Defensive Line

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— Seniors: Leo Jackson, III; Timothy Coleman; George Frazier

— Juniors: Jase Franke; Javier Edwards (JC); Chris Mulumba (JC); Eddy Lopez; N.J. Falo; Michael Mathewes

— Sophomores: Lyle Tuiloma; Frank Umu

— Red-shirt freshman: Terriek Roberts

— True freshman: Dante Sparaco; Jalen Sami; Terrance Lang; Nico Magri

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

By the Numbers (2016 statistics):

— Leo Jackson, III … 13 games … one start … 254 plays … 16 tackles

— Timothy Coleman … 12 games … 174 plays … 12 tackles

— Jase Franke … 12 games … 76 plays … 11 tackles

Frank Umu … two games … 18 plays … one tackle

— Michael Mathewes … two games … 15 plays … one tackle

— CU Defensive line ranking (Athlon) … 9th in the Pac-12

Reasons to be excited:

— The CU defensive line is not devoid of experience

Leo Jackson, III, has played in 26 games in his CU career, with 11 starts. With the departure of the three 2016 starters – Jordan Carrell, Josh Tupou, and Samson Kafovalu – Jackson at least brings some experience in the system to the unit. Jackson started ten games in 2015, and was on the field for 254 plays with one start last fall.

Javier Edwards and Chris Mulumba, meanwhile, have junior college experience. As a sophomore in 2015, Mulumba led Diablo Valley with 63 tackles, including nine for loss and four sacks in 10 games (Mulumba, who will turn 25 this fall, signed with Central Florida in 2016, but did not attend school, instead taking the year off to shore up his academics, signing with Colorado in December).

“I like rushing the quarterback and playing the run,” Mulumba said. “I think I can do both very well. Coach Jeffcoat told me that he wants me to be ready for passing situations to rush the quarterback, so I’m excited about that.”

The key player, though, may be Javier Edwards. rated him as the No. 46 junior college prospect in nation. He was a second-team All-Southwest Junior College Football Conference selection in 2016 as a sophomore and garnered honorable mention accolades his freshman season. In eight games for the Buccaneers, he recorded 24 tackles, two sacks and 3.5 tackles for losses.

Senior Timothy Coleman will also be called upon to be a leader up front. He’s on the smaller side (6-foot-3, 255 pounds), but often plays like he’s bigger because of his strength. Junior Jase Franke is the only other player with much experience, and he’ll fight for a starting job after being a backup the past two years.

— The future looks bright

The Buff Nation will soon get to know the name Dante Sparaco.

A true freshman, Sparaco enrolled in January, and could have an immediate impact on the roster. Sparaco played for three different high schools in his prep career; as a freshman and sophomore at Glenwood Springs High School, a junior at Cherry Creek High School and a senior for the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

In his senior season at IMG Academy, Sparaco he helped lead his team coached by Kevin Wright to a 12-0 record and a No. 2 national ranking by USA Today. A starting defensive end on the Ascenders undefeated team, he was a first team Blue-Grey All-American selection. As a senior he recorded 71 tackles, 11 for losses, six sacks, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, nine quarterback hurries and one pass breakup.

In addition to Sparaco, there are other underclassmen who will be given a chance to show they deserve playing time, including sophomores Lyle Tuiloma and Frank Umu, and red-shirt freshman Terriek Roberts.

Defensive line coach Jim Jeffcoat put it best: “We have talent; it’s just inexperienced”.

Reasons for concern:

Colorado was the 17th-ranked team at the end of 2016, and but is not in any preseason Top 25 rankings …

And one of the most often-cited reasons for not including the Buffs in the preseason Top 25 is the loss of their starting defensive line.

Josh Tupou, Samson Kafuvalu and Jordan Carrell are off pursuing professional careers, leaving Jim Jeffcoat to replace all three starters.

Even with three seniors along the line, Colorado ranked no better than 44th in the nation in rushing defense, giving up 148.9 rushing yards per game.

It should go without saying that Colorado will be facing some quality quarterbacks this fall, with four signal callers – USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Washington’s Jake Browning, and Washington State’s Luke Falk – all being mentioned as potential first round NFL draft picks.

