Mike MacIntyre knew he had his work cut out for him when he took on the task of rebuilding the Colorado Buffaloes football program. The Buffs had struggled mightily since joining the Pac 12 and bottomed out last season when they finished just 1-11 and cost Jon Embree his job. This season, they started out hot, winning their first two games (but have hit a rough patch in conference play) which has sparked some excitement on campus around the program. One of the biggest reasons to be excited about the future of the Buffs, however, is freshman linebacker Addison Gillam.
Gillam has stepped in as a true freshman and instantly became a leader on the field. Through five games, Gillam leads the Pac 12 with an average of 10.6 tackles per game (over a tackle more than No. 2 on that list) and is dominating in the middle of the CU defense. His 53 total tackles rank second in the conference (though he’s played two fewer games than the conference leader) and he’s added two sacks and four tackles for loss. He’s also shown an ability to come up with big plays to get his team off the field, posting 11 tackles on third downs.
As a group, the Colorado defense leaves a lot to be desired. They rank No. 11 in the conference in total defense, surrendering 492.4 yards per game, and scoring defense, allowing 41.2 points to opponents per game. Some of those numbers are a bit inflated after playing the Oregon State Beavers (No. 1 passing offense in the country), Oregon Ducks (No. 2 total offense in the country) and Arizona State Sun Devils (No. 10 scoring offense in the country) in back-to-back-to-back weeks to open up Pac 12 play. While the gaudy numbers they’ve given up can be groan-inducing for Buffs’ fans, the play of Gillam should give them hope.
Having a young, talented leader like Gillam in the middle of the defense to build around in the coming years gives Colorado a great foundation on which to build their turnaround in Boulder. His non-stop motor and ability to make tackles will only get better as he gains experience at the college level which means he’ll continue to dominate as a tackling machine in the Pac 12 for years to come. The question becomes whether CU can get some like-minded defensive playmakers around him in the near future.