Spring Practices … First Look: Coaches (Defense)

Program Note … Spring practices will begin February 23rd (Spring “Showcase”: Saturday, March 17th, 1:00 p.m., Pac-12 Networks). Leading up to spring ball, previews have been posted for each unit of the 2018 Colorado roster.

Previously posted: QuarterbacksWide ReceiversTight Ends/FullbacksRunning Backs … Offensive LineDefensive LineLinebackersDefensive Backs

… Previously posted: Spring Practices … First Look: Coaches (Offense)

Coaching Staff

Coaches no longer with the team …

— Brian Lindgren … Co-offensive coordinator in 2016-17 … Quarterbacks coach since 2013

— Jim Jeffcoat … Assistant coach, defensive line coach since 2013


Coaching Staff, 2018 season … 

— Mike MacIntyre, head coach

— Darrin Chiaverini, Co-offensive coordinator / wide receivers coach / recruiting coordinator

— Klayton Adams, Co-offensive coordinator / offensive line coach


— Kurt Roper, assistant coach, quarterbacks

— Darian Hagan, assistant coach, running backs

— Gary Bernardi, assistant coach, tight ends and H-backs

— D.J. Eliot, Defensive coordinator / outside linebackers coach

— ShaDon Brown, defensive passing game coordinator / secondary coach

— Ross Els, assistant coach, inside linebackers / special teams coordinator

— Kwahn Drake, assistant coach, defensive line

— Ashley Ambrose, assistant coach, cornerbacks

— Drew Wilson, Director of Football Strength and Conditioning


2017 Statistics … Defense

— Rushing defense … 208.0 yards per game … 108th nationally

— Passing defense … 242.6 yards per game … 94th nationally

— Total defense … 450.6 yards per game … 109th nationally

— Scoring defense … 28.2 points per game … 74th nationally

— Third Down conversion defense … .422 … 93rd nationally

— First Downs … 279 … 95th nationally

— Sacks per game … 1.58 per game … 102nd nationally

— Turnovers Lost … 14 … 105th nationally

Spring coaching – Defense

— D.J. Eliot – Defensive coordinator / outside linebackers coach

The numbers are brutal.

In Eliot’s first season as defensive coordinator, CU’s defense took a significant step backwards:

Total defense, 2016: 342.5 yards per game (19th nationally) … 2017: 450.6 yards per game (109th nationally)

Scoring defense, 2016: 21.7 points per game (20th nationally) … 2017: 28.2 points per game (74th nationally)

The Buffs surrendered over 100 more yards per game, and another touchdown per game, more than what they had allowed just the season before.

Now, most Buff fans understood that there were eight senior starters on that 2016 team, and three-quarters of the secondary was drafted by the NFL. Still, there was at least the hope that the 2107 team would be competitive.

The hand Eliot has been dealt for the 2018 spring practices appears – at least on paper – to be a better opportunity for success:

— The defensive line this spring will be augmented by junior college transfer Mustafa Johnson, who will vie for immediate playing time;

— Junior college transfer Davion Taylor will be the focus for many Buff fans this spring, brought in specifically to take over the Buff linebacker position (Another junior college linebacker – Alex Tchangam – signed to augment the pass rush, will also be wearing black-and-gold for the first time this spring); and

— The secondary will welcome two junior college transfers who are potential starters this fall, in Delrick Abrams and Aaron Maddox (though Maddox will miss the spring after shoulder surgery last month).

Eliot will also welcome two new assistants, defensive line coach Kwahn Drake and cornerbacks coach Ashley Ambrose.

The potential is there for the Buff defense to improve significantly in 2018. Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot is now into the second year of his three year contract.

He got a pass last year … he won’t this fall

ShaDon Brown – Defensive passing game coordinator / secondary coach

Somewhat lost in the shuffle in the hiring of the two new defensive coaches was the promotion of last year’s secondary coach, ShaDon Brown, to the position of defensive passing game coordinator.

In 2017, Brown coached the secondary (with head coach Mike MacIntyre, himself a former defensive backs coach, assisting). This fall, Brown continues with the title of secondary coach, but has Ashley Ambrose on board to coach the cornerbacks. Brown will continue as the secondary coach, but has also assumed the mantle of defensive passing game coordinator.

