Defensive Backs

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— Seniors: Ryan Moeller (S); Afodabi Laguda (S); Andrew Bergner (CB)

— Juniors: Isaiah Oliver (CB); Nick Fisher (S); Jaisen Sanchez (S); Kyle Trego (S); Evan Worthington (S); Daniel Talley (S); Darrell Hubbard (S)

— Sophomores: Dante Wigley (CB); Anthony Julimisse (CB); Kevin George (CB); Lucas Cooper (CB)

— Red-shirt freshman: Ronnie Blackmon (CB); Trey Udoffia (CB); Uryan Hudson (CB); Chase Sanders (S)

— True freshman: Chris Miller (CB); Isaiah Lewis (S); Griffin Foulk (S)

— bold (returning starter) … italicized (walk-on) … CB (cornerback) … S (safety/Buff back)

… Note … In Colorado’s defensive alignment, there are often five defensive backs on the field. The nickel, or “Buff” back, are listed above as safeties.

By the Numbers (2016 statistics):

— Afodabi Laguda … 13 games … 13 starts … 792 plays (5th on the team) … 80 tackles (second on team) … six passes broken up … three third down stops

— Ryan Moeller … 13 games … 10 starts … 448 plays … 44 tackles … 4 tackles for loss … 2 passes broken up

— Isaiah Oliver … 13 games … 2 starts … 440 plays … 25 tackles … 13 passes broken up (fourth on team) … 7 third down stops

— Nick Fisher … 8 games … 107 plays … 10 tackles … 5 third down stops

— CU Secondary ranking (Athlon) … 6th in the Pac-12

Reasons to be excited:

Afodabi Laguda is set to post a strong senior season

Yes, Colorado had three defensive backs drafted into the NFL this past April … but the fourth starter is still around.

Chidobe Awuzie went in the second round to the Dallas Cowboys … Ahkello Witherspoon went in the third round to the San Francisco 49ers … and Tedric Thompson went in the fourth round to the Seattle Seahawks.

If the pundits are to be believed, the loss of such talent will devastate the Colorado defense, and crush the Buffs’ chances at repeating as the Pac-12 South division champions.

Don’t count returning starting safety Afodabi Laguda among those who see the CU secondary as a liability in 2017.

“I’ve been trying to study football a lot,” Laguda said of his off-season work. “I’ve been trying to learn about the ins and outs of the game. (Awuzie and Thompson) still reach out to me and I appreciate them for it.”

In 60 fewer plays than Chidobe Awuzie or Tedric Thompson last season, Laguda had more tackles than either of them, and more than any other Buff except Kenneth Olugbode. Laguda, a/k/a “Fo” to his teammates, has taken the leadership mantle from Awuzie and Thompson, and he is done so in a big way. Much like Phillip Lindsay, Laguda is a vocal leader. The work he is putting in makes it more likely than not that Laguda will join his former teammates in the NFL in 2018.

Laguda is far from alone in returning experience in the back line

Joining Laguda in CU’s last line of defense will be Nick Fisher, who already has a Pac-12 Defensive Player-of-the-Week award (against Washington State last November) on his resume. While Fisher has only one career start, he has 26 games of experience under his belt.

Ryan Moeller also returns with plenty of starts (19, truth be told) to his credit. Moeller has been CU’s nickel back, known in the Champions Center as the “Buff Backer.” This was the position created last fall after Derek McCartney was lost to a knee injury. CU’s defense needed a new approach to attacking the edge without its biggest linebacker, and Moeller was the answer. He got better and better in the role as the season went on. Moeller was also a first-team all-conference special teams player in 2016.

And remember Evan Worthington?

Okay … remember Evan White?

Worthington, who was formerly known as Evan White before electing to go by his legal name this off-season, was suspended for all of the 2016 season for violating team rules. In his first two seasons, Worthington played in 23 games with three starts.

— The cornerbacks will be just fine

CU had two senior starters at cornerback last fall. Chidobe Awuzie finished his CU career having played in 48 games, with 42 starts. Ahkello Witherspoon played in 37 games, with 21 starts.

That’s a great deal of experience.

And yet, the best may be yet to come.

Junior Isaiah Oliver has 27 games to his credit, with six starts.  Last fall Oliver was often targeted by opposing offenses as the supposed “weak link” of the secondary. All Oliver did was to match Chidobe Awuzie in pass break ups (13) and interceptions (1). As expected, Oliver thrived in his new role as the Buffaloes’ No. 1 cornerback this spring.

Sophomore Anthony Julmisse and red-shirt freshman Trey Udoffia are two candidates to start at the other cornerback position. Julmisse saw action last season as a true freshman and he created a turnover in each of his first two games. Udoffia redshirted in 2016 but showed well on scout team and put together a strong spring session.

Ronnie Blackmon is also in the mix after redshirting during his first fall on campus. At 5-foot-10, Blackmon is more built in the nickel back mold, but will see the field somewhere this fall. Another option is Dante Wigley. A 6-foot-1, 190-pound junior college transfer.

Plenty of speed at the cornerback position at Colorado.

Plenty of talent.

Plenty of options.

Reasons for concern:

— Colorado lost its senior leadership in the defensive backfield … and both position coaches

The University of Washington lost three quarters of its defensive backfield to the NFL, and is projected to be a top ten team after “reloading”.

The University of Colorado lost three quarters of its defensive backfield to the NFL, and is projected to slide back to mediocrity … or lower.

Such will be the case when you are struggling to overcome ten year’s worth of losing football.

The Buffs do have two senior starters – Laguda and Moeller – returning, but otherwise the Buffs are lacking when it comes to starting experience.

And it doesn’t help that the defensive backfield also has to adjust to new position coaches.

Out – with great controversy – is Joe Tumpkin, the safeties coach. Also gone is the cornerbacks coach Charles Clark, who bolted with defensive coordinator for the green (literally and figuratively) of Oregon.

In is ShaDon Brown, 37, who will be coaching both the safeties and cornerbacks.

Brown comes to CU after spending the 2016 season coaching the cornerbacks at Army and the five seasons before that at Wofford College.

Not exactly comparable to the resume of Tumpkin, who had been the defensive coordinator at Central Michigan.

Will Brown be able to get as much out of his charges as Tumpkin and Clark?

Will there be issues with new players taking the field under not only new position coaches, but a new defensive coordinator?

Time will tell …

Bottom Line … 

It’s rare for Colorado to have three members of the same unit drafted into the NFL in the same season.

Colorado lost Ahkello Witherspoon, Chidobe Awuzie, and Tedric Thompson this April, and a dropoff is to be expected.

However, the dropoff is not going to be as great as those with only a passing familiarity with the Buffs are predicting.

Afodabi Laguda will become a familiar name to the Buff Nation this fall.

Ryan Moeller will have another solid season.

Isaiah Oliver will become CU’s next “shut down” cornerback.

There is enough talent throughout the remainder of the roster to make the Buffs’ secondary a solid unit.

Will Colorado again rank in the top 20 nationally in pass defense and scoring defense? Perhaps not.

But the secondary is not in rebuilding mode … it’s reloading.



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