Fall Camp Primer – Defense

Dates to Remember:

– August 4th (Tuesday) … Players report for Fall Camp

– August 5th … First practice

– August 8th … First practice in full gear (tentative)

– August 24th … First day of classes

– September 3rd … Colorado at Hawai’i, 11:00 p.m., MT, CBS Networks

Most, if not all, of the Fall Camp practices will be closed to the public. As a result, there will be much speculation – and little hard data – as to the status of the team as the season opener approaches. Buff fans this August will be left to read the tea leaves from the post-scrimmage comments from the players and coaches as they try and discern how well the team will play come September 3rd.

But that won’t stop us from at least asking the questions … and arguing over the answers.

Previous post … Fall Camp Primer – Offense

Questions to be answered this fall … Defense

Defensive Line … Quantity? Check. Quality? To be determined …

Remember the bad old days? Those days when Colorado had so few defensive linemen on the roster that the Buffs couldn’t conduct a full scrimmage in practice or conduct a normal Spring Game?

Okay, so the bad old days weren’t really bad old days – they weren’t all that long ago – they were just the bad days.

Now, there is no doubting the depth of the roster, as Colorado has no fewer than 23 defensive linemen on the roster (check out the roll call here). Colorado will have no difficulty this fall being able to rotate in fresh bodies to try and keep up with the fast-paced offenses of the Pac-12.

The question is whether the Buffs will be able to stop anybody.

Defensive line coach Jim Jeffcoat has plenty of experienced linemen to work with, starting with two returning starters at defensive end – junior Jimmie Gilbert and sophomore Derek McCartney. Two other starters return, though from 2013. Samson Kafovalu returns from a leave of absence, while Tyler Henington returns after missing all of 2014 with a myriad of injuries.

Add to the mix two ready-to-plug-into-the-lineup junior college transfers, Jordan Carrell and Leo Jackson, and a number of players with playing experience – Justin Solis, Clay Norgard, Eddy Lopez, De’Jon Wilson amongst them – and you have an embarrassment of riches.



Well, many of those players named above were on the team last year, when Colorado was last in the Pac-12 – and 102nd in the nation – in rush defense, giving up 204.8 yards per game on the ground (Arizona, which was 11th in the conference, gave up 35 yards fewer per game, and was ranked 68th in the nation in rush defense).

In another measure of the effectiveness of a defensive line, sacks, Colorado was 86th in the nation, with 22 (the Pac-12 had three teams in the top five nationally, including Utah at No. 1 with 55, and Washington at No. 2 with 52 … that’s a pretty significant gap).

Much has been made of the loss of Josh Tupou, who started every game last year, and was looking for a breakout campaign this fall.  New defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, though, isn’t spending anytime worrying about Topou’s suspension. “He hasn’t done anything for me,” Leavitt told the Daily Camera after the suspension. “He hasn’t played one snap, so I don’t really know. So, am I really losing much? Not anything I’ve really worked with.”

Heading into his first Fall Camp with the Buffs, Leavitt doesn’t even know what lineup he will utilize. “Fall camp, when you’ve been around a program and been there, you at least have a little more of an idea of direction,” Leavitt said. “Most of the time, you go into the fall camp, you’re looking at maybe one (hole to fill) … or you have a pretty good idea of your second team. We don’t know our first team yet.”

In fact, the Buffs don’t even really know whether they’ll spend most of their time in a 4-3 alignment or a 3-4. That will be determined, according to Leavitt, by how well the players perform in fall and which positions prove to have the most game-ready players.

“You have to have that (depth),” Leavitt said. “We’re trying to create it right now and that has a lot do with what we decide to do, how we load it up, how we do it. Where I can find some depth and create as much as I can. It’s not an easy process. It’s a lot of work.”

That work shifts into high gear on August 4th …

Is 2015 the Year of the Gillam?

When the 2013 season started, few had ever heard of Addison Gillam. A San Jose State commit from the Class of 2013, Gillam switched to Colorado in order to follow Mike MacIntyre to the Rockies. Lightly recruited, the first player to commit to the Buffs in the MacIntyre era was an add-on in a transition recruiting Class.

