Colorado defensive coaches have a nice problem on their hands.
They have a middle linebacker who almost always makes smart decisions, plays his tail off, works hard off the field and has become a special teams star for the program. This spring he is wearing one of a handful of gold jerseys coaches have awarded with the word uncommon stamped on the back to signify the kind of playmaking it took to earn the jersey.
So what's the problem?
The middle linebacker in question is not sophomore starter Addison Gillam who was named a first-team freshman All-American by four different national publications as well as the Football Writers Association of America last fall. It's senior Brady Daigh who won the Bill McCartney Award last season as the Buffs' best special teams performer.
Coach Mike MacIntyre said the slimmed down senior — Daigh has lost 15 pounds and is quicker than he was a year ago — is pushing Gillam in the competition for playing time on defense. Gillam admits he has noticed it, too.
"He's definitely pushing me," Gillam said. "I can always see him doing things right. I kind of like to watch his film, too, because he does things right that I mess up sometimes. So it's just good to compare."
In fairness to Gillam, he still wasn't fully recovered from a postseason minor knee surgery when spring ball began and that limited him. He has only recently began to feel and look like his old self on the field.
Gillam started all 12 games at middle linebacker as a true freshman and set numerous CU freshman records including 119 total tackles to lead the team. He is the only CU freshman in history to record more than 90 tackles in a season and the only other two to make even 80 stops in a season were Matt Russell and Jordon Dizon.
Russell went on later in his career to win the Butkus Award given annually to the nation's best linebacker. Dizon finished as a runner-up for the award in his senior season.
"The second half of spring he has looked really good," MacIntyre said. "He's looked like old Addison. He's flying. He's running. That conditioning factor and cutting, it shows you how big a deal conditioning makes. He's really looked good the last half of spring. He's taken another step."
Pac-12 coaches named Gillam honorable mention to their all-conference team last season. He had numerous big games but two of his best were collecting 18 tackles and a sack against Oregon and 15 tackles and one interception against Utah.
Gillam said he feels a lot stronger this spring than he did a year ago one year removed from high school following a greyshirt season in 2012. He also is eight pounds heavier now with room still to grow. He was listed at 225 pounds last season, but that was generous at most points in the year. It's a more legitimate weight now.
Gillam said he has struggled at times this spring with making the right reads. He said there have been subtle changes to the CU defense and some have tripped him up, but he feels like he is starting to have a better feel for it with the spring game slated for Saturday at Folsom Field (noon, Pac-12 Network).
This spring he has focused on trying to improve his ability to avoid or shed blockers. He said his biggest problem as a freshman was too often allowing linemen to get their hands on him and take him out of the play. He wants to be more of a disruptive force as a sophomore.
Gillam said he enjoyed his freshman year, the success he experienced and the accolades he earned but he wants to improve on all of it next fall.
"I've never really got a big head," Gillam said. "Just the people I grew up around and played football with, they always taught me to keep my head level cause if you get a big head, it's just going to go down."