Second Half Checklist – Defense

While the Buffs had many positives coming out of the first half of spring ball, there remain many unanswered questions as the program seeks to break a school-record string of eight consecutive losing seasons.

Below is a breakdown, by defensive unit (a similar report on the offense has already been posted), of how the Buffs fared over the course of the first two weeks of practices, and what is expected from them over the course of the next two weeks.

Defensive Line

Watching the Colorado defensive line this spring has been like driving past a car accident: You don’t want to look … but you can’t help yourself.

Before CU players even started taking hits against one another this spring, the defensive line took a hit. As spring practices opened, there came the revelation that two junior defensive tackles, Justin Solis and Samson Kafovalu, would not be participating in spring drills so that the pair could concentrate on academics. For a position already devoid of depth – CU has three scholarship juniors, one walk-on junior … and no one else – the loss of Solis and Kafovalu was a body blow.

There has been significant speculation as to whether either or both of the pair of defensive tackles will be able to return to the field for the fall, but even the possibility of losing two defensive tackles creates problems of depth and experience along the defensive line.

As a result, the first half of spring has introduced Buff fans to a series of position changes. Senior defensive end Juda Parker, listed at 245-pounds last fall, is up to 275, and will be counted on more to play in the interior of the defensive line this fall. Parker has responded with eight solo stops, two tackles for loss, and a forced fumble in the first two scrimmages.

Meanwhile, sophomore Clay Norgard, the former fullback turned linebacker, is now taking reps at defensive tackle. “We will keep Clay at defensive tackle,” Mike MacIntyre said.  “He played that in high school, we need to beef him up a little bit (he’s only 240-pounds now).  Against spread football teams when they’re throwing it all the time, they won’t be doubling him all the time so he’s natural in there.  When we’re playing teams that will pound you, he won’t be in there as much. But when it’s one-on-one, pass rush, stunting and moving him, he’ll be hard to block and give us an inside pass rush.”

Despite the lack of depth at defensive tackle, the Buffs are looking to move the one scholarship defensive tackle in pads this spring out to defensive end. “We may move Tyler Henington outside to defensive end a little more, he’s running better and quicker”, MacIntyre said of the junior, who is some 20 pounds lighter than his playing weight last fall.  “Against some teams we can move him in and out.  Against teams with big tight ends, he’s 260 but hopefully can give us some good leverage”.

Mainstay Josh Tupou, though not producing many tackles, will be counted upon to clog up the middle for the Buffs (he’s currently 320-pounds strong). Last season as a junior, Tupou started every game for CU at defensive tackle, recording 38 tackles.

Underclassmen being counted upon for the fall – if not necessarily the spring – include Jimmie Gilbert (a starter as a true freshman last year, Gilbert is not participating in spring drills as he recovers from off-season shoulder surgery), Derek McCartney (five tackles, including three quarterback sacks, in the first two scrimmages) and Markeis Reed (a red-shirt freshman taking in his first set of spring drills). McCartney has been praised by the coaches this spring for his work, but there has not been as much discussion concerning Reed’s development.

Colorado ranked 101st in the nation in rushing defense last year, and 99th in sacks. Much improvement from the defensive line will be required if the Buffs hope to go bowling in 2014 … and the Buffs are not off to a great start.


Fortunately for Buff fans, Addison Gillam is, well, still Addison Gillam. The freshman phenom, who re-wrote the freshman defensive record books last season (Gillam had 119 tackles last season. The previous freshman record was 85), has picked up where he left off, with a team-leading eight tackles in the first scrimmage.

Still, his head coach wants more. “He can be quicker to recognize, have more opportunities to make turnovers, fumbles and turnovers,” said MacIntyre.  “I expect him to force more turnovers, he was close to making a lot more of those so if his recognition is better, he’ll start making those plays.  He made a bunch of tackles, now he needs the turnover side to get to the next level.”

