When Robert Barnes isn’t turning heads, he’s crunching them.
And if you’re trying to get a finger on why the CU Buffs’ defense has been the story of the spring in Boulder, the former Oklahoma Sooners defender isn’t a bad place to start.
“He’s probably taken more steps forward than anybody,” CU inside linebackers coach Mark Smith said Wednesday of Barnes, a graduate transfer who’s in his first spring with the Buffs after playing the previous four seasons with the Sooners.
“But he probably started a further ways (back) than anybody … He’s a student of the game.”
Smith said he’s been impressed with Barnes’ “length” and “power” this month, two traits that played a role in the interception that the inside linebacker notched during last Friday’s scrimmage.
“(We’re) very pleased with Robert,” Smith continued. “He’s got a way to go, but Robert has come leaps and bounds from the first practice.”
Which is something that CU coaches hope will ease the burden on veteran inside linebacker Nate Landman once preseason camp gets underway in the summer.
Landman, a first-team All-Pac-12 selection last season after leading CU in tackles (53), is sitting out this spring, recovering from surgery he underwent last Dec. 15 to repair a ruptured right Achilles tendon.
The California native has elected to return for a fifth season of eligibility rather than enter the NFL draft. Smith said one of the goals for No. 53’s final campaign with the Buffs is to lighten his workload — and his snap count.
“I’d love to take more of that load off of him,” Smith said of Landman. “I think this spring has been big in developing some of those other guys, and hopefully we’re in a position to do that.”
Landman’s absence in the spring has opened up more developmental time at inside linebacker for Barnes, who played safety and linebacker at Oklahoma, as well as for former Cherry Creek standout Jonathan Van Diest.
The Buffs’ first formal spring practices under second-year coach Karl Dorrell — the 2020 sessions were ultimately canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic — will culminate with a scrimmage, dubbed the “Spring Showcase” at 9 a.m. Friday at Folsom Field.
The university has reportedly been granted permission by Boulder County for the presence of roughly 1,000 spectators, making it the first CU football event open to the general public since Nov. 23, 2019.
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