Rating the Colorado Roster – Defensive Line

Note … This is the fifth in a series of weekly unit reviews for the Colorado roster, which will lead us up to the start of Fall Camp on August 4th.

Previous posts: Quarterbacks, Running Backs, Wide Receivers and Tight Ends, Offensive Line

UPDATE … It’s been fortuitous that the Daily Camera has been focusing articles on the CU defensive line. First, there was an interview with incoming defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt. That story, “Jim Leavitt sees plenty of work to do before camp” can be found here.

There was also an interview and article about junior defensive end De’Jon Wilson. The full story, “De’Jon Wilson primed to make mark in new defense“, can be found here.

Now, there is an article centering on Justin Solis. “CU football: Buffs count on Justin Solis to raise game in defensive line” can be found here.

The opening … Standing on Folsom Field back in March in the moments immediately following the spring game, Colorado football coach Mike MacIntyre praised a few of his players for their performance throughout a month of work.

One of those players was senior Justin Solis, who, in the months since, has seen the biggest obstacle to a starting job at nose guard removed for disciplinary reasons.

Fellow senior Josh Tupou will not be on the team this fall. The school has not provided a reason why Tupou has been suspended but it has left open the possibility of him returning in 2016.

That leaves Solis suddenly in position to reap the benefits of more playing time in his final year in the program.

“Justin is a good football player who is going to have to step it up another notch,” MacIntyre said in a more recent interview. “I thought he did this spring and I think he can be a good nose guard for us. I have a lot of confidence in Justin being able to play that.”

MacIntyre noted that Solis has played a lot of football already in his career. So it won’t be like losing an experienced senior and transitioning to a raw freshman or lightly used sophomore or junior. Solis has 31 games and nearly 1,000 plays of college experience under his belt, including playing in all 12 games in each of the past two seasons.

Continue reading story here

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Colorado Defensive Line Roster

Defensive Tackles

Players lost: Juda Parker; Josh Tupou*

Seniors: Justin Solis; John Paul Tuso

Juniors: Clay Norgard; Tyler Henington; Jordan Carrell (JC)

Sophomores: Eddy Lopez

Redshirt-freshmen: Jase Franke

Coming this fall: Brett Tonz; Lyle Tuiloma; Frank Umu

bold = starter in 2014; italics = non-scholarship player

*Tupou suspended for the 2015 season

Defensive Ends

Players lost: None

Seniors: None

Juniors: Jimmie Gilbert; Samson Kafovalu; ; De’Jon Wilson; Blake Robbins (JC); Aaron Howard

Sophomores: Derek McCartney; Timothy Coleman; Leo Jackson (JC); Christian Shaver (also a linebacker); Garrett Gregory

Redshirt-freshmen: Terran Hasselbach; Michael Mathewes

Coming this fall: None (Sam Bennion, on a Mormon mission, is expected to enroll in January, 2016)

bold = starter in 2014; italics = non-scholarship player

 

2014 Statistics for returning players

– Josh Tupou* … 642 plays … 42 tackles (26 unassisted) … three sacks … one tackle-for-loss … five QB pressures

— Jimmie Gilbert … 485 plays … 38 tackles (22 unassisted) … two-and-a-half sacks … four tackles-for-loss … 11 QB pressures

— Derek McCartney … 457 plays … 34 tackles (23 unassisted) … four-and-a-half sacks … one tackle-for-loss … six QB pressures

— Justin Solis … 355 plays … 33 tackles (15 unassisted) … one sack … no tackles-for-loss … two QB pressures

— Christian Shaver … 262 plays … 18 tackles … no sacks … one tackle-for-loss … two QB pressures

— Eddy Lopez … 123 plays … ten tackles

— Timothy Coleman … 150 plays … nine tackles … two sacks … one QB pressure

— De’Jon Wilson … 139 plays … seven tackles … two QB pressures

— Clay Norgard … 59 plays … three tackles … one sack … one QB pressure

*Tupou suspended for the 2015 season

 

Spring/Summer news

News about the defensive line this spring … hmm, that’s a head scratcher.

Oh, there was this: Josh Tupou, CU’s best returning defensive lineman, and one of the few Buffs not named Nelson Spruce to be mentioned as a potential All-Pac-12 candidate this spring, will not be in uniform this fall.

There is no official explanation from the athletic department for the suspension. “Josh will not be a member of the team this fall,” CU associate athletic director/media relations Dave Plati has been quoted as saying. “Due to student privacy laws, we are not permitted to go into specifics as to why.”

However, it doesn’t take a great deal of speculation to connect the dots. In March, Tupou was arrested for his participation in a house party fight which occurred in February. In April, those charges were dropped by the Boulder County District Attorney. Despite being cleared of criminal charges, Tupou was nonetheless – reportedly – suspended through the school’s internal judicial process.

“Any time you lose a defensive lineman who is experienced, a guy who is big and strong like that, does it hurt our group? Yeah, it does,” CU defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt told the Daily Camera. “But, I’ve been at this a long time. I’ve lost guys that have been really good. You move on.”

Tupou has a red-shirt season available to him, and could return for the 2016 season, but Tupou may have played his last downs in a Colorado uniform.

The 6-foot-3, 325-pounder from Buena Park, Calif., started all 24 games the past two seasons and made 31 starts in his three-year career. Last season, Tupou played 642 snaps, recording 42 tackles and three sacks. He earned All-Pac-12 honorable mention in 2014.

… And now he’s gone …

 

What others say about the Colorado defensive line

(Note: These preseason publications came out before the news of Tupou’s suspension became public)

Lindy’s … “First year coordinator Jim Leavitt has to fix a run defense that finished last in the conference … The Buffs yielded 204.8 yards rushing a game last season. Colorado does return three starters up front and adds junior college transfer Jordan Carrell to help fill the gaps”.

