Walking through the stretch lines before practice, Colorado outside linebackers coach Brian Michalowski will often pass by one of his players and throw out a simple question.
“What are we getting better at today?” he will ask.
Michalowski, in his first season with the Buffaloes and his first season as a full-time assistant at the Division I level, has an intriguing group of outside linebackers. Each one brings different skills to the table and more than two weeks into preseason camp, Michalowski is pleased with the daily progress.
“I challenge my guys that every single day we have to come out with something we improve on,” he said. “I have collectively just a great group of players.”
While Michalowski loves the talent, this is a group that is light on experience.
Sophomore Carson Wells is the leader and has the most Division I experience at outside linebacker. Last year, he compiled 4.5 sacks and a team-high 13 third-down stops, while playing 45.7 percent of the Buffs’ defensive snaps. The Buffs are looking for him to be even better this year.
“He’s not the most vocal guy, but he’s a guy that is really a hard-hat type of player,” Michalowski said. “He works hard and he tries to lead by example.”
In addition to Wells, senior Alex Tchangam is having a good camp. A junior college transfer a year ago, Tchangam didn’t play high school football. Last year, he played just 90 snaps, but has taken his game up a few notches in camp.
“As a pass rusher, his get-off is explosive,” Michalowski said. “Alex has a great mentality of get better, get better. He wants to be great and he’s been that way since Day 1, since I found out I was going to be his coach.”
The next step for Tchangam is to get more consistent in the run game.
While Tchangam’s strength is rushing the passer, Nu’umotu Falo has been solid against the run. A fifth-year senior, he’s played inside and outside linebacker during his career, but saw just 41 snaps on defense a year ago.
“(Falo) is a very solid player for us and I know he’s very amped up for his senior year,” Michalowski said. “He is very hungry to be physical and relentless, which is what (head coach Mel) Tucker talks about. He’s a physical guy at the point of attack. That passion and energy creates that relentless effort that coach is talking about.”
Sophomore Jacob Callier could be a key contributor this year, as well.
As a true freshman in 2017, Callier had a sack and a team-high 11 quarterback pressures, despite playing just 196 snaps. Last year, he played in the first four games, recording one sack in 80 snaps, before opting for season-ending shoulder surgery and taking his redshirt.
Callier has the ability to help the Buffs’ pass rush, but is working on his all-around game and consistency.
“Really what I want to see from Jacob is for him to continually grow, just like all the players that I coach,” Michalowski said. “Every guy has something that they can improve on and work on. He’s really working to become more consistent in all the areas of his game.”
Junior Jamar Montgomery, who arrived this summer as a junior college transfer, has good physical tools, but is still learning the playbook, as well as the techniques needed to excel on defense.
“He’s getting better every single day, but it is a learning process,” Michalowski said. “He’s a big guy that can run, can hit and those guys are also very valuable on special teams. That’s why I’m challenging him to start there.”
With Wells, Tchangam, Falo and Callier leading the group, the Buffs have depth that should allow Montgomery and true freshmen Joshka Gustav and Alec Pell to develop over time. Michalowski has been pleased with all of their progress to this point.
Overall, it’s a group that continues to improve, Michalowski said, and he’s eager to see that progress continue.
“I really try and encourage my guys to look at each other and learn from each other and take strengths from each other and they’ve all developed in a lot of different ways,” he said. “I really feel like everyone is getting better. It’s been very positive.”
The Buffs were off on Sunday. They return to the practice field on Monday morning. … The season opener is Aug. 30 against Colorado State in Denver.