By the end of the 2013 season, however, Gillam was a household name in the Buff Nation.

In earning unanimous freshman All-American honors, Gillam became the first freshman in school history to lead the team in tackles, setting seven school records along the way.

When the 2014 season opened, even more was expected of Gillam. Selected as a team captain though only a sophomore, Gillam did not match his 2013 production. He suffered through a season of injuries and illness, yet still was second on the team in tackles, with 79.

Gillam is reported to be healthy and bigger (up to 225 pounds), and poised to show that the 2013 season was not a fluke.

Whether he can will go a long way in determining CU’s success this fall.

An equal amount of pressure will be placed upon Gillam’s running mate, Kenneth Olugbode. The junior led the team in tackles last fall, with 83, and is being counted upon to help generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks, as well as keep opposing running backs in check.

Behind Gillam and Olugbode, Jim Leavitt, who doubles as CU’s linebackers coach, has little depth with which to work. Some of that has to do with the configuration of the defensive roster (former quarterback Jaleel Awini, for example, is listed as a defensive end/linebacker), some of it has to do with the nature of spread offenses, which forces defenses to play five or six defensive backs on every play …

… and some of it has to do with a lack of depth.

Behind Gillam on the depth chart at the Mike (inside) position are three underclassmen (Rick Gamboa, Christian Shaver, and Grant Watanabe). Behind Olugbode on the depth chart at the Will (inside) position is junior transfer Travis Talianko, who only played on special teams last fall. And behind CU’s other starting linebacker, (to date) under-achieving Deaysean Rippy, on the depth chart at the Sam (outside) position, is senior walk-on Hunter Shaw.

Perhaps one of those names will become a household name in the Buff Nation by the end of the 2015 season.

Who will finally post an interception for the Buffs?

There were 125 teams which played FBS football in 2014. Only one team, Buffalo (which only played 11 games due to a snow-out) had fewer interceptions than Colorado. The Buffalo Bulls posted two interceptions last fall; the Colorado Buffs had three.

To make the stat all the more embarrassing, one player – Tedric Thompson – had all three interceptions … and collected all three in the first five games of the season.

So yes, Colorado will enter the 2015 season on an seven-game streak without a single interception.

And it’s not as if the Buff secondary was knocking down a bunch of passes.

Colorado was 100th in the nation in passing defense last season, which contributed to the Buffs being 111th in total defense … which inevitably led to the Buffs being 116th in the nation in scoring defense, giving up 39.0 points per game.

There are experienced players back there, with only Greg Henderson missing from last year’s lineup. Kenneth Crawley returns at one cornerback, with Tedric Thompson and John Walker back at the safety positions. The ever present Chidobe Awuzie is also back, listed as the No. 1 nickel back … which means he will be on the field for almost every play.

The Buffs also get a bonus returnee. Safety Jered Bell – who had three interceptions of his own in 2013 – is back for a sixth season. The NCAA granted Bell a sixth season of eligibility, so Bell will add experienced depth … and a player who knows how to hold onto a football thrown in his direction … to the Colorado secondary.

We’ll give new defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt the last word.

“They’re unbelievable guys,” Leavitt told the Daily Camera. “They really do want to win. They’ve just been beat up here for so long and the defense has been so bad for so long that I’ve been impressed with how bad they want to win and want to do well.

“We’re not as talented as what you would like. However, when I went to Kansas State, we had the No. 1 defense in the nation and not one of those guys got drafted. There’s a lot more to it. We do have guys that play hard and want to do well. I’m encouraged.”

… “We’re not going to be the best defense in the country this fall,” Leavitt said, “but hopefully we stop the bleeding and hopefully we can move to a better direction where guys feel some confidence, because I don’t think they’ve felt a lot of confidence around here. It’s been a while. A long while.”

Yes, it has.





One Reply to “Fall Camp Primer – Defense”

  1. Really surprised there was no mention of Evan White (currently #1 on depth chart and even Afolabi Laguda is listed ahead of Bell) nor Akhello Witherspoon, who are both great candidates to get that elusive non-TT INT. Also, I think John Walker is listed and always has been listed as a CB.

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