Easy to Say in May – Defense

The month of May is as close to an “off-season” as there is in college football. Spring practices are concluded, and the summer camps are still a month away. Other than sweating out spring grades for a handful of players, there is little for a football fan to do other than wait for the rush of preseason magazines.

There will be plenty of time for pessimism and concern as the September 1st opener against Colorado State approaches. For now, we’ll take a look at the Buffs through a pair of black-and-gold colored glasses …

… Previously posted … Easy to Say in May: Offense

— Defensive Line —

Easy to say in May … Javier Edwards is a beast.

That’s not a profound statement when you look at the measurables for CU’s new nose tackle … 6’3″, 370-pounds. By almost anyone’s standards, Edwards is a large human being.

But what sets Edwards apart – and what is most important from the perspective of the Buff Nation – is that Edwards is also a manimal when it comes to clogging up the middle of the line of scrimmage.

Colorado has lost all three of its defensive lineman from last season. Jordan Carrell was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys, while Josh Tupou (Cincinnati Bengals) and Samson Kafovalu (San Francisco 49ers) are getting looks by the NFL as well.

Good news for the program overall, but a potential problem spot for the 2017 Buffs.

Javier Edwards will be the key. If he can take away the middle of the line the way Josh Tupou did last year, the Buff defense has a good chance at being as successful as last season, when the CU defense was 19th in the nation in total defense.  Edwards demonstrated this spring that he can handle the position at the Power-Five conference level, and, if strength and conditioning coach Drew Wilson can keep Edwards’ weight down and stamina up, Edwards could be something special over the next two seasons.

The other two starting defensive line positions?

Leo Jackson, who played in 13 games last season as a backup to Samson Kafovalu, returns. Jackson, who started 10 of 12 games last season, is no stranger to the starting role, and will fill one defensive end role quite nicely.

The other starting position along the defensive line remains undetermined. Timothy Coleman, who was in for 174 snaps last season (ten tackles; one sack) is atop the depth chart coming out of the spring. Chris Mulumba, the well-traveled junior college transfer who came to CU by way of Finland and Diablo Valley College (California), could be a starter this fall if he has a good summer learning the nuances of the college game.

The Buffs are starting new players along the defensive line this fall.

But they are not starting from scratch.

— Linebackers —

Easy to say in May … The linebackers will not be a liability.

Okay, so that’s not a ringing endorsement when the idea behind the essay is to be optimistic.

The reality is, though, that the linebacker corps is, at best, a question mark. There are potential stars in the starting lineup, but there is also precious little depth.

Rick Gamboa, who started every game last season at the Mike (middle) linebacker position, returns. Gamboa was third on the team last year in tackles, with 79, and had an excellent spring. Gamboa was named as a captain by his teammates, and earned the Eddie Crowder Award (along with running back Phillip Lindsay), recognizing his outstanding leadership.

Drew Lewis appears to be the heir apparent at the other inside (Jack) position. Kenneth Olugbode occupied the position for the past few seasons, so there are significant shoes to fill. Lewis, a junior, knows the program, but played in only four games (46 plays) last season.

After Gamboa and Lewis on the inside there is … not much. The CU coaching staff was concerned enough about depth that they experimented with N.J. Falo on the inside … but Falo didn’t work out. This leaves the Buffs with a red-shirt freshman, Akil Jones, and a trio of incoming freshmen – Jon Van Diest, Nate Landman, and Carson Wells – to compete for playing time.

In short, if you want to bet your fellow Buff fans about a position where a true freshman will lose his red-shirt … go with inside linebacker.

On the outside, Buff fans are grateful for the return of Derek McCartney. Last seen returning a fumble for a touchdown in the Big House against Michigan, McCartney was lost for the season later that game to a knee injury, but will be back for his senior campaign. McCartney sat out the spring, but, if he makes a full recovery, the Buffs are in good shape at that position.

Otherwise, the Buffs are looking at some unproven options. Four juniors – N.J. Falo, Terran Hasselbach, Michael Mathewes and junior college transfer Shamar Hamilton – together with a slew of potential freshmen, will battle it out in August for the starting nod on September 1st.

The remaining linebacking position will likely remain … non-existent.

Though CU plays a 3-4 defense, more often than not last season, the Buffs lined up with a fifth defensive back (witness: after Derek McCartney went down last season, nickel back Ryan Moeller started nine of the final ten games).

So, the starting linebackers for 2017 will likely be Rick Gamboa, Drew Lewis, and Derek McCartney.

A good lineup … if they can stay healthy and productive.

— Defensive Backs —

Easy to say in May … There will be no drop off in the CU secondary.

Bold talk.

Colorado had three defensive backs taken in the NFL Draft, with Chidobe Awuzie, Ahkello Witherspoon and Tedric Thompson now drawing NFL paychecks.

