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Post-Spring Depth Chart: Defense and Special Teams

The University of Colorado Post-Spring Depth chart can be found here (scroll down to page 14).

Post-Spring Depth Chart: Offensecan be found here

Note As was the case with the offense, 12 positions are listed (three defensive linemen, five linebackers, four defensive backs)

Note II … Since the conclusion of spring practices, five players who appeared on the defensive Post-Spring depth chart are no longer with the team. In addition to safety Hasaan Hypolite, who was dismissed from the team for violating team rules, four others have indicated that they are entering the NCAA “Transfer Portal”, and will be looking for new opportunities. Those four are: cornerback Kevin George; safety L.J. Wallace; defensive lineman Melekiola “Tava” Finau and preferred walk-on linebacker Jake Yurachek.

According to the Daily Camera, none of the four who are looking to transfer saw much action on the field:

— George spent two seasons with the Buffaloes, but never appeared in a game on defense. He redshirted in 2017 and played in 10 games last season, all on special teams. George finished the spring as a backup at cornerback;

— Wallace redshirted as a true freshman last season, but did appear in one game, at Arizona, on special teams. He was listed as a backup safety throughout the spring;

— Finau also redshirted last season as a true freshman and did not appear in any games. He was one of only five scholarship defensive linemen during the spring and played primarily with the second-team defense at end;

— Yurachek came to CU as a preferred walk-on last season as a true freshman. He redshirted, but did appear in one game, against New Hampshire, and made one tackle in four snaps played.

The biggest losses are Hypolite and George, as the defensive backfield remains in flux, and Finau, who could have provided some much needed depth along the defensive line.

Now, as for who will be playing for the Buffs this fall … 

Defensive Line …

Defensive Tackle

Starter: Jeremiah Doss, So. 

Backups: Dante Sparaco, Jr.

Injured: Mustafa Johnson, Jr.

Nose Tackle

Starter: Jalen Sami, R-Fr.

Backups: Nico Magri, So.; Ben Martinez, R-Fr.

Defensive End

Starter: Terrance Lang, So.

Backup: Melekiola Finau, R-Fr.

Coming this fall … Jaunta’vius Johnson, Sr. (graduate transfer, still unconfirmed); Janaz Jordan, So.; Lloyd Murray, Fr.; Na’im Rodman, Fr.; Jayden Simon, Fr.; Austin Williams, Fr.

Comments ... “As Maine goes, so goes the nation” is a long-standing political axiom.

For CU football in 2019, the saying could be: “As the defensive line goes, so goes the Buffs’ season”.

Gone from the 2018 team are nose tackle Javier Edwards, defensive end Chris Mulumba, and defensive tackle Jase Franke. Significant losses … from wasn’t an overly productive defensive line.

Standing in and stepping up for Javier Edwards at the pivotal nose tackle position – and being counted on heavily (no pun intended) is Jalen Sami ... who hasn’t played a game since Nov. 12, 2016, his final game at Vista Ridge High School.

“I’m pretty ready,” Sami said. “I just want to play. I have to take each practice and keep working so I can come out well prepared and just play.”

Now a redshirt freshman, Sami, at 320-pounds, is nearly 50 pounds lighter than when he first came to CU, and he’s impressed his coaches.

“He’s a big body and he’s hard to move and it seems like he’s catching on the technique we want him to play,” head coach Mel Tucker said earlier this spring. “He’s doing a better job with his pad level, doing a better job using his hands and being able to sustain throughout the practice. He’s gotten better.”

Another new starter along the line will be sophomore Terrance Lang. The 6-foot-7, 284-pounder is expanding his game and as a result, is becoming a solid run defender as well as a pass rusher. He has added about 10 pounds of muscle to his frame, is getting regular snaps with the No. 1 defense in all situations (not just obvious passing downs) and shows all the signs of becoming a force for the Buffs next fall.

“I’ve actually been trying to take pride in playing the run this year,” Lang said this spring. “That was my weakness last year, so I’ve been focusing more on playing the run than anything.”

