Although Colorado played just six football games in 2020, outside linebacker Carson Wells did things that hadn’t been done in 30 years by a Buffalo.
Wells led the country in tackles for loss per game, at 2.67. He had at least three in four consecutive games, becoming the first CU player to do that since College Football Hall of Famer Alfred Williams in 1990. Then, Wells capped his year with 2.5 tackles for loss in the Valero Alamo Bowl.
Despite the dominance, Wells didn’t collect many postseason honors – he was named All-Pac-12 honorable mention – but his team recognizes his value.
“Obviously, you start this deal off with Carson Wells, a guy who had a really great season in an abbreviated year,” defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said. “Really good scheme fit for us.”
Leading up to fall camp, which starts Aug. 5, BuffZone.com is previewing each position group for the Buffs. In this installment, we look at the outside linebackers.
Wells suits the Buffs’ scheme because he knows the playbook and puts in the work to be ready on game days. Following a dominant 2020, Wells hasn’t backed off.
“He’s only improved this offseason, especially in the weight room,” Wilson said. “He had a really good spring, so I really believe just that his continued growth and the way he works and how important it is to him, he puts us in a great position to play well at that position.”
For the Buffs to truly play well at that position, however, they’ll need more than just Wells to come through. Wilson is leaning on several players to step up their games this year.
Veterans Jamar Montgomery and Guy Thomas, both returning juniors, missed all or part of spring, but continue to develop as they look to gain more playing time. Both were productive in the minimal snaps they got in 2020.
Between Wells, Montgomery and Thomas, Wilson said, “We’ve got a really good veteran group of guys there.”
It was returning redshirt freshman Joshka Gustav who earned the most praise in spring, however. A surprise contributor on defense in 2020, Gustav continues to get better in a hurry.
“He had a great spring and he’s very technical,” junior inside linebacker Jonathan Van Diest said in the spring of Gustav. “He works his butt off. He grinds. Something that you guys don’t see or even coaches see that during COVID and summer, he’s putting in extra work. He’ll come in and do what’s required and he’ll come and do more pass rush with (teammates) for like hours on end just on Kittredge Field. He’s put a lot of work in. He’s really diligent and focused and it showed this spring and I’m really proud of him.”
Also returning is freshman Devin Grant. He didn’t play on defense last year (he played in two games on special teams) but is getting better this offseason, according to coaches.
While this group does start with Wells, it’s a unit that continues to improve with more experience in games and practice.
“These guys really had a great spring,” Wilson said. “They’re digesting the system really well and they’re just creating competition across the board. That’s the biggest thing is that we develop – not only get our best players to play at their best level, but also the ability to create competition across the board.”
Position: Outside linebackers
Returners (2020 statistics)
- Jamar Montgomery, Jr., 6-foot-2, 240 pounds (6 games played, 1 start, 8 tackles, 2 tackle for loss, 1 QB pressure, 1 fumble recovery, 1 forced fumble)
- Guy Thomas, Jr., 6-4, 230 (5 games, 4 starts, 11 tackles, 1TFL, 1 QB pressure)
- Carson Wells, Jr., 6-4, 250 (6 starts, 40 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 16 TFL, 5 QB pressures, 5 pass breakups)
- Joshka Gustav, R-Fr., 6-3, 235 (6 games, 4 tackles, 7 QB pressures, 1 PBU)
- Devin Grant, Fr., 6-3, 240 (2 games)
- Zion Magalei, Fr., 6-4, 240
- Mason Midgett, Fr., 6-2, 210 (walk-on)
- Jason Harris, 6-7, 240 (transferred to Arizona)
- Luke Horne, 6-2, 215 (walk-on; transferred to Sam Houston State)
2021 outlook: Wells was sensational last season, racking up 16 tackles for loss in only six games. One of the better edge rushers in the Pac-12, he’ll lead this group and get the bulk of the snaps. CU often uses just one true outside linebacker at a time, and it will typically be Wells on the field. However, CU likes the development of Montgomery and Thomas and they could see their playing time increase this year. Gustav continues to get better and might be tough to keep off the field, as well. Grant, Magalei and Midgett are all young players who need some time to develop and their time could be coming in the future. In addition, the Buffs could use Arkansas transfer Blayne Toll – listed as a defensive end – in an outside backer role at times. Oklahoma transfer Robert Barnes is slated for inside linebacker, but he could move around and play some outside linebacker, as well.