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Depth Chart – A Closer Look (Defense and Special Teams)

Every depth chart comes with a caveat: “Subject to change without notice”. The first depth chart of the Mel Tucker era, issued Thursday, is no exception.

“We’ll go into the season and it’s going to be based on performance who gets the playing time and who doesn’t,” Tucker said earlier this week. “It’s going to be based on production and it’s going to be fluid. We’ll have our starters who will go into the game, our backups — but it’s going to be a compete-every-day situation and earn your playing time. They’ll get what they deserve. You’ll get the playing time you deserve to get by the way you work and the way you prepare and the way you compete every day and get better.”

Tucker expanded on his philosophy at the Front Range Media Huddle on Thursday, saying that he and his coaches would be taking special care of the scout team players. “Once you get into the game planning, and you have your starters and backups – the guys that go to the scout team, you have to make sure you don’t lose those guys”, said Tucker, going on to tell the story of a Georgia freshman defensive lineman who began last season on the scout team, but finished the season as a starter.

That being said, the CU depth chart for the Colorado State game has been released. After nine long months of waiting, the Buffs are about to take the field … and it’s worth a few minutes to see who will be taking the field first …

… Previously Posted: “CU Depth Chart Deep Dive: Offense” …

Defense

Defensive Line:

Defensive Tackle

  • Mustafa Johnson – Sr.
  • Na’im Rodman – Fr.
  • Jeremiah Doss – Soph.

Nose Tackle

  • Jalen Sami – R-Fr.
  • Austin Williams – Fr.
  • Lloyd Murray, Jr. – Fr.

Defensive End

  • Terrance Lang – Soph.
  • Janaz Jordan – Soph.
  • Jayden Simon – Fr.

Thoughts … Take a second look at that lineup. Then take a third.

If the Buffs are going to post a winning record and go bowling this season, it will be because this unit meets or beats expectations. Mustafa Johnson is a legitimate star, who has been named to Bronco Nagurski (best defensive player) and Bednarik (outstanding defensive player) award watch lists, as well as preseason All-Pac-12 teams. Terrance Lang played well last year as a freshman, with continued improvement expected this fall.

After that? Fingers crossed.

Starting nose tackle Jalen Sami hasn’t been on the field of play since 2016. Sami enrolled then as a grayshirt from the 2017 recruiting class, but suffered a knee injury that spring and could not fully participate last fall. He has, however, put his time to good use, having shed roughly 30 pounds while adding strength and power to his 6-6, 320 pounds.

And Sami’s the starter at nose tackle. Behind Sami? Two true freshmen.

“It’s not a question of can they step up,” defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh said. “They’re going to have to step up. We want to be able to play a lot of different guys and I really think that’s going to be helpful to us. I tell them every day, you have to put your thinking caps on and you’ve got to go to work.”

Five of CU’s defensive linemen are freshmen – and they are going to play. “We have to have depth on our defensive line,” Tucker said. “We have to keep guys fresh. I’m very comfortable playing eight, nine guys on the D-line in a game. We’re going to need our newcomers to step up and provide depth and be able to go in games and be productive and not have any dropoff.”

Fingers crossed.

Linebackers:

Outside Linebacker

  • Alex Tchangam – Sr.
  • Jacob Callier – Soph.
  • Jamar Montgomery – Jr.

Inside Linebacker

  • Nate Landman – Jr.
  • Akil Jones – Jr.

Inside Linebacker

  • Jonathan Van Diest – Soph.
  • Jash Allen – Jr.

Outside Linebacker

  • Carson Wells – Soph.
  • Nu’umotu Falo – Sr.

Star Back (Outside Linebacker/Safety Hybrid)

  • Davion Taylor – Sr.
  • Mark Perry – Fr.
  • Dylan Thomas – R-Fr.

Thoughts … The only small surprise in the depth chart for the CSU game was the placement of Alex Tchangam as one of the starters at outside linebacker over Jacob Callier. Otherwise, the names are known to CU fans, but how well this unit will work out this fall remains a mystery.

“Right now we’re in a situation where we really only have three or four guys on the entire defense with significant playing experience,” defensive coordinator Tyson Summers said during Fall Camp. “Sometimes you hear people act like Landman’s a senior, but he’s really only played one full year of college football. Carson got some time last year too, but overall, we have very, very little experience across the board. So it doesn’t matter if they’re a senior or a freshman, they’re going to have to be ready to play.”

While Buff fans are looking for Nate Landman, a preseason All-Pac-12 prospect, to have a monster season in 2019, his position coach, Ross Els, is looking for something different from Landman. “A leader needs to make sure we’re in the right spot and make sure we’re motivated, and that’s all Nate has to do,” Els said. “He doesn’t have to anything other than his job, and help the guys around him. Everybody thinks he should make every play on the field, but he doesn’t have to do that. He just needs to do his job and get everybody lined up. That’s what we need from him.”

If all goes according to plan, Star Back Davion Taylor could become a playmaker in Tyson Summers’ defense. “Davion has worked really, really hard throughout the summer and has improved a lot, especially with all the little things,” Summers said. “Even in the spring, there were a lot of things that didn’t come natural to him because he hasn’t played a lot of football. But I see improvement every day, unbelievable work ethic and desire, and I think he’s much improved since the spring.”