But there are also a number of quality running backs returning to the conference this year. Myles Gaskin at Washington has rushed for over 1,300 yards in each of the last two seasons … Ronald Jones at USC is another 1,000-yard rusher who will be back this fall.

And then there is Ryan Nall of Oregon State. Nall is 6’3″, 235-pounds, and was originally recruited as a linebacker. When last seen, Nall was running around, over and through the Oregon defense for 155 yards and four touchdowns in a 34-24 Civil War victory for the Beavers.

CU won’t play Oregon State until Game seven (October 14th in Corvallis), but will get to see Nall in action August 26th when the Beavers play Colorado State.

It will be interesting to see how well the Rams are able to contain Nall, who was able to rush for only 35 yards on nine carries in CU’s 47-6 rout of Oregon State last fall.

Can Javier Edwards do the heavy lifting for the CU defense? 

Can Javier Edwards fill Josh Tupou’s shoes?

Last year’s senior nose tackle, Josh Tupou, checked in at 6’3″, 325-pounds.

This year’s junior nose tackle, Javier Edwards, checks in at 6’3″, 350-pounds.

So, at least on paper, Edwards can fill the role Tupou played.

As Edwards goes, so may go the Colorado defense. In 2016, Josh Tupou was the space-eating, run-clogging nose tackle which allowed his teammates to make plays. Edwards certainly has the size to take up space in the middle of the line … but can he make the plays?

Tupou was only ninth on the team in tackles last season (with 48), and had only 1 1/2 sacks, but making the plays wasn’t his primary role. Tupou was best at occupying two offensive linemen, making it easier for his teammates to make stops on defense.

Can the 350-pound Edwards be as successful?

Strength and conditioning coach Drew Wilson was reportedly impressed with Edwards’ work this spring, which is a good sign, as Edwards appeared to be easily winded during the Spring game (Buff fans only chance to date to see him in action).

“I didn’t do anything over the winter break and I came in at 385, and now I’m at 363,” Edwards told the Daily Camera this spring. “I have to get down to 345 and I’ll be good.”

With his size, Edwards didn’t have to do much to win one-on-one battles on the field in the past.

“Even in JUCO, I was always bigger, stronger and faster than everyone,” he said. “Now at this level, people are more technical.

“I see now that I really have to work my technique to beat people.”

How well Edwards progresses will play a significant role in CU’s win column in 2017.

Bottom Line:

Colorado lost its entire starting defensive line to graduation, and does not have players with significant playing experience in line to take their place.

If we were analyzing any other Pac-12 team with that sentence, we would label the unit a “weakness”.

It is what it is.

Still, the Buffs do have some talented players on the roster, and have brought in some junior college help.

Plus, only one defensive coach from last year’s staff remains, defensive line coach Jim Jeffcoat. Not much in the way of continuity, but at least the returning lineman don’t have to re-introduce themselves to their position coach.

If CU fails to make a bowl game in 2017, much will be made of the departure of defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt.

In truth, if CU does fail to make a bowl game in 2017, a likely culprit will be the Buff defensive line …



3 Replies to “Season Preview – D-Line”

  1. I gotta agree with the other two posts, the JC transfers are sounding like they are doing well and a judo champ on the line could do very well and should be fun to watch if he develops to his potential. The returnees practicing against a solid O-line and having worked with/behind the three that are on (or trying to get there) to the NFL, this line isn’t the rebuild from scratch that some think it is; but rather a program continuing to develop their players with a little supplementing from the JCs. A lot of successful programs do it with a JC transfer or two, Utah seems to have JC linemen or two on both sides of the ball and they have been a 9-10 win team as of late.

  2. AS with the “inexperienced” but talented DBs, the DL gets to work against a big, solid, experienced bunch (OLs) every day during practice. So, I’m not worried about “game experience”.

    They only play 12 games, but practice for a solid month against their own guys and 3-4 times a week during the season. Finally, the Buffs have the quality of OL to regularly challenge the DL. As I’ve said before “Iron sharpens iron”.

  3. sounds like Sparaco was the standout on a standout team of all stars. Dont wanna jinx him but I have great expectations….also for Malumba who is a judo champ. That is a rough sport that takes a ton of body control…and control of your opponents body

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