Despite missing the first half of spring ball, Kenneth Olugbode is already settling into his comfort zone in the middle of the Colorado defense.
"It feels good to be out there again," said Olugbode, a senior inside linebacker who missed the first seven practices with an ankle injury. "It was hard (sitting out), but I just kept watching film, I was out here every day watching practice and I don't really feel like I missed too much. I feel pretty good."
Olugbode returned last week and started hitting this week, as he looks to round back into the form that allowed him to rack up 163 tackles over the last two seasons.
"Kenneth has done well," head coach Mike MacIntyre said. "He was moving around, doing good."
With Olugbode and others dealing with injuries this spring, the Buffaloes have been thin at inside linebacker. That's contributed to CU altering practice a bit, and the lack of depth at the position will prevent the Buffs from splitting into two teams and having a full spring game on Saturday.
While depth at linebacker has been an issue, the Buffs still feel this has been a productive spring on defense because they are now in their second year with defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt.
"They have more confidence and they're playing fast because they're not thinking as much," MacIntyre said. "That's good."
Olugbode has noticed it and said, "I feel our whole defense feels comfortable. When you can have players teach each other, it's a lot easier than when the coach has to tell you exactly what to do. We can all work off each other and feed off each other."
Dealing with injuries this spring may wind up helping the Buffs, Olugbode said. In addition to Olugbode, Ryan Severson missed time with a concussion, and Addison Gillam has skipped the entire spring while recovering from a knee injury.
Rick Gamboa had to play a lot more reps this spring, and Christian Shaver moved from outside linebacker to inside. All of that has helped the linebackers learn more of the defense, Olugbode said.
"I feel like that helps," he said. "Now we all have to play different positions and we have to learn each other's spots, so it's going to help us in the long run."
Ultimately, inside linebacker might end up being a major strength for the defense. CU will have its leading tackler from the last three seasons — Gillam (2013), Olugbode (2014) and Gamboa (2015) — all competing for starting roles, along with Severson, Shaver and newcomer Drew Lewis, a junior college transfer who will join the team in the summer.
"Now it's competition for who is going to (be the leading tackler) this year," Olugbode said. "I can't wait for fall camp."
Left tackle Jeromy Irwin has not participated in spring practices as he recovers from a torn ACL, but the Buffs are excited to have him back in the fall.
Irwin, a junior, figures to get his starting spot back in the fall. He started 11 games at left tackle in 2014 and then started the first two games there last season before his injury.
"He's doing really well," MacIntyre said. "I'm excited with what he's done. He's just bigger and stronger."
Irwin is expected to be fully recovered by August. After playing at around 285-290 pounds in the past, Irwin is up to 309 pounds in his 6-foot-5 frame.
MacIntyre said he believes freshman quarterback Steven Montez has built a good rapport with the receivers, and Montez continues to get positive reviews from coaches and teammates. "Montez is doing really, really well," Olugbode said. "He's making a great impression on me." ... MacIntyre said the offense has looked much more comfortable during the second half of spring as players pick up the changes made on that side of the ball. ... The Buffs are scheduled to practice Friday and then hold their spring game on Saturday at noon.
Brian Howell: firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.