Defensive Backs:

Left Cornerback

  • Mehki Blackmon – Jr.
  • K.J. Trujillo – Fr.
  • Tarik Luckett – Fr.

Free Safety

  • Mikial Onu – Sr. 
  • Isaiah Lewis – Soph.

Strong Safety

  • Aaron Maddox – Jr. 
  • Derrion Rakestraw – Jr.
  • Sam Noyer – Jr.

Right Cornerback

  • Delrick Abrams, Jr. – Sr.
  • Chris Miller – Soph.

Thoughts … No room has been more fluid in the Champions Center than has been the room where the defensive backs meet.

Graduate senior transfer Mikial Onu (from SMU) has, as expected, stepped right into a starting position at safety. The other safety position will be manned by Aaron Maddox, who was in a battle with Derrion Rakestraw for the starting job. Both players, juniors this fall, played in seven games last season, with Rakestraw on the field for 262 plays (19 tackles) to 108 plays (15 tackles) for Maddox.

The cornerback positions will be – ably – manned by Delrick Abrams and Mehki Blackmon.

Abrams, who started eight games last season, has emerged as a leader in the group.

“He’s been great in our room,” cornerbacks coach Traveres Tillman said. “He practices hard and all the other guys see that and they try to raise their level to that. He leads by example, but he’ll step out of his shell once in a while and tell them, ‘You’ve got to pick it up.’ “

The only real backup at cornerback with experience is sophomore Chris Miller, who has been off the field of play for nearly a year.

In the past 12 months, Miller has dealt with a hamstring injury, a fractured thumb and a dislocated shoulder. The first two injuries led to him missing six games of the 2018 season. The shoulder injury forced him to sit out of spring practices this year.

Finally, he’s healthy.

“Way healthier than I have been in the past,” Miller said during Fall Camp. “It’s a lot to overcome, but I’m just looking forward to playing football and getting better with my team.”

A few names on the depth chart are standing out, but perhaps not for the right reasons.

Three backups in the secondary – junior Sam Noyer (quarterback), red-shirt freshman Dylan Thomas (wide receiver), and true freshman Tarik Luckett (wide receiver) – have come over from the offense.

Glass half full? The Buffs are well set at the quarterback and wide receiver positions, so the CU coaches can afford to move talented players over to the defense to add depth in the secondary.

Glass half empty? Desperate times call for desperate measures. Translation: Buff fans had better hope that the starters stay healthy, and that junior Trey Udoffia, a starter at cornerback late last season, returns to the roster quickly (Udoffia is taking time off to handle some personal issues, but the Buffs expect him back at some point).

Special Teams:

Punter

  • Alex Kinney – Sr.
  • Davis Price – Sr.

Kicker

  • James Stefanou – Jr. 
  • Evan Price – Fr.

Punt Return

  • Dimitri Stanley – Fr.
  • K.D. Nixon – Jr.

Kickoff Return

  • K.D Nixon – Jr. 
  • Jarek Broussard – R-Fr.
  • Maurice Bell – Soph.

Snapper

  • J.T. Bale – Sr.
  • James Townsend – R-Fr.

No surprises at the kicking positions, as it seems as if Alex Kinney and James Stefanou have been CU’s starters since Stefanou was, you know, in his mid-20’s.

What was interesting to see, since it has been a mystery since the spring, is the returners will be. Last year’s primary punt returner, Ronnie Blackmon, entered the transfer portal during the off-season (and, at least according to 247 Sports, has yet to find another team). Dimitri Stanley, son of the former Buff star Walter Stanley, is listed atop the depth chart for the CSU game.

As long as Stanley doesn’t make a habit of catching balls inside CU’s five-yard line, the Buffs will be ahead of last season’s production …

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7 Replies to “CU Depth Chart Deep Dive – Defense”

  1. When considering all of the youth and lack of experience on the defensive depth chart a big key will be just how much bearing the revamped intensive balls to the wall emphasis on strength and conditioning has had. It will be much easier to overcome and correct the thinking mistakes than it would be overcoming thinking mistakes coupled with the fact that a player is also getting burned and/or shoved around play after play. If at least a player is holding up physically, the learning curve is already reduced. I’m anxious to see if the old “bigger-stronger-faster” line that MacIntyre used to always throw around actually shows itself now under the Mel Tucker/Drew Wilson plan.

  2. I’m sure we will be better than the Mildcats D! Hawaii made them look like a D2 defense. If Hawaii hadn’t turned it over 6 times they may scored 70. Think about that – 6 TOs and they still won! Another black eye for the PAC 12

  3. Oof. Starters look good, but there is not a lot of depth on defense. The buffs success this year might be defined by injuries (or hopefully, lack thereof).

  4. First??? WTH, is VK alright??? Miss his snaky wisdom on these articles!
    No doubt “experienced” depth is clearly an issue, but I like Tucker’s comments to the effect that no team member will be left behind! They will all get continuing w individual work to improve and develop their technique, strength, whatever is necessary, to make them a valuable , contributing teammate. I don’t think we’ll see talented underclassmen denied PT in favor of less-talented upperclassmen (Viska) nor will we see the staff blow red-shirt opportunities under the 4-game rule in place since last year. (See Tchangam and Darrion Jones!!!) With Tucker’s background in defense and the change in culture, I look forward to an intriguing year watching them develop.

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