NJ Falo felt out of place two years ago, when the Colorado football coaches asked him to play inside linebacker.
"I grew up playing outside linebacker my whole life and never played a down (inside) until I got here to Colorado and everything was confusing for me," Falo said. "It was like a maze."
Despite the discomfort he felt in that spot two years ago, Falo went into this offseason with an itch to test himself there again. So, after playing at outside linebacker last year, Falo is back inside as the Buffaloes go through spring drills.
"I do love outside, but ... I want to be a player that makes plays, so I feel like I have a better chance to make plays at inside linebacker," said Falo, now a junior. "Since I felt a little urge to want to go back, I didn't want to be afraid of it, so I took that chance.
"I'm learning to love it now."
CU may actually have more of a need for Falo inside.
Last year, Kenneth Olugbode played 94 percent of the defensive snaps at one inside linebacker spot, while Rick Gamboa and Addison Gillam combined to play 98 percent of the defensive snaps at the other spot. Olugbode has graduated, while Gillam, who has dealt with several injuries the past three years, is not with the team this spring, as he contemplates whether or not he wants to play again.
That leaves Gamboa, a junior who led the team in tackles in 2015 and finished second in 2016, as the only inside linebacker with significant experience.
Several others, including Falo, junior Drew Lewis and redshirt freshman Akil Jones are hoping to seize the opportunity.
"Right now in spring ball, it's a time and opportunity to go and show out and show the coaches what you know, how well you're moving around," said Lewis, who had eight tackles and a sack in 45 snaps last year. "I feel like I can take that spot.
"I'm absolutely excited."
Through the first three days of spring ball, Lewis has been playing next to Gamboa with the first team.
Lewis, who played in 2014 at Washington and 2015 at Coffeyville Community College, didn't arrive at CU until last summer. Now that he's got a full season under his belt, he said he feels much more comfortable.
The 6-foot-2 Lewis said he struggled last year to get above 220 pounds, but he's now "a solid 225."
"I feel like I can contribute a little bit better on special teams and defense," he said.
Falo, meanwhile, has bulked up quite a bit. Last year, he was listed at 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, which helped him to use his speed on the outside. In 257 snaps, he registered 12 tackles, 1.5 sacks, four third-down stops and three pass breakups.
With a desire to move inside, Falo is now up to 250 pounds, but said he'd like to get back down to 240 for the season.
"I want to lose the fat and get the muscle back on and be in better shape," he said.
If he can do that, Falo believes that at 240, he can help the Buffs at inside or outside linebacker.
"I can be a versatile guy where they can have me on the field all downs," he said.
Falo is already comfortable on the outside, and he's trying to absorb all the concepts of inside linebacker so he can feel that same comfort there.
"I want to be able to have the 10 other guys on the field trust me," he said. "That's where the hard part is; I know I can be trusted outside, but I want the same for inside, too."
Without Olugbode, who was a three-year starter, and Gillam, who has been a starter and key contributor throughout his career, the Buffs don't have the experience inside they had last season, but they do have talented players ready to make the most of an opportunity.
"We have to step up," Lewis said. "We have myself as well as some other guys who can definitely contribute, step up and take that part."
Brian Howell: firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.
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