LB Gillam, Buffs eye improvement

When Addison Gillam started for Colorado in its 2013 opener against Colorado State, he became just the second true freshman in program history to start at inside linebacker.

Things didn't start off great, though.

"It took a few plays to get used to it," he said. "I got my helmet knocked off and had to go off the field. That's when I was like, 'Oh, it's just football.'"

He'd go on to record a team-high 14 tackles in his debut, with two coming for a loss and a quarterback sack. Among his tackles were two key fourth-down stops in the fourth quarter of a 41-27 victory that ended an eight-game losing streak for the program.

The victory and Gillam's performance served an important purpose: They provided hope among a beleaguered fan base for the future. After winning four games over the previous two seasons and earning the unofficial designation as "Worst Major Conference Team" in 2012, the Buffaloes looked ready to take a step forward toward respectability.

Gillam would go on to lead the Buffs with 107 tackles, including 9.5 coming for a loss. He had three sacks, an interception and six pass breakups and earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors. He looked like a budding star on a defense that dramatically improved from the year before, even if a 4-8 record doesn't qualify as a cause for celebration.

While the Buffaloes ranked at or near the bottom of the Pac-12 in most defensive statistics, they surrendered nearly eight fewer points and 20 fewer yards per game compared to 2012 in a conference that was better offensively in 2013. They gave up one fewer yard per play -- 6.1 yards per play compared to an eye-popping 7.1 in 2012 -- and one yard fewer per rush (4.9 vs. 5.9).

The hope among Colorado adherents, of course, is that the upward trend will continue, that promising young players like Gillam will lead the Buffs out of the morass.

With spring practices underway, Gillam sees reasons for optimism.

"We're so much further ahead than last year," he said. "Last year, we were learning a new defense. That really shows. A lot of people are showing more effort. Last year, people weren't running to the ball. This year, we're having fun out there, making plays. Everybody is cheering each other on."

Gillam signed with San Jose State and MacIntyre in 2012 and grayshirted after he had surgery on both shoulders. When MacIntyre was hired at Colorado, he followed him to Boulder, back-dooring a scholarship to a Pac-12 school when none previously had been forthcoming. Fair to say the other 11 Pac-12 schools whiffed badly on Gillam, a rangy, 6-foot-3, 225 pounder from Palo Cedro, Calif., with a knack for finding the ball.

Gillam said the attraction to MacIntyre had more to do with "the off-field stuff."

"He wants you to be more than a football player," he said.

In the spring of 2013, Gillam brought his high-motor self to a team that had been indifferently sputtering along. Some Buffs were angry about former coach Jon Embree's controversial firing after just two seasons. It's fair to say that some players weren't terribly motivated.

"The team wasn't as cohesive," Gillam said. "There were a lot of fights, [guys] were unfriendly to each other."

He admits that his quickly pushing to the top of the depth chart by the end of his first spring surprised him. When he watches film of himself from 2013, he likes his consistent effort and fight. He thinks he needs to be quicker with his reads and improve in pass coverage. He'd also like to be around 240 pounds in fall camp.

While Gillam sees improved trust and effort on the team, things aren't yet where they need to be.

"There are still some guys, like on every team, that don't want to," he said.

The MacIntyre and the Buffs turnaround effort will progress much more quickly if more guys develop a want-to like Gillam.