How will the coaches handle their new respective titles?

“I’m excited about it and the good thing is working with D.J. Eliot, who is a defensive coordinator who gives his assistant coaches an opportunity to have input in the game plan,” Brown said of adding the title of defensive passing game coordinator. “It will be a good working relationship in that facet. I’m just excited to continue to build on what we started and I think the future is bright with the talent we will be working with in 2018.”

Certainly sounds good …

Ross Els – Assistant coach, inside linebackers / special teams coordinator

Of all of the Colorado assistant coaches, Ross Els has perhaps the most continuity from the 2017 season. Els coaches the inside linebackers, and both of CU’s inside linebackers – Drew Lewis and Rick Gamboa – return.

Oh, and Lewis and Gamboa led the teams in tackles last season, with Lewis posting 119; Gamboa 117. Last season marked the first time that a CU linebacker tandem each posted over 100 tackles in a season since 1994, when Ted Johnson and Matt Russell both posted (before going on to successful NFL careers).

Not that the pair of Lewis and Gamboa can be satisfied. With the stats the defense posted last season, there certainly remains room for improvement.

“Drew is a great athlete and has the ability to make a lot of plays but was relatively inexperienced,” defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. “He made some mistakes that I don’t think he’ll make again. He has the ability to be a really good player. Now that he’s played one full year as a starter, I expect him to make huge strides next year.”

“I learned what I was capable of doing,” Lewis said. “I didn’t know what to expect as far as what my stats would look like after the season. I’m pretty impressed with how I did, but I think I can do better. I feel like I learned a lot, just being able to push myself and do what my predecessors were able to do.”

It will be up to Els to develop Gamboa and Lewis … while keeping an eye on CU’s special teams, which remain without a designated assistant coach of their own.

Kwahn Drake – Assistant coach, defensive line

Of the three new CU assistant coaches, the hiring of Kwahn Drake is the greatest unknown.

He could prove to be a shrewd hire … or he could prove that he is in over his head at the Power-Five conference level.

Drake comes to CU after one season coaching the defensive line at Eastern Illinois. Prior to EIU, Drake was an offensive analyst at Memphis in 2016, and was at Tulane for four seasons. He was a defensive graduate assistant for two years before coaching the Green Wave defensive line in 2014-15.

You need to break out your old Rand-McNally road maps to figure out where Drake has been since graduating from Nicholls State in 2009 … his previous stops are not exactly household names in the world of college football.

Yet Mike MacIntyre is pleased with the hire.

“Kwahn is dynamic young coach that came highly recommended by many different individuals from both the NFL and college,” MacIntyre said. “I’m really excited about Kwahn’s ability to teach and coach, and the energy he is going to bring to the table for us. I know our defensive linemen are going to be really excited about having Kwahn coach them, and I too am excited about having Kwahn join our staff.”

Drake hasn’t had much time to get to know his new charges, but spring practices are underway, and the Colorado defensive line is often cited as being the weakest link on the team.

“We’re always going to strive to do the best that we can and always try to get better,” Drake said. “Each year we want to make strides, but continue to develop our guys athletically, socially and academically.”

Fingers crossed.

Ashley Ambrose – Assistant coach, cornerbacks

The other new assistant coach on the defensive side of the ball is familiar with Colorado football, if not the Champions Center.

Ashley Ambrose was with the Dan Hawkins coaching staff from 2008-10, coaching the defensive backs (including NFL draftees Jimmy Smith and Jalil Brown) in 2010. After leaving Colorado, Ambrose coached the secondary at California for two seasons (2011-12) and then spent the 2013 season as an intern with the New Orleans Saints. He coached cornerbacks at Idaho in 2014 and at Texas State in 2015 before going to Boise State in 2016 …

… while never giving up his house in Golden.

“The staff seemed very energetic, great guys to work with,” said Ambrose when he was hired. “I got a chance to talk to those guys and I’m looking forward to working with them. I’m excited about the young corners that they have there and to work with them to try to help them become better football players and young men.”

Ambrose has more talent to work with than does his fellow new assistant, Kwahn Drake, and has more experience at coaching at this level. His transition back to Boulder should be smooth, and Buff fans will be looking for some immediate results in 2018.



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