The key to the play of the defensive line, though, may be defensive tackle Mustafa Johnson, who sat out the Spring game with minor injuries.

 Johnson said he hopes to improve his pass-rush skills to expand his game.

“I’m doing a lot more pass-rush stuff,” Johnson said. “I’m pretty solid in the run game. I’m obviously trying to get better, but I want to create more sacks, create more negative plays. Last year I had eight sacks, I want to improve that; [and] I had about 20 tackles for loss, I want to improve all that. So, creating negative plays that’s what I want to improve on.”

The emphasis for this year is on intensity, physicality and improvement from last season. From a defensive standpoint, that means much more energy and activity, which is something this new coaching staff is highlighting. Johnson said it is all about making plays and cleaning up fundamental mistakes.

“I would just say making plays on balls — that’s all it is — securing tackles,” Johnson said. “We had a few games where we missed a lot of tackles, things like that. We’re emphasizing finishing tackles, hard thud, wrapping up; and for our [defensive backs], making plays on balls, batting them down, good technique, things like that.”

It’s a new day for CU’s defensive line under new line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh.

There isn’t much in the way of depth here, so Brumbaugh’s charges will not only have to mature quickly, they will have to stay healthy.

 

Linebackers …

Outside Linebacker

Starter: Carson Wells, So.

Backups: Jacob Callier, So.; Alec Pell, Fr.

Inside Linebacker

Starter: Nate Landman, Jr.

Backups: Chase Newman, So.; Colby Keiter, So.

Inside Linebacker

Starter: Jonathan Van Diest, So.

Backups: Akil Jones, Jr.; Ray Robinson, R-Fr.; Devin Lynch, So.

Outside Linebacker

Starter: Nu’umato Falo, Sr.

Backups: Alex Tchangam, Sr. Joshka Gustav, Fr.

Star Backer

Starter: Davion Taylor, Sr.

Backups: Curtis Appleton, So.

Injured: Ronnie Blackmon, Jr.

Coming this fall … Jash Allen, Jr.; Jamar Montgomery, Jr.; Quinn Perry, Jr.; Marvin Ham, Fr.;

Comments … If there is a strength to the CU defense, it’s the linebacker corps.

And if there a leader of the defense, it’s inside linebacker Nate Landman, who is taking over for Rick Gamboa as the quarterback of the defense.

“I love it. I love being a leader on a team — I always saw that for myself when I first came here [and] wanted to prove myself and I feel like I’m doing that,” said Landman. “I love taking the leadership role. I’m going to be a two-year starter now. This is my defense and I want to take control of it. I want to win with these guys, I have won with these guys and I know what we’re capable of. I’m just excited to lead them in the future.”

It can be a lot of pressure for a young athlete to take the reigns after just one full season of starting under his belt. But the 20-year-old linebacker so far seems to be doing a solid job, at least in the eyes of his fellow linebacking core.

“He’s stepped into the role…he’s someone I think a lot of people on this team look up to. He’s a good guy,” said junior inside linebacker Akil Jones. “He’s someone you can talk to if you have any issues [or] questions about everything and he’s been able to get the playbook under his belt really quickly and we need a lot of people like that.”

On the outside, Buff fans are counting on the one regular starter from last year, Carson Wells, as well as senior Nu’umotu Falo and and Jacob Callier, both of whom have plenty of experience.

“We’re getting better,” outside linebackers coach Brian Michalowski said. “We focus on running to the football, setting edge, squeezing hips. We’re focused on pressuring the quarterback and then getting the ball back to the offense. One big thing is we pride ourselves on being relentless. That’s what Coach Tucker talks about and that’s what we try to emphasize in our position group.”

CU’s new coaching staff has been mixing and matching players with the No. 1 and No. 2 units throughout the spring on both sides of the ball. It gives coaches a look at players in different situations and against different competition.

They can then better evaluate every player.