It would be easy to say that there will be a significant drop off in production this season.

… But that ain’t necessarily so.

Let’s start with the returning starters. Free safety Afodabi Laguda started every game last season, and was second on the team in tackles, with 80. Only linebacker Kenneth Olugbode and the trio of drafted secondary comrades were on the field for more plays than Laguda (792) in the 2016 season.

Also returning is nickel back Ryan Moeller, who, as noted above, started nine of the last ten games last season after Derek McCartney went down.

One of the cornerback positions will be locked down by Isaiah Oliver. The junior started only two games in 2016, but Buff fans have reason to be excited about Oliver’s potential. Playing with Awuzie and Witherspoon, opponents saw Oliver as the weakest link in the secondary, but Oliver responded with 13 passes broken up and seven third down stops.

How good is Oliver? On NFL draft boards, Oliver is often the highest-ranked Buff player, even though he is only a junior.

The remaining two secondary positions are not as solidified, but new defensive backs coach Shadon Brown has options.

At strong safety, the replacement will come from a long list of the returning juniors – Nick Fisher, Kyle Trego, Jaisen Sanchez and Evan White.

Meanwhile, the other cornerback position will from a long list of underclassmen – Anthony Julmisse, Dante Wigley, Ronnie Blackmon and Trey Udoffia.

All in all, a pretty talented roster of defensive backs. They have had a full year of watching NFL-caliber talent show them how it’s done.

Not to mention a full year of trying to guard NFL-caliber wide receiver talent in practice.

“I feel good about our football team and where we are headed”, said head coach Mike MacIntyre after the spring game in March. “We have a lot work to do between now and when the season starts but we are headed in the right direction.”

Will the Colorado defense again be ranked in the Top 20 in the nation in total defense?

Will the Buffs again be ranked in the Top 20 in the nation in scoring defense?

The loss of eight defensive starters suggests that the answers to those questions are, “No” and “No”.

But this is May.

In May, we take note of the quality players who are returning, many with starting experience.

In May, we take note of the quality junior college players who came to Boulder in January, who will plug in the most gaping holes.

In May, we take note that all of the new defensive coaches – defensive coordinator/linebackers coach D.J. Eliot, secondary coach Shadon Brown, and inside linebackers coach Ross Els – have experience in the defense CU has run under Mike MacIntyre.

It’s Easy to Say in May … The Buff defense may take a step back this fall – but it won’t be a full step back.



7 Replies to “Easy to Say in May – Defense”

  1. Recruiting.

    6 commits

    gonna take about 20

    86 offers out there

    Offered but not committed with at least medium interest

    Running backs……………7
    Wide receivers…………..18
    Defensive tackle…………6
    Defensive ends…………..4
    Inside linebackers……….2
    Outside linebackers………7


  2. I hope coach Eliot is working on an answer for Washington, You know Leavitt is. Not to mention USC.

  3. We can’t have it both ways. First Jim Leavitt was an extraordinary DC who did amazing things with the defense. Now, it’s he’s gone and some average DC has been hired, but it won’t matter and the defense won’t drop off. Both things can’t be right….

  4. Two things about this defense: One I was thinking all through the essay exactly what you wrote “They have had a full year of watching NFL-caliber talent show them how it’s done.” All programs lose good or great players every year, the difference is good programs reload with talent either recruited or developed and I’m hoping MacIntyre and staff can continue to build off of last year and these guys have learned from preparing and competing against players that went on to the NFL.

    Second, is we have been reading the O-line will be really good this year, if they are Lindsey Phillips should be as productive as last year, I believe if the line lives up to the hype he will do better. Steven Montez is expected to have a stronger arm then Sefo and will have talent to throw to, if he can keep the offense on the field longer, that will be a key to the defense staying fresh and limit opponent’s time with the ball; or run up the score like Oregon did for many years. Anyway a great offense can be a good defense too… if you know what I mean.

  5. Jim Leavitt’s shoes are a bigger gap than graduated players. I hope and pray the new DC makes me eat my words

    1. ep get out your salt pepper and in your cast the Southwest Seasoning. Sure, Leavitt is a big time coach that most likely will be a HC again. No one though is totally irreplaceable, and although familiarity breeds contempt, and maybe you don’t think too much of Mac as a defensive coach (he did coach in the pros and was highly thought of) the CU coaching staff is not exactly chopped liver.

      Leavitt had a major effect when he came to CU, but I still maintain that he was lucky in that he had some players to develop that were already starting to grow into being decent college football players. We hadn’t had that for many prior years. The quality of players that the current coaches have to work with now are a cut above what has occurred before, and there is continuity in the program as to schemes etc. so don’t always look at the glass of Bass Ale as being half empty, just because a coach left.

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