Athlon’s … “Nose tackle Josh Tupou, a three-year starter with NFL potential, will return to anchor CU’s defensive line … Samson Kafovalu took the 2014 season off for personal reasons, but has returned to bolster the interior. Defensive end Derek McCartney is coming off a strong redshirt freshman season. Junior college All-American Jordan Carrell, Blake Robbins and Leo Jackson join a group that includes returning players such as Jimmie Gilbert, Timothy Coleman, Eddy Lopez, Jase Franke, Michael Mathewes and others. CU needs drastic improvement from a defense that allowed 204.8 rushing yards per game and produced only 22 sacks last season. Fresh legs up front should help”.

The Sporting News … “The Buffs should be better defensively, with good experience returning on the line … The line entered the summer unsure about Josh Tupou … but the Buffs have help to fall back on if he’s not around. Justin Solis is almost a body double of Tupou who showed improvement in the spring”.

 

The Bottom Line

First, let’s not spend too much time debating which of the laundry list of defensive linemen on the CU roster are defensive tackles and which are defensive ends.

True enough, Derek McCartney started all 12 games last fall at left defensive end and Jimmie Gilbert started nine games last fall at right defensive end. The starting defensive tackles, without Tupou in the mix, will likely be senior Justin Solis and junior Samson Kafovalu.

That being said, the position titles and position names for most of the players on the CU roster are – and will remain – fluid.

And that may prove to be a very good thing.

There are so many defensive lineman (18-20 scholarship players, depending on how you wish to classify some dual-threats like linebacker Christian Shaver and fullback George Frazier) that it is hard to keep track of how many warm bodies the Buffs have to work with this fall.

Defensive line coach Jim Jeffcoat remains excited about his embarrassment of riches. “There is no question about it because now I can look out there and I feel that when we walk on the field, that is a Pac-12 defensive line,” Jeffcoat said during spring practices. “I really do feel that because of the size and athleticism. There is no excuses. We should be very good up front. I’ll tell them the same thing. I expect us to be very good up front.”

While the loss of Tupou will certainly hurt, there are a number of players returning, in addition to the two returning starters (McCartney and Gilbert) which have experience from last season. Included on that list are Justin Solis, Clay Norgard, Christian Shaver, Timothy Coleman and De’Jon Wilson.

With that many players returning, there would already be reason for an expectation of improved play.

But that’s just the beginning.

CU also has enough of players on the roster who didn’t play a single down last fall to make up an entirely new (and quality) defensive line:

Tyler Henington tore his ACL and MCL last August, and missed all of last season. Henington played in all 12 games (251 snaps) in 2013;

John Paul Tuso suffered a torn ACL last spring, but is recovered and a full-go this fall; and

– Don’t forget about CU’s red-shirt freshmen – Terran Hasselbach, Jase Franke and Michael Mathewes – who sat out last fall as true freshmen, learning the defense and hitting the weight room.

… But wait. There’s more …

Colorado also added three junior college players to the roster this January (and you know the old saying about junior college players: “We didn’t sign them to sit on the bench”):

– Junior Jordan Carrell – a Junior College All-American at American River College;

– Junior Blake Robbins – who impressed at Georgia Military Academy; and

– Sophomore Leo Jackson – who has actually been with the team since last summer, coming to Boulder from Foothill College in Georgia.

… And then … drum roll …

… there is the return of Samson Kafovalu.

An emerging star in 2013, Kafovalu missed spring practices due to academic issues last spring. Last summer, the Buff Nation was informed that Kafovalu would be leaving school for “personal reasons”, but was expected back in January.

There were skeptics as to whether that would actually happen.

But Kafovalu is back, all 6’4″, 270-pounds of him. Perhaps no other player will have more eyes upon him than Kafovalu, whom coach MacIntyre said would have been a starter along the defensive line last fall. “I’m just excited to have him back and he’s thankful for every day he has,” MacIntyre said this spring. “It’s excellent that he has two more years. He’s got a little bit bigger and stronger, too. So he didn’t just throw the time away as far as his physical ability and physical stature.”

Does Colorado now actually have too many players along the defensive line?

“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.”

While there isn’t much settled on the CU defense right now, Leavitt said he likes the tools he has to work with this fall.

“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.”

CU Defensive Line Roster Grade … C-. It would be nice to say that the addition of defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt will bring about instant improvement from the Colorado defensive line. It would be fair to say that, with the return of Samson Kafovalu and Tyler Henington, and the addition of Jordan Carrell and a host of young talent, Colorado’s defensive line should be much improved.

Woulda, coulda shoulda … It’s been that way for years at the University of Colorado.

The facts, however, are these:

– Colorado was 102nd in the nation in rushing defense last year, and 86th in sacks;

– The last three seasons, Colorado has been 100th or worse in rush defense (115th in 2012; 101st in 2013).

The Colorado coaching staff has certainly shored up the ranks of the defensive line, with a plethora of young talent. Whether this group of players, under the tutelage of defensive line coach Jim Jeffcoat and new defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, can make a significant dent on CU’s run of poor defensive line play, remains to be seen.

All that we know for certain is that, without Josh Tupou, a potential All-Pac-12 run stopper in the middle, the chances of dramatic improvement just got that much longer.

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2 Replies to “Rating the CU Roster – D-Line”

    1. Good catch. Reed left the program in May. Here was his tweet announcing that he was leaving the team:

      “I’ve decided, after lots of thought and conversation with my parents, that I will not play football for CU this season. I feel as if my mind and body just aren’t in the competitive state they should be in. I will finish my last two semesters out at CU, graduate next spring and hopefully go on to a Master’s program. … Love my teammates, coaches and everyone that has supported me and my football career. Go Buffs!”

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