Looking ahead to the 2018 season, the Colorado football team could have a rather intense battle for playing time at inside linebacker.
Both starters from this year, Rick Gamboa and Drew Lewis, are expected to return and they’ll be seniors. Then, there’s Nate Landman, a true freshman this year who came on strong in the last couple of games.
Gamboa and Lewis played nearly every snap at inside linebacker until the last two games, when struggles against the run led the Buffs to bench Lewis for Landman at times.
Often praised for his ability to make plays, Landman proved he’s capable of doing it in games. He had 11 tackles, including three for loss, and forced a fumble in the last two games, playing in a backup role.
“It helped tremendously,” he said of getting playing time late in the year. “I’m able to see the game, see how it’s played, the expectation level I need to be at. It’s definitely helped a lot and I’m excited for the next couple of years.”
The Buffs should be, too, because now they’ve got at least three quality options for two inside linebacker spots next year.
Landman figures to get better with an offseason of work, and he may push for a starting role.
Lewis led the team with 119 tackles and Gamboa was a close second with 117 — the first time since 1997 that two Buffs had at least 115 tackles.
The two veterans have their strengths, with Gamboa widely regarded as having the highest football IQ on the defense, and Lewis regarded as being one of the best athletes on the team.
Gamboa, however, doesn’t have great sideline-to-sideline speed, while Lewis’ struggles in the run game led to Landman getting playing time down the stretch.
In addition to that trio, Akil Jones is expected back for his redshirt sophomore season and Jonathan Van Diest, who will be a redshirt freshman, will aim to find the field after recovering from a late-season ACL tear in practice.
Carson Wells, also redshirted this year, could be in the mix, as well, although he could also play at outside linebacker.
Recruiting could add more intrigue to the position.
Davion Taylor, from Coahoma (Miss.) Community College is currently committed to CU, but seems to be leaning toward going to Ole Miss instead. If he comes to CU, he could compete for a starting role immediately.
The Buffs also have a verbal commitment from Clyde Moore, a 6-foot, 225-pound inside linebacker from Corona Del Mar (Calif.) High School.