Another sophomore who played as a true freshman has also improved this off-season. “Kenneth Olugbode is really freaking good”, said MacIntyre. Olugbode was only in on 61 plays last fall (compared to 838 for Gillam), so to hear that he is impressing the coaching staff this spring is a good sign.

One name which hasn’t been heard from much this spring is that of Deaysean Rippy. A former four-star recruit who transferred to Colorado from Pittsburgh last season, Rippy is eligible to play this fall (his sophomore year, after sitting out a transfer year as a red-shirt). Rippy had two assisted tackles in the first scrimmage on March 21st, but did not record any statistics in the second scrimmage on the 28th.

Defensive Backs

Over the past few seasons, the cornerback position at the University of Colorado has moved from a liability to a strength. All of those players who were thrown into the fray as true freshmen (of the six players who have been on the field for most plays as a true freshmen in CU history, four of them are defensive backs from the past three seasons) are now mature, experienced players. Greg Henderson and Kenneth Crawley (who missed the first half of spring practices with a fractured finger) are established starters, with Chidobe Awuzie the latest true freshman to see extensive playing time last season.

With many of the cornerbacks established, many eyes have been focused upon Ankello Witherspoon, the sophomore transfer from Sacramento City Community College. Witherspoon, who has four years to play three, has had four tackles and two passes broken up in the first two scrimmages. It will be interesting to see, with Crawley back for the second set of practices, how well Witherspoon stands up against the regular starters.

At the safety positions, the Buffs are in search of a player to compliment returning starter Jared Bell. Senior Terrel Smith was the likely choice to replace Parker Orms, but he has yet to take the field this spring. Smith had to sit out last season after suffering a shoulder injury which required surgery. Primed to return to the lineup (he has 19 career starts), Smith missed the first half of the spring with an ankle injury.

With Smith still out, sophomore Tedric Thompson has been making the most of his opportunity. Thompson has recorded five tackles in the first two scrimmages, and has posted the only interception by the defense so far this spring.

“We’re so much further ahead than we were a year ago, but we’ve got a long way to go,” said CU defensive coordinator Kent Baer. “It’s glaring with some things.

“The good news is the kids understand how fast we practice and what we expect and the amount of reps we get,” Baer said. “So it’s not like we come out and it’s all new to them. Last year it was all new, even through 15 practices, it was pretty new.”

Special Teams

Colorado has been nothing if not consistent with its place-kicking and punting the past three seasons. Seniors Will Oliver and Darragh O’Neill have been competent, if not exceptional, as three year starters as their positions.

Darragh O’Neill has no competition as the starting punter, but Will Oliver is being pushed by transfer Diego Gonzalez. A transfer originally from Guadalupe, Mexico, Gonzalez impressed coaches and teammates last fall during practices, and will have his chance to take the field for the first time this fall. Buff fans are still waiting to see what Gonzalez can do, however, as Gonzalez has only attempted extra points so far in the two scrimmages (walk-on red-shirt freshman Chris Graham has made the only two field goals of the spring).

The return game will see more work in the second half of the spring, and that will be a welcome sight. There were no punts or kickoff returns in the first scrimmage, and no punt returns in the second scrimmage. There were, however, three kickoff returns in the second scrimmage, with promising results – Lee Walker had a 40-yard return, while Devin Ross had two, going for 35 and 24 yards. Promising numbers for a team which has lacked a spark in the return game for what seems like many years.

Then again, these numbers could also mean that CU needs a great deal of work in the coverage units …

And that’s the tough part about spring practices.

Does a long touchdown pass mean that the Buffs have found a new receiver, or that there was a blown coverage in the secondary? Does a fumble mean that the defense is doing well in causing turnovers, or that the running back has issues hanging onto the ball?

We’ll find out for certain on August 30th, when the Buffs open the season against Colorado State …


One Reply to “2nd Half Checklist – Defense”

  1. The part about Kafovalu and Solis is like WTF moment.The guys should be keeping up with studies but don’t we have tudors helping and a person that watches the academic standards and progress of out athletes. For the money the University spends on these people I would think they would watched all of the time.

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