Ross Els is still trying to learn the names of his players, Colorado’s defensive scheme and his new surroundings in Boulder.
It’s a lot to digest in a short amount of time, but Els is excited about his newest job opportunity.
Els was hired Friday to be the Buffaloes’ inside linebackers coach. He signed his contract in the morning and hit the practice field a couple hours later.
“When you get a program that’s been to a championship game and hopefully get to that next level and win the darn thing, that’s the kind of program you want to be a part of,” Els said on Saturday, after his second practice with the Buffs. “It starts with good people and I know we have that with (head coach Mike MacIntyre).”
Els, 51, spent last season as the defensive coordinator at Purdue. He has coached linebackers for a large portion of his 27 years in college football, but said he has a new challenge in working within CU’s 3-4 defense scheme.
“The defense is a completely new defense for me, but I really like what (defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot) is doing with the thing and I’m excited to get going,” Els said.
Els said he hasn’t had a chance to study CU’s personnel at inside linebacker, but has a good first impression.
“I’ve only seen them for two practices,” he said. “I actually didn’t know much about them or anything about them until about 6:45 at the staff meeting (on Friday morning), when I signed my contract and was able to join them.
“I like the intensity, I like the effort they put forth. Once I start learning the scheme a little better, I can help them as far as the Xs and Os, but they’re playing hard, they’re attentive, they’re good kids. I think we’re physical; we’ll find out when we can tackle.”
In addition to coaching linebackers, Els is expected to work with the Buffs’ special teams. He was the special teams coordinator at Ohio (2007-10) and at Nebraska (2012-14).
“Exactly what the ultimate responsibilities will be (on special teams) will be decided later on, but I’ve done all four for a long time,” he said. “I’ve usually been involved with the special teams, so that’ll be a big part of why I’m here.”
MacIntyre’s staff took a committee approach to special teams last year, but struggled in that phase of the game. He said it’s possible that Els will be the special teams coordinator, but won’t make that decision until after spring practices end next month.
“He’s had a lot of special teams experience, and as we go through this spring, we’ll get it all sorted out and we’re working on that now,” MacIntyre said. “That’s one of the reasons I wanted to hire him, too, because he has such a tremendous amount of experience in the special teams area.”
In addition to Els having a great deal of experience, MacIntyre said he was impressed by others who have worked with Els describing him as “an unbelievable staff guy and a family guy.”
As for his coaching style, Els said, “Thorough, attention to detail type of guy. We’re going to know exactly what we’re supposed to be doing in every situation.”
One player Els won’t work with this spring is Addison Gillam, a senior who was projected to start at inside linebacker. Gillam is taking what MacIntyre described as “a sabbatical” from the team this spring, and it’s unclear if he will return.
“He’s just taking some time off right now,” MacIntyre said, adding that Gillam is using the time to rest his knee.
Gillam missed most of the 2015 season with a knee injury that also kept him out of spring ball in 2016. He remained healthy throughout the 2016 season, however, and finished fifth on the team with 66 tackles while splitting time with Rick Gamboa.
With Gillam not involved this spring, Gamboa and Drew Lewis, both juniors, are running with the first unit.
Junior NJ Falo is also in the mix after bulking up and moving in from the outside linebacker spot he played last season. Falo said he is playing alongside redshirt freshman Akil Jones with the second team.
The Buffs will take the day off Sunday before resuming practice on Monday. … All practices are closed until the spring game, which will be held March 18 at 1 p.m. at Folsom Field.