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CU football: Buffs lean on steady Gamboa at inside linebacker

Colorado inside linebacker Rick Gamboa led the Buffs in tackles (96) last season and started each of the last 11 games as a redshirt freshman.
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado inside linebacker Rick Gamboa led the Buffs in tackles (96) last season and started each of the last 11 games as a redshirt freshman.

Inside backer

The projected list of scholarship inside linebackers that Colorado will have on the roster this fall:

Rick Gamboa, So., 6-0, 230: Led the team in tackles (96) last season and started each of the last 11 games as a redshirt freshman.

Addison Gillam, Jr., 6-3, 225: CU’s leading tackler in 2013, Gillam has battled injuries and illness the past two seasons. He missed the final 11 games this past season but is expected to be healthy and ready to go in the fall.

Drew Lewis, So., 6-2, 225: Recently signed from Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College, Lewis played his freshman year at Washington. He’s expected to compete for a starting job.

Kenneth Olugbode, Sr., 6-1, 215: The Buffs’ leading tackler in 2014, he finished with 90 tackles last year and probably would have led the team had he not missed two games with a leg injury.

Ryan Severson, Sr., 5-10, 210: Primarily a special teams player in his career, he got a chance to play a career-high 116 plays on defense last year, with one start. He’s battled some injuries in recent months but should give CU good depth.

Travis Talianko, Sr., 6-1, 215: Originally brought to CU as a safety, he has yet to play a snap on defense for the Buffs. Missed all of last season with a knee injury but hopes to be ready to compete in the fall.

Going into last season, Rick Gamboa figured he’d play a little bit at linebacker for the Colorado football team.

He never imagined he’d play as much as he did, though, and at the midpoint of spring football, the Buffaloes are continuing to rely on him.

“Rick is just Steady Eddy,” CU head coach Mike MacIntyre said. “He is having to play quite a bit, but we’re trying to make sure we limit that as much as we can so he doesn’t take every snap.”

After leading the Buffs in tackles this past season as a redshirt freshman, Gamboa spent the first half of spring as the only healthy inside linebacker the Buffs had on scholarship.

Addison Gillam and Travis Talianko will miss all of spring ball rehabbing knee injuries, Kenneth Olugbode missed the first half of spring with an ankle injury, and Ryan Severson was out for several practices with a concussion. (Olugbode and Severson should return once the Buffs resume practice on March 28.)

“We don’t have too many guys, so I’m just trying to stay healthy as much as I can,” Gamboa said. “But I’m trying to work on being aggressive out there and on the things I can really work on too much, like my reads and everything, just trying to get everything coming a lot faster for me.”

While his teammates try to stay healthy, Gamboa is focusing on improving his game.

He played a reserve role for two games last year before Gillam went down with his knee injury. Gamboa then spent the next 11 games as a regular starter, and he finished with 96 tackles. In CU history, the only freshman to record more tackles was Gillam, who had 119 in 2013.

“I learned that there are a lot of good teams in the Pac-12 and it’s very fast,” said Gamboa, who had at least 10 tackles in four games. “A lot of teams have different paces. You just have to be ready for everything and you have to be ready to come to play every down.”

While Gamboa played well and would seemingly be in line to start this next season, he knows he’s got plenty of work to do to keep a starting job.

As long as Gillam and Olugbode are healthy in the fall, the Buffs will have their leading tacklers from each of the past three seasons competing for playing time at two inside linebacker spots.

In addition, Severson is an experienced senior and junior college transfer Drew Lewis will be added to the mix this summer. The Buffs are currently trying to sign another inside linebacker from the junior college ranks and Talianko hopes to fight for playing time.

While the Buffs are short on linebackers right now, it could be an area of great depth this fall.

“Competition brings the best out of everyone,” Gamboa said. “At the end of the day, the best one is going to stand out and he’s going to be the one to play on the field. As long as we have the best guy out there and we’re winning, that’s all that matters.”

Gamboa is hoping he’s one of the best guys, which is why he’s trying to get better.

“Getting to the ball and getting my keys a little faster,” he said when asked what he needs to work on to improve. “There was a few times where I was being a little too patient when I should have been more aggressive. Now that I have that experience, I’m getting to the ball a lot faster and I’m seeing the keys. It’s helping me get sideline to sideline a lot faster.”

Gamboa is also playing a leadership role this spring, which he said is “comfortable.”

Watching so many of his teammates go in and out of the lineup, Gamboa has had no choice but to be leader.

“I just try to keep everything steady,” he said.

Brian Howell:, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.