harrington told JCFootball.com after committing to the Buffs. Grades (and size) were a concern for Harrington out of high school, but he is now considered—at least by Rivals.com—to be a three-star prospect.

“I got out here (to California, from his native Maryland), and my focus was on school and football.” Harrington will have three years to play two in Boulder, though he won’t be as much help this fall as he might have been—he has three classes to complete in junior college, and so will miss spring practice.

Anyone else out there to help the Buffs replenish the linebacker unit?

There are still a number of linebacker prospects out there that Colorado is hoping to entice to come to Boulder. Amongst the outside linebackers, Joe Hemschoot is amongst the most noteworthy.

Hemschoot is from Lakewood, Colorado, and is seen as the No. 32 outside linebacker in the nation by Scout.com. He took the drive up the Turnpike for an official visit on January 9th.

“I had a good time,” Hemschoot told BuffaloSportsNews. “Everybody was really nice.” While Hemschoot called Colorado linebacker coach Brian Cabral “one of the best coaches in the country,” he did not commit to the Buffs. This week, Hemschoot visited Stanford, with a visit to Oregon next weekend (a trip to USC was cancelled). “I like stability. I like to win,” said Hemschoot. “I understand Colorado is kind of on the up-slope now.”

Another highly rated outside linebacker the Buffs would like to land is Tempe’s Kyle Benson . Also considered a three-star prospect, the 6′2″, 212-pounder has offers from a number of schools, including Arizona, Utah, and Oregon.

Benson attended the Buffs’ camp last summer, and took his official visit to Boulder on December 15th. He is visiting Arizona this weekend (January 16th), and it seems as if it will come down to the Buffs and the Wildcats.

“I want the opportunity to come in and play right away,” Benson told GOAZCATS.com, which would seem to favor the Buffs. However, Arizona is also losing a number of starters. “I want to like where the program is headed, and I want to help it get there right away.” Arizona, of course, went 8-5 last season, finishing in a three way tie for second in the Pac-10.

Amongst the middle linebacker prospects, the name most familiar to Buff fans is Danny Spond , from Littleton, Colorado. Considered the 22nd-best linebacker in the nation by Rivals, Spond was the very first commitment for the Colorado Class of 2010, saying “yes” to the Buffs last April.

Spond decommitted, though, deciding in November, “to keep his options open”. Colorado is not now seen as a serious contender, as Spond has official visits in January to Stanford, TCU, and Notre Dame (with the Irish seen as the leader). It would not be a stretch to say that if Spond had kept his commitment to Colorado, junior college transfer Evan Harrington would not be a Buff commit today.

There are other uncommitted players still on the board, holding offers from Colorado, but it would be a surprise if they were to become Buffs. The names include: Justin Parker , from Beaufort, South Carolina; V.J. Fehoko , from Honolulu; Dustin Elisara , from Kapolei, Hawaii; Garrett Gilliland , from Orange, California; Evan Palelei, from Las Vegas; and Kris Rice , from Mandeville, Louisiana.

Brian Cabral may be, as recruit Joe Hemschoot called him, “one of the best coaches in the country”. Cabral’s track record backs up that statement. Still, it is undeniable that the overall play of the linebackers has declined over the past few seasons. With fewer wins come lower ranked recruits. With lesser recruits come fewer wins.

Four seniors, including two starters and a long-time contributor, are leaving the Buffs. There is some depth, and some talent, there to replace them.

Brian Cabral will have to work some of his magic if he expects to see any of these players still in uniform on future Sundays.

[NOTE: If you are on the CU at the Game email update list, and did not receive an email Sunday (Jan. 17th), please drop me a note - cuatthegame@gmail.com . I received a Blackberry for Christmas, and was deleting contacts the other day. Little did I understand I was deleting my CU at the Game contacts from my computer at the same time—oops! So I had to re-enter all of your email addresses, and I may have missed a few.

If you are not on the update list, and would like to be, it's easy and free: send an email to cuatthegame@gmail.com , and you're in (you don't have to worry about my "selling" your address. I wouldn't even know how to - see: mishap; blackberry, above)]

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