By Neill Woelk, Contributing Editor
BOULDER — Colorado senior Alex Tchangam is still a relative newcomer to the game of football.
But the CU outside linebacker is making up for lost time, and could find himself in a significant role when the Buffs open the season Aug. 30 against Colorado State in Denver (8 p.m., ESPN).
Tchangam, who did not play high school football, played two years at De Anza JC in California before transferring to CU in time for the 2018 season. He got some playing time last year — 90 snaps on defense in nine games — and finished with eight tackles and a sack.
But after a full spring and summer under Mel Tucker's new system, Tchangam is feeling much more at home on the field, and he has been picking up some regular repetitions with the No. 1 defense recently in camp.
"I think I've had a pretty good camp, especially with the coaches pushing me every day, getting on me and making me better," Tchangam said after Wednesday's practice. "Learning how to cover (receivers/tight ends) a lot more has been important, and I've had to learn how to play standing up. I've always played with my hand down, and that's been a big adjustment. But I think I'm getting comfortable doing all those things."
Tchangam, a native of Cameroon, is a terrific athlete blessed with good size (6-3, 245), speed and strength. The challenge has been for him to develop the football savvy to go with that athleticism, an area in which he has made good progress in fall camp.
"I'm picking up the game a lot quicker," he said. "I'm able to tell formations, I know where the ball is going to go — little things like that. All that comes with studying film and learning."
Tchangam has shown an ability to get to the quarterback since he arrived. Now, he is improving his run defense — enough so that he's getting some opportunities with the No. 1 defense.
"Alex is improving," Tucker said after last Saturday's scrimmage. "He's becoming more physical at the point of attack in the running game. We all know he has extraordinary athletic ability and the ability to get a pass rush for us. He just needs to continue to work to be more consistent in the run game. But I like what I've seen out of him."
Alex Tchangam at OLB is ready to both stop the run and rush the passer
With Colorado's depth chart released, senior Alex Tchangam has earned the starting OLB position, replacing the graduated Drew Lewis, opposite Carson Wells. Tchangam saw just 90 snaps in 2018 but made steady progress during fall camp, enough to inspire confidence in position coach Brian Michalowskiand Mel Tucker to go with him, at least for now, as nothing is fully concrete yet with CU having not completed even one game yet.
OLB Alex Tchangam (52) in practice on last Thursday. (CUBuffs.com)
At 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds, Tchangam has the frame you'd like to see for a multi-dimensional OLB. Opposite Wells, the Buffs' second-place finisher in sacks last year with 4.5, Colorado very well may have a dynamic duo in those two that can compliment the defensive line and namely Mustafa Johnson in getting after the quarterback.
Senior Star backer Davion Taylor recently said that on third downs, he's been shifting to more of a traditional backer position. Tchangam added a piece to that puzzle by saying he's noticing more emphasis on pass rushing from his position on third down.
As Michalowski has stressed a more effective pass rush among the OLBs since he arrived at CU, third downs might be a repeated situation to keep an eye on in terms of blitzes by the outside backers.
"He has high expectations of us because as a coach he knows that we have the potential to be great players," Tchangam said of his position coach. "He's put emphasis on playing the run on first and second down but he's coached us to be better pass rushers on third down."
Tchangam is a guy who has stepped his game up from the time of Aug. 1, enough to have thrusted himself atop the depth chart after steadily seeing more and more time with the first team defense.
"I've felt myself progress," he said. "The game of football is getting a lot easier for me and that comes from studying film and meeting all day with the coaches. Starting fall camp, I was still getting used to the coaching and the new defense, but throughout it, [the OLBs] just become a better group and closer as a family. This should be a good year."
A key for Tchangam and Colorado's defense will be communication. The ability for the OLBs to talk to the secondary, and the ILBs to work well with the d-line is a major key to success for CU's defensive 11, especially in situations that require a blend of audibles mixed with improvisation.
"We communicate all over the field, to make sure all 11 players can hear adjustments and the play," Tchangam said. "We're very comfortable with the playbook. Every day we meet with the coaches, go over the plays and whatever we do wrong, we correct it. We're ready to play fast."