Some of the great middle linebackers in Colorado history might not have played for the school at all and probably wouldn't have played in the heart of the defense if they were being recruited today.
The nature of the middle linebacker position might be the same as it ever was in the rugged Southeastern Conference, but in the Pac-12 and across much of the nation coaches are looking for speed at the position more than they did in the past to combat the proliferation of spread and speed offenses.
"It's got to be somebody who understands how to read combination blocks and zone blocks and be able to take on a guard once in awhile and flip his hips and play on the third receiver outside," CU defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Kent Baer said. "It's a unique position. You almost have to, if you don't have the talent to play in space, you almost have to have two groups of linebackers, one to play against bigger sets and one to play against smaller sets."
That might be what CU coaches are forced to do this season with eight spread offenses on the schedule.
CU middle linebacker Brady Daigh went into his sophomore season a year ago listed at 250 pounds. He was one of the Buffs' best defenders when he was on the field but he only played 250 snaps over 10 games, in part, because CU needed more speed on the field.
Daigh has worked hard to trim down in the offseason in an effort to become more of an every-down, every-scheme kind of player. He is between 230 and 235 pounds now, despite a severe knee sprain that slowed him through most of the spring.
"I'm trying to be more of a sideline-to-sideline player instead of tackle-to-tackle," Daigh said. "I've felt a lot better out here running sideline to sideline and chasing guys down. So I think that's one of the big improvements I've made."
Daigh's primary competition for the starting job at middle linebacker is Addison Gillam, a true freshman from Palo Cedro, Calif., who is 10 pounds lighter than Daigh and faster. Clay Norgard, a 6-foot, 240-pound bruiser, is another young player trying to earn playing time in the middle.
Just this week CU coaches began experimenting with true freshman George Frazier at running back. Frazier played both offense and defense in high school but was recruited to play middle linebacker at CU by former coach Jon Embree.
MacIntyre said it's still possible that Frazier will be a linebacker for the Buffs but that would likely happen after a redshirt season and year of work in the strength and conditioning program, which would give Frazier a better chance to succeed at the position in the Pac-12.
But Daigh has experience on his side.
He made 31 solo tackles last fall, including five for losses with a quarterback sack, a forced fumble and pass broken up. He also was second on the team in special teams points.
"It's kind of a different game now," he said. "It's not as much in between the tackles but you've just got to adjust."
Depending on what defense the Buffs are in, Baer could move a faster player such as seniors Derrick Webb or Paul Vigo to middle linebacker in certain situations.
Experience might be the key component when it comes to coaches making decisions about the depth chart to start the season. Baer said the middle linebacker has never been more integral to the success of a defense than it is in this new era of up-tempo, wide-open offenses. It's just a different skill set that coaches go looking for on the recruiting trail.
"I think it's more important," Baer said. "That guy has more to read to play in a box and play all this stuff in spread offenses, he's got a lot to do. Now the nature of the position is changing some in terms of how fast the guy needs to be."