CU Buffs position preview: Outside linebackers aiming to make opposing QBs uncomfortable

Charles Kelly is a newcomer to the Pac-12 Conference, but the Colorado defensive coordinator is well aware of the talent at quarterback in the league.
Reigning Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams from USC leads the way, but the group also includes Michael Penix Jr. of Washington, who led the country in passing yards per game last year; Bo Nix of Oregon, who was second in the country in completion percentage (and first among QBs in rushing TDs); and Cameron Rising of Utah, who has led the Utes to back-to-back conference titles.
Jayden de Laura (Arizona), Cam Ward (Washington State) and DJ Uiagalelei (Oregon State) are also among the elite talents at the position – along with CU’s Shedeur Sanders.
It’s going to be Kelly’s job to figure out how to make those quarterbacks uncomfortable this year.
“The one thing in today’s football that you have to do, you have to be able to affect the quarterback,” he said. “You don’t necessarily have to sack him all the time, but you have to affect the quarterback. You have to be able to get him off the spot.”
Leading up to preseason camp, will preview each position group for CU and in this installment, we look at the outside linebackers, who will be counted on to affect quarterbacks this season.
A year ago, Colorado ranked last in the country in sacks with nine – five fewer than any other team. There were 26 individual players around the country who had nine or more. Not far behind that was Jordan Domineck of Arkansas, who had 7.5.
Domineck is now at CU and hoping to lead a much-improved pass rush.
“I’m not cocky in a way but I know what I’m able to do and what I can’t do,” Domineck told BuffZone when he committed to CU last winter. “Knowing that and the coaching staff that they have here, this was another reason I decided to come out here.
“My confidence has just been growing since being out here and I just want to have it grow even more as long as I’m developing both physically, mentally, emotionally, everything.”
Domineck tied for fourth in the SEC in sacks last year. Three of the others in the top five were NFL draft picks this spring, including Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr., the third overall pick by Houston. Drew Sanders of Arkansas (Denver Broncos) and Isaiah McGuire of Missouri (Cleveland Browns) were also drafted. The other player in the top five was LSU freshman Harold Perkins, considered an All-American candidate this fall.
After having Domineck on the field all spring and summer, Kelly sees great potential in him, as well, but doesn’t focus on a target number of sacks.
“I don’t like getting into predictions of how guys will do because what you do is you put expectations on them, instead of just letting them play,” Kelly said. “I don’t want him to feel like, ‘I gotta get the sack totals that I had at Arkansas.’ Now you start doing things that you shouldn’t do. But I like the way he’s developed. I think we’re doing a little more with him in space than what they did at Arkansas, which I think is gonna help him later on. I think it’ll help him create value for himself. I’m anxious to watch him play.”
Another intriguing transfer to CU is Derrick McLendon II from Florida State. Last year, he had 37 tackles and 3.5 sacks. He had seven sacks in 38 games at FSU and forms a solid 1-2 punch with Domineck.
Transfers Deeve Harris (Old Dominion) and Khairi Manns (Maine) are also expected to compete for playing time, along with the only returning Buff, Joshka Gustav, who missed all of the 2022 season with an injury. True freshman Taje McCoy is in the mix, as well.
Between the group at outside linebacker and defensive end, the Buffs are confident they’ll be better than last year’s Buffs at pressuring those talented Pac-12 quarterbacks.
“Any time you can bring a guy that can affect the quarterback, you want to be able to do that,” Kelly said. “I think we’ve done a good job of bringing some of those guys in. That’s one of the things we’ve got to change from last year is we’ve got to be able to get pressure on the quarterback.”
Position: Outside linebackers
Returners: Joshka Gustav, Jr.
Transfers: Jordan Domineck, Sr. (Arkansas); Deeve Harris, Jr. (Old Dominion); Khairi Manns, Jr. (Maine); Derrick McLendon II, Jr. (Florida State)
True freshmen: Taje McCoy, Fr.
Walk-ons: Tristan Marois, Jr.; Jacob Woida, Fr.
Key losses: Guy Thomas (graduated); Jamar Montgomery (graduated); Devin Grant (transferred to Incarnate Word)

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