Spring Practices Analysis – Defensive Backs

While information on CU spring football was limited (three practices open to the public, including the “Spring Showcase”, there have been notes and quotes aplenty. Grades have been assigned based upon the following measurements: C+ … Confident; C … Cautiously optimistic; or C- … Concerned.

 

Previously postedQuarterbacksRunning backsWide Receivers and Tight EndsOffensive LineDefensive LineLinebackers

My gradesQuarterbacks: C … Cautiously optimistic … Running backs: C- … Concerned … Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: C+ … Confident … Offensive Line: C- … Concerned … Defensive Line: C- … Concerned … Defensive Backs: C … Cautiously optimistic …

Your Grades (from polls) … Quarterbacks: C … Cautiously optimistic (60%) … Running backs: C … Cautiously optimistic (64%) … Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: C+ … Confident (53%) … Offensive Line: C … Cautiously optimistic (52%); Concerned (45%) … Defensive Line: C … Cautiously optimistic (53%) … Linebackers: C … Cautiously optimistic (56%) …

Defensive Backs

Notes

Colorado, with one winning season in the past decade, is far removed from the national radar in college football these days.

If the Buffs had been more successful in the win/loss column over that span, the CU secondary would be receiving more accolades.

While not recognized as “Defensive Back U” just yet, Colorado does have a better-than-average resume in producing NFL-caliber talent in the defensive backfield. Since 2015, the list of NFL defensive backs who have played for Mike MacInytrre includes Kenneth Crawley, Chidobe Awuzie, Ahkello Witherspoon and Tedric Thompson.

This spring, Isaiah Oliver will add his name to the list.

In 2018, safety Evan Worthington is the “next man up” for NFL scouts to observe, with a number of younger players getting their opportunity to demonstrate they are developing into players who can continue their careers on Sundays.

ShaDon Brown who coached the secondary last fall, has been elevated to Secondary and Defensive Passing Game Coordinator, with Ashley Ambrose returning to Boulder to focus on the cornerbacks.

In addition to Isaiah Oliver, the Buffs lost safety Afolabi Laguda and nickel back Ryan Moeller – three-fifths of the defensive backfield. For most schools, that would be cause for concern going forward.

At Colorado, though, the loss of three starters just gives the younger players their chance to get on the playing field.

 

Quotes

… “He’s a pro guy,” said CU defensive passing game coordinator ShaDon Brown of senior safety Evan Worthington. “He’s going to be a pro safety. He just has to keep developing himself as a technician and doing the right things, and he’s done that. He’s matured more than any kid probably I’ve ever seen from a boy to a man in terms of his mental focus … He knows he’s a phenomenal athlete. He’s big —  6-1, 210 pounds — and  he’s a 4.4 (40-yard dash) guy. He can run, he can change directions, he can jump, he can do all those things. But now it’s playing consistent technique, making the plays that you should make. When you get better mentally, the game slows down. Instead of you reacting, you see things before they happen and that’s what he’s doing now. He’s seeing things before they happen versus last year, when he was just reacting and running.”

… “He’s been getting his hands on the ball, but hasn’t had as many picks,” CU head coach Mike MacIntyre said of junior college transfer Delrick Abrams, Jr.. “Every day I see him getting a little more comfortable, a little more comfortable, a little more comfortable … He really understands more what to do, so he’s now more confident, so he reacts quicker and he plays faster and he’s able to make those plays. I see him getting better every day.”

… Junior Dante Wigley and sophomore Trey Udoffia, who combined for 14 starts and over 1,100 snaps last season, are the veterans at cornerback, but Abrams and freshman Chris Miller are very much in the mix for starting jobs in the fall. “One of the hardest things for a freshman, as well as a junior college transfer guy to come in, is to be able to play at our tempo and play at our speed that we play at here, because we practice really fast and being able to think fast,” said Brown. “I’m starting to see those guys start to make some plays.”

… “He had a successful spring,” defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said of Chris Miller.  “He was our most improved defensive back this year. A lot of that’s because he had talent, but he’s also improved so much as a technician and with his assignment.”

… Sophomore Ronnie Blackmon has had a good spring playing mostly at nickel. “He’s done a good job there,” Brown said. “That’s more his natural position.”

… Two players who had very good springs at safety were redshirt freshman Isaiah Lewis and senior Kyle Trego.

Trego, who has played only a handful of snaps in his career, had a chance to play with the No. 1 unit when Worthington was out for much of the spring with a concussion, made the most of the opportunity. He showed a much better understanding of the defense and came up with some big plays throughout the spring.

Lewis, meanwhile, also showed some playmaking ability. “Isaiah has probably made the biggest strides in knowledge and knowing what to do,” Brown said. “He’s doing a better job of that and he’s starting to feel a lot more comfortable.”

Nick Fisher played a career-high 315 snaps last season, projects as a starter at safety alongside Evan Worthington. Fisher, a senior, was able to step into more of a leadership role during spring drills. Fisher said he was more comfortable than ever this spring, adding, “I feel like I know the playbook pretty well and I have a good relationship with the guys.”

 

Analysis … 

Questions abound when it comes to the 2018 Colorado football team: … Will Steven Montez take the next step at quarterback? Will Travon McMillian be the answer at running back? Will the offensive line field a cohesive starting lineup with five healthy starters? Will the patchwork defensive line come together and hold its own against Pac-12 opponents?

The defensive backfield, however, should be fine. It will be the second year for safeties coach/passing game defensive coordinator ShaDon Brown, and the second coming for cornerbacks coach Ashley Ambrose.

If Isaiah Oliver had returned for his senior season, this unit would have been scary good.

Instead, the Buff Nation will have to settle for a secondary which will be able to hold its own.

“The good thing is I think we have four, five corners that we can put out there and win with in the Pac-12,” said defensive passing game coordinator Shadon Brown. “Last year I don’t know if we had that.”

… and that was with Isaiah Oliver, who may be taken in the first round of the NFL draft, in the lineup.

Strong safety Evan Worthington should continue CU’s run of defensive backs who are able to continue their careers in the professional ranks, with free safety Nick Fisher joining Worthington on the back end. At cornerback, Trey Udoffia and Dante Wigley have starting experience, but it will be difficult to keep Chris Miller and Delrick Abrams, Jr., from seeing playing time.

The starting lineup for the Buffs on the back end may be somewhat fluid coming out of spring practices.

But the unit is solid.

 

Grade … C+ … Confident … 

 

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