CU Season Preview – Defensive Backs



Defensive Backs

Roster – Cornerbacks:

— Seniors: Chidobe Awuzie; Ahkello Witherspoon

— Juniors: Andrew Bergner

— Sophomores: Isaiah Oliver; Nick Fisher (also listed as a safety)

— Red-shirt freshmen: Lucas Cooper

— True freshmen: Ronnie Blackmon; Trey Udoffia

— bold (returning starter from 2015) … italicized (walk-on)

Roster – Safeties:

— Seniors: Tedric Thompson

— Juniors: Ryan Moeller; Afodabi Laguda (listed as No. 1 nickel back); Cameron Beemster

— Sophomores: Jaisen Sanchez (out for the season with a torn ACL); Nick Fisher (also listed at cornerback); Kyle Trego; Daniel Talley

— Red-shirt freshmen: none

— True freshmen: Akil Jones; Jacob Stoltenberg

— bold (returning starter from 2015) … italicized (walk-on)


Reasons to be excited:

— Two words: Chidobe Awuzie

Chidobe Awuzie is the only Buff to make multiple preseason watch lists this summer. To give you a rundown of the senior cornerback’s accolades, here is his Pac-12 Media Days profile:

A legitimate All-American candidate, as well as for postseason hardware such as the Jim Thorpe Award (one of 39 on the official preseason watch list for the top defensive back in the nation), as well as the two honors presented to the nation’s top defensive player (one of 88 on the list for the Bronko Nagurski Award and one of 90 in the hunt for the Chuck Bednarik Award). He is also listed as the No. 89 player overall in the Top 100 College Players by, the 19th-ranked defensive back and the No. 11 cornerback. He was a unanimous preseason second-team All-Pac-12 choice by the major preseason publications (Athlon Sports, Lindy’s College Football and Phil Steele’s College Football, with the latter ranking him as the No. 11 cornerback in the nation).

Despite not being a captain on the team, Awuzie understands his role as a leader. “We have our heels on the cliff right now and we can go forward or we can fall down,” Awuzie told ESPN. “We’re the first class that Coach [Mike MacIntyre] brought in so we have that mindset of whatever it takes.”

Awuzie has also been quoted as seeing a change in the culture of the team. Players are simultaneously more serious and working harder and having more fun. Of course, winning is the thing. All competitors know that. Awuzie sees the losing in the past not as a negative but as a powerful motivating force.

“We’re competitive. It’s made us real hungry. We don’t back down to nobody,” he said. “Losing, as bad as it’s been, it’s built a mindset that we don’t want to do this any more. We don’t want to lose any more. We want to do whatever it takes to win.”

NFL eyes will be upon Awuzie this fall, and the better he performs, the better CU’s chances at a bowl game.


The safeties are talented and experienced

While not receiving the preseason attention afforded Chidobe Awuzie, senior safety Tedric Thompson has been around as long as Awuzie. Thompson has earned the respect of his peers … and his coaches.

“When you really look at production, compared to anybody else in the secondary, he’s neck-and-neck there with (cornerback Chidobe Awuzie),” CU safeties coach Joe Tumpkin told the Daily Camera. “When you look at the interceptions, you look at the pass breakups, you look at the balls thrown at Tedric, he was very productive in that sense.”

Colorado was fourth in the Pac-12 in pass efficiency defense last year, and that was with the unit playing without starting free safety Ryan Moeller for the last six games of the season. The junior was leading the team in tackles before being lost to a moped accident, but is fully recovered and listed atop the depth chart heading into the fall.

The loss of Jaisen Sanchez to a torn ACL will hurt depth in the defensive backfield, but there are promising backups at the safety positions. Afolabi Laguda, listed as the No. 1 nickel back on the pre-fall depth chart, is listed as the backup to Ryan Moeller at free safety, while the versatile Nick Fisher is the primary backup to Tedric Thompson at strong safety.

And that’s before we start talking about transfer Kyle Trego.

A freshman qualifier, Trego manned the strong safety spot for Diablo Valley College in California last fall, and finished second on the team with 50 tackles to go along with half a sack, 10 tackles-for-loss, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery. Trego led the team with four interceptions and three blocked kicks.

As a prep at Liberty High School in Brentwood, California, Trego had a couple of offers to play college football, but he wanted to give himself a chance to play at the highest level possible, so he decided to head to Diablo Valley to give himself that opportunity.

