Biggest Answer: The Buffs are talented and experienced in the middle with returning veterans senior Thaddaeus Washington and junior Jordon Dizon. Washington, who plays the "mike" position, has 205 tackles over the past two seasons, most on the team. With a year like 2005, when he had 112 stops, Washington has the opportunity to break into the top 10 all-time on CU's career tackles list. (Jashon Sykes is currently No. 10 with 330 tackles. Washington has 231.) A solid run-stopper at inside linebacker, Washington packs one of the biggest punches in the Big 12, and has grown as a team leader over the past 18 months. He was named first-team All-Big 12 by four preseason football magazines.
Alongside Washington, Dizon returns at "will" linebacker. Dizon, who combines great instincts and quickness, was the Big 12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year in 2004, and is primed to take a step forward this fall.
Also Inside: Sophomore Marcus Burton is coming off a surprising freshman campaign, where his speed got him onto the field for 11 games, much more than expected. He also showed a knack for making the big play, grabbing two interceptions, one which he took 99 yards for a score. A couple of second-year walk-ons, Jeff Smart and Bryan Stengel, will also compete at the will position.
Sophomore walk-on R.J. Brown impressed linebackers coach Brian Cabral in the spring, and even played with the first-team defense in Washington's absence in a couple of practices. Senior Jason Ackermann was still feeling the effects of a devastating knee injury he suffered in 2004, but it was good to see the hometown product back on the field nonetheless. He'll be in the mix along with third-year sophomore Maurice Cantrell for backing up at the mike spot.
Rookie Watch: Keep an eye on a trio of incoming players. Justin Nonu, all 270 pounds of him, is an intriguing prospect on the inside. He played at that weight and wreaked havoc in high school when he was named the San Diego Tribune's Defensive Player of the Year in San Diego County. Similar to when Washington arrived a bit oversized from Marrero, La., as a true freshman, Nonu will be asked to drop some weight and compete. Michael Sipili will play inside, while fellow Hawaiian freshmen B.J. Beatty is slotted at outside linebacker. With the depth at linebacker, it's likely all three are headed for a redshirt year, but you never know: Dizon came to Boulder as a freshman in 2004, began fall camp as a safety and ended up in the starting lineup at linebacker in Game 1 of the season.
55 Jason Ackermann, ILB, 6-1, 225, Sr.
59 B.J. Beatty, OLB, 6-2, 220, Fr.
34 R.J. Brown, ILB, 6-1, 230, So.
54 Marcus Burton, ILB, 6-0, 240, So.
32 Maurice Cantrell, ILB, 6-0, 235, So.
19 Ben Carpenter, OLB, 6-3, 225, Sr.
37 Chad Cusworth, OLB, 5-11, 215, Sr.
44 Jordon Dizon, ILB, 6-0, 225, Jr.
40 Brad Jones, OLB, 6-4, 225, So.
99 Justin Nonu, ILB, 6-2, 270, Fr.
13 Joe Sanders, OLB, 6-3, 220, Jr.
98 Michael Sipili, ILB, 6-1, 235, Fr.
45 Jeff Smart, ILB, 6-0, 205, Fr.-R
41 Bryan Stengel, ILB, 6-2, 215, Fr.-R
49 Thaddaeus Washington, ILB, 5-11, 245, Sr.