Rating the Colorado Roster – Defensive Backs

Note … This is the seventh in a series of weekly unit reviews for the Colorado roster, getting us ready for the start of Fall Camp on August 4th.

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


Colorado Defensive Back Roster

Players lost: Greg Henderson; Terrel Smith; Brandon Brisco; Richard Yates

Seniors: Kenneth Crawley; Marques Mosley; Jered Bell

Juniors: John Walker; Tedric Thompson; Chidobe Awuzie; Ahkello Witherspoon; Yuri Wright

Sophomores: Evan White; Afolabi Laguda; Ryan Moeller; Andrew Bergner; Cameron Beemster

Redshirt-freshmen: Jaisen Sanchez

Coming this fall: Nick Fisher; Isaiah Oliver

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

2014 Statistics for returning players

– Chidobe Awuzie … 608 plays … 64 tackles (57 unassisted) … 11 third-down stops (team leader)

– Tedric Thompson … 474 plays … 59 tackles (45 unassisted) … three interceptions (only three interceptions on the team)

– Kenneth Crawley … 810 plays … 47 tackles (41 unassisted) … 13 pass broken up (second on team to Greg Henderson’s 14)

– Evan White … 232 plays … 31 tackles (24 unassisted) … two third-down stops

– John Walker … 438 plays … 28 tackles (19 unassisted) … three third-down stops … five passes broken up

– Ryan Moeller … 148 plays … 21 tackles (18 unassisted)

– Ahkello Witherspoon … 144 plays … 12 tackles (ten unassisted)

– Marques Mosley … 22 plays … four tackles (three unassisted)


Spring/Summer news

The first priority for the defensive backfield this spring was to find a replacement for Greg Henderson at cornerback. Henderson finished his career at Colorado with a team-high 44 career starts, including 25 consecutive. In 2011, Henderson crushed the school record for plays by a defensive true freshman (823 plays … the previous record was 597, set by Jordon Dizon in 2004), and never looked back.

Candidates to replace Henderson included John Walker, who had seven starts at nickel back last season, and three fellow juniors, Yuri Wright, Chidobe Awuzie and Ahkello Witherspoon.

Wright came to Colorado as one of the most decorated members of the Recruiting Class of 2012. Wright played in eight games as a true freshman, starting six, and though Wright earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors from the coaches, the difficult season seemed to play a role in Wright’s play. Wright red-shirted the 2013 season, and played only sparingly (four games, mostly on special teams) last season.

Ahkello Witherspoon, conversely, came on with a splash last spring. A transfer from Sacramento City College, Witherspoon was the defensive star of the 2014 Spring game, with three solo stops, four passes broken up, and an interception. That success did not transfer well to the fall, however, with Witherspoon picking up 12 tackles in the five games in which he saw action.

The player to come out of the atop the spring “pencil depth chart” as the second cornerback position – alongside returning starter Ken Crawley – was Chidobe Awuzie, followed by Witherspoon and Wright (John Walker was listed as the primary backup to Ken Crawley).

The safety positions are considered more stable, with four players with starting experience returning. Chidobe Awuzie (who is also listed as the top “nickel back” on the post-spring pencil depth chart) and Tedric Thompson started most of the games last fall at the safety positions, but neither was in the lineup at the end of the season due to injuries. Evan White had three starts as a substitute, and has experience at both the free and strong safety positions.

And let’s not forget about Jered Bell. In his three seasons on the field (2010, 2012, 2013), Bell was on the field for every game, and had 11 starts in 2013, finishing fourth on the team in tackles (67), and had as many interceptions (3) as the entire Colorado defense had in 2014 (all three by Tedric Thompson in the first five games of the season).


What others say about the Colorado defensive backs

Lindy’s … “The versatile Chidobe Awuzie anchors the Buffs’ last line of defense, switching between cornerback and nickel, depending on what package (3-4 or 4-4) Leavitt settles on. Surrounding the junior are veterans in senior corner Ken Crawley and junior strong safety Tedric Thompson, who had three interceptions last year”.

Athlon’s … “The secondary might be the deepest and most talented unit on the team, thanks in part to senior safety Jered Bell being awarded a sixth season of eligibility. Cornerback Ken Crawley will be starting for the fourth straight year. Ahkello Witherspoon, the other corner, is the least experienced member of the expected  starting lineup. He played one year at the junior college level and saw minimal playing time last season. Safety Tedric Thompson was the team’s leading tackler before getting hurt in November, and Chidobe Awuzie has played corner and safety. Safeties Evan White and Ryan Moeller and cornerbacks John Walker and Yuri Wright all have experience”.

The Sporting News … “The Buffs have used a 4-3 formation and a 3-4 but might go with the nickel most often. the versatile Chidobe Awuzie is key – he’s able to play nickel, safety or corner”.


The Bottom Line

The Colorado defensive backs will have the benefit of two full time coaches this season. Last year, head coach Mike MacIntyre helped with the secondary, but this year he is leaving it to returning cornerbacks coach Charles Clark and new safeties coach Jim Tumpkin to carry the load.

“He has great knowledge,” said MacIntyre said of Tumpkin. “He’s an excellent teacher and very fundamentally sound on what he’s doing. He understands secondary play and defensive front play. He’s very good with all phases of it. I’ve been impressed with his work ethic with the guys and his knowledge. I knew his knowledge was good. I see him in meetings and he can translate it to the players. He is very vocal with the secondary.”

Tumpkin, 44, oversaw a Central Michigan defense in 2014 that finished 29th in the nation, as the Chippewas posted a 7-6 record in allowing 355 yards per game.  He also coached the secondary at Central Michigan. His CMU teams over five years had a reputation for creating turnovers, effective pass rushes (eight different players had interceptions in 2012) and successful halftime adjustments.

In other words, Tumpkin brings to the table everything the Colorado secondary desperately needs.

Colorado will enter the 2015 season on a streak of seven games without an interception. Tedric Thompson had all three of CU’s picks last year, with the last one come in the California game way back in September. Only one team in the nation – Buffalo, with two – had fewer interceptions than did the Buffs last fall.

And then there are the numbers … in the past five seasons, in the category of pass defensive yards surrendered, the University of Colorado has ranked 110th, 97th, 97th, 102nd and 100th.

Mind numbing.

The Colorado coaches have plenty of returning talent to work with, and plenty of experienced depth.

We’ll see if they can turn the Buff defensive backfield into winners.


CU Defensive Back Roster Grade … B.

What’s not to like?

With the return of former starter Jered Bell, the Colorado secondary boasts no fewer than four starters with significant starting experience – Ken Crawley, Tedric Thompson, Chidobe Awuzie and Bell. The Buffs also have several players, such as John Walker, Ahkello Witherspoon and Yuri Wright, who have seen action. Then there are the up-and-coming players, like Ryan Moeller, Jaisen Sanchez and transfer Afolabi Laguda, who are positioned to make significant contributions.

But that’s not all.

Buff fans have to be invigorated by the hiring of its two new coaches, defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt and safeties coach Jim Tumpkin. Both coaches have reputations for making due with less, and for turning around defenses with poor reputations.

It all sounds great … until the rubber meets the road.

While the Colorado roster has plenty of players with experience, the experiences have mostly been negative. The Buffs have not been able to stop a passing game in what seems like a generation, and it’s tough to ignore that opposing quarterbacks hoisted 408 missiles into the air last fall, and only three of them came down in the hands of a CU defender.

That number will need to at least triple if CU is to triple its win total in 2015.


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