“I wanted to prove myself at the next level so I could get bigger so DVC was my choice,” Trego noted. “A big reason was because of their high recruiting looks from Division One schools.”

Trego came to Colorado this spring, and will have four seasons to play three starting this fall.


Reasons for concern:

— Isaiah Oliver will become the focus for many opposing offensive coordinators

When Pac-12 offensive coordinators work on their game plans for Colorado, they will see an awards candidate at one corner, and two veteran safeties covering the back end of the Buff defense.

So, where to go with the passing attack?

The clear answer is to challenge sophomore cornerback Isaiah Oliver, the least experienced starter in the CU defensive backfield.

Last season, as a red-shirt freshman, Oliver started three games, including the final two against Washington State and Utah. In all, Oliver was on the field for 216 defensive snaps, contributing 19 tackles and five third down stops.

This is not to say that Oliver is not a talented athlete. Quite the contrary is true. Oliver competed for the Colorado track and field team this spring, participating in the decathlon. Despite not having a full spring to hone his skills, Oliver finished in the top ten in the decathlon at the Pac-12 track and field championships.

The issue is not whether Oliver is talented, it’s whether the sophomore will be ready to take on all of the attention opposing teams will put on him this fall.


— Depth – again – is an issue

As is true with many units on the Colorado football team, there is improved talent in the starting lineup. It has taken Mike MacIntyre three seasons and four recruiting classes to be able to put on the field players ready to compete at the Pac-12 level.

But the cupboard is not yet completely full.

Colorado had only four scholarship cornerbacks on the roster for spring practices, and that included part-time safety Nick Fisher.

Help is on the way, with two quality freshman – Ronnie Blackmon and Trey Udoffia – now on campus to supplement the roster (another freshman Ca’Ron Baham, decided not to report – he has a small child back in Louisiana, and wil seek a program closer to home). While there is good reason to be excited about the future of these new players, having a true freshman thrown into Pac-12 competition is not often a recipe for success.

The same lineup concerns hold true for the safety positions. There were only four scholarship players on the roster for the spring (once again, including that ever-present Nick Fisher). Afolabi Laguda is talented, and can step in should one of the starters go down, and Kyle Trego does have a full year of collegiate experience under his belt, but should the Buffs be forced to play Laguda and Trego as their starting safeties for a significant part of the season, it could another long fall in Boulder.


Bottom Line … It’s good to for the Buffs to be receiving some positive attention from the national media once again. In addition to the preseason praise given to Chidobe Awuzie, the CU defensive backfield is being rated as one of the best in the conference.

Pro Football Focus went so far as to rate the Colorado secondary as one of the top ten returning units in the Pac-12:

The Buffaloes struggled to a 4-9 finish last season, but their play in the secondary was among the best in the conference. It starts with cornerback Chidobe Awuzie, who ranks fourth in PFF grades among returning cornerbacks. He is excellent in all three facets of the game, ranking fifth in run-stop percentage and generating the most pressures (22) and sacks (4), to go along with his skills in coverage. Tedric Thompson was another standout. He toggled between free safety and the slot in 2015, ranking 23rd in run-stop percentage and holding up well in ccoverage, despite being targeted frequently. His yards per coverage snap allowed was ninth-lowest in the country. New starting corner Isaiah Oliver graded well in his limited action a year ago.

While pre-season hype is appreciated, it’s time for the Buffs to start collecting post-season honors as well. Colorado was 59th in the nation in passing yards allowed last season, and 56th in passing efficiency defense. A strong season from the returning starters, coupled with timely contributions from the newcomers, might be a formula which will help the Buff secondary move into the elite of college football.



2 Replies to “CU Preview – Defensive Backs”

  1. If this isn’t enough fodder to keep the Kool-Aid concentrated and flowing mightily, what will ?

    This is why Stuart’s efforts to keep the loyal Buff fans UTD and enthused can’t be equaled. (Take that DC). How the man does this day after day, week after week and season after season is beyond me. Good seeing some posts from you ep.

    Thanks Stuart.

  2. The koolaid says Leavitt’s D will improve more this year than it did last year. Put that together with any flash Chev can bring to the O and the Buffs will get one, maybe 2 signature wins this year and something much better than the corn flakes bowl at the season’s end.

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