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CU Buffs position preview: Inside backers set tone for defense

Star linebacker Nate Landman hopes to be healthy by fall camp

BOULDER, CO - April 9, 2021:  Inside linebacker Jonathan Van Diest during University of Colorado football practice on April 9, 2021. (University of Colorado Athletics)
BOULDER, CO – April 9, 2021: Inside linebacker Jonathan Van Diest during University of Colorado football practice on April 9, 2021. (University of Colorado Athletics)

Colorado defensive coordinator Chris Wilson is fond of a particular phrase when describing players on a football team.

“We use the term, ‘thermometers and thermostats,’” Wilson said. “Obviously, a thermometer tells you the temperature of a room. A thermostat dictates the temperature of the room.”

Going into next this season, Wilson believes the Buffaloes are loaded with thermostats in the inside linebacker room.

“We’ve got some proven guys there,” Wilson said. “We’ve also got some new guys which is really a good thing. I like the room from that standpoint.”

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 inside linebackers.

BOULDER, CO - Dec. 12, 2020: ...
Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
BOULDER, CO – December 12, 2020: Nate Landman before Utah game. The Colorado Buffaloes and the Utah Utes play at Folsom Field in Boulder on December 12, 2020. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

Headlining the inside linebackers is senior Nate Landman – CU’s ultimate thermostat – who was having an All-American-type of season in 2020 before rupturing an Achilles’ tendon in the first half of the regular season finale against Utah.

A two-time first-team All-Pac-12 selection, Landman missed spring practices and has spent the entire offseason rehabilitating his injury, but the Buffs hope to have him ready to go by camp.

“He was playing as good of football as anybody in the country a year ago,” Wilson said. “We’re excited to get him back and get him going. He’s a great leader, first of all, but he’s also a great mentor in the locker room with those guys and he’s a great teacher. So I’m excited.”

CU bolstered the position this offseason with a pair of transfers – Robert Barnes from Oklahoma and Jack Lamb from Notre Dame. Both got some playing time in programs that have been among the best in the country.

“These guys are thermostats,” Wilson said. “They come in with great energy, great winning background. What they do is they just keep improving the temperature in the room. They’re professional about it. These guys come in and they’re not trying to sell the places they’ve been; they just come out and show their work ethic every day and their ability to compete. It’s been beneficial for everybody.”

This group also includes perhaps the defensive MVP of the spring – junior Jonathan Van Diest. He has started seven games over the past two seasons and filled in for Landman after his injury in 2020. A strong offseason, which included speed training, has Van Diest angling for a starting role next to Landman.

“Jon had a competitive spring,” Wilson said. “We look at a guy like Jon and where he’s at in his career, he’s a really good leader. He understands the sense of urgency that’s required, because like a lot of these guys, Jon’s towards the tail end of his career. Like any great player, especially a Colorado native, a guy who grew up here and really banked on his home school, we’re just excited to have him again. He’s a guy who comes in and he’s willing to compete and play wherever you want him.”

Junior Quinn Perry and redshirt freshman Marvin Ham II will fight for playing time, as well.

“These guys are entering into their junior and sophomore years, or redshirt junior years, and it’s their moment,” Wilson said. “Hopefully with continuity and in making this (defense) a little more player-friendly, they’ll excel.”

Colorado linebacker Marvin Ham II during spring practice on March 31, 2021.

Position: Inside linebackers

Returners (2020 statistics)

  • Nate Landman, Sr., 6-foot-3, 235 pounds (5 games played, 5 starts, 61 tackles, 5 sacks, 10 tackles for loss, 3 QB pressures)
  • Quinn Perry, Jr., 6-2, 240 (6 games, 7 tackles)
  • Jonathan Van Diest, Jr., 6-1, 230 (6 games, 2 starts, 16 tackles, 1 QB pressure)
  • Marvin Ham II, R-Fr., 6-1, 225 (1 game)
  • Alvin Williams, Fr., 6-3, 220 (6 games)
  • Mister Williams, Fr., 6-0, 245 (5 games)

Additions

  • Robert Barnes, Jr., 6-2, 230 (Transfer from Oklahoma)
  • Jack Lamb, So., 6-4, 230 (Transfer from Notre Dame)
  • Zephaniah Maea, 6-1, 235
  • Geno Macias, R-Fr., 6-1, 195 (walk-on)
  • Katin Suprenant, Fr., 6-3, 230 (walk-on)

Losses

  • Akil Jones, 6-0, 235 (graduated; 5 games, 5 starts, 23 tackles, 5 TFL, 4 QB pressures, 3 PBU)
  • Chase Newman, 6-2, 215 (transferred)
  • Devin Lynch, 6-1, 220 (walk-on)

2021 outlook: One of the strongest position groups on the team this season, the Buffs are talented, experienced and deep. Landman is one of the best inside linebackers in the country when healthy. He is coming back from a ruptured Achilles’ tendon but expects to be the leader of this group. Van Diest is going into his fifth season at CU and he’s played in 24 games, with seven starts. After an exceptional spring, he’s looking to nail down a consistent job as a starter. Barnes played this spring at inside linebacker but was a safety for much of his time at Oklahoma. Defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said Barnes could play in a variety of positions. “That’s the beauty of having guys with a lot of flexibility,” Wilson said. “You can not only attack schemes, you can also change your personnel and put guys in different areas where you can create some matchups.” Lamb brings solid depth and experience and he’ll battle for a starting spot, as well. Perry and Ham don’t have a lot of game experience with the Buffs, but both have been in the program for a while and expect to be more equipped to help when called upon. Alvin Williams, Mister Williams and Zephaniah Maea are all young players still growing in the system. They’re talented, but might be a year away from contributing.