“You want to give everyone a fair opportunity and create a competitive culture,” Michalowski said. “That’s what I want in our room — help each other get better but also know how to compete and win a spot. We’re mixing it up, giving guys ones and twos reps and just making sure they are as versatile as they can be.”

While Nate Landman may be the leader of the defense, the linchpin may be the “Star Back”, which is described as being an outside linebacker/safety hybrid.

And manning that position is potential star-in-the-making Davion Taylor.

“They come in all shapes and sizes,” head coach Mel Tucker said of players who man the Star position. “It’s always good to have a big body at that position. It helps you in the run game, it helps you on the perimeter blocking and we all know that (Taylor) can run. He can do a good job in coverage, so I like his versatility.”

Taylor finished third on the team with 75 tackles last year — including a sack, 12 tackles for loss and 11 quarterback pressures. He was often tasked with stopping the run and rushing the passer.

The Star position is somewhat similar, but will often require him to line up on a slot receiver and play more against the pass.

“I really like that,” he said. “Last year I didn’t cover as much and I think I need to step up being that coverage guy and not just a pass rusher. It’s been a big change.”

There has been change with the new regime in the terminology and roles for the CU linebackers, but there is one constant … the linebackers will have to make up for some of the deficiencies along the line, and for the lack of experience in the secondary.

 

Defensive Backs … 

Left Cornerback

Starter: Mehki Blackmon, Jr. 

Backups: Dante Wigley, Sr.; K.J. Trujillo, Fr.

Free Safety

Starter: Derrion Rakestraw, Jr. 

Backups: Dustin Johnson, R-Fr.

Strong Safety

Starter: Trey Udoffia, Jr.

Backups: Isaiah Lewis, So.; Lucas Cooper, Sr.; Curtis Appleton, So.; Ryan Travis, So.

Right Cornerback

Stater: Delrick Abrams, Jr.

Backups: Uryan Hudson, Jr.

Injured: Ronnie Blackmon, Jr.; Chris Miller, So; Aaron Maddox, Jr.

Coming this fall … D.J. Oats, Fr.; Trustin Oliver, Fr.; Mark Perry, Fr.

Comments … If you watched the CU Spring game, you watched Mehki Blackmon pick off two passes, returning one for a touchdown. You also watched Lucas Cooper lead the Black team with six tackles, including a tackle for loss and two stops at the line of scrimmage.

But if you watched real close, you may have seen three of CU’s defensive backfield starters … watching the game from the sidelines.

Juniors Aaron Maddox and Ronnie Blackmon, along with sophomore Chris Miller, all sat out the Spring game. All three are being counted upon to be significant contributors this fall.

When he’s healthy, Chris Miller might be the best cornerback on the Colorado football roster.

The key for the sophomore is staying healthy.

A hamstring injury sidelined Miller for several weeks in fall camp last season and caused him to miss the opening game. After returning, he played in six games and earned his way into the starting lineup, but a fractured thumb ended his season five weeks early.

Now, he’s dealing with a shoulder injury. During a workout in February, Miller’s right shoulder dislocated. He had surgery and missed all of spring practices.

“I don’t really see it at as a setback,” Miller said at the time. “I just see it as something to give me more adversity to make me better for the future. I’ll be out for spring ball, but I’ll be ready for Day 1 of fall camp.”

New defensive coordinator Tyson Summers is also the safeties coach, and is faced with replacing both of the starters from last season, Evan Worthington and Nick Fisher.

“Coach Summers has taught us a lot already about intensity and the speed we need to be going at in practice if we’re going to win games,” Derrion Rakestraw, a converted wide receiver who is now a safety, said. “I think that’s the biggest thing about this whole staff. It’s faster and there’s more accountability. The coaches are on us all the time, they’re running to the ball with us — it’s more intense. It’s easier to do it when you know the coaches are doing it right along with you.”

That atmosphere and approach is by design.

“It’s a big part of what we do overall in our program, teaching, and how we try to function within our defense,” Summers said. “I think certainly the intensity that it takes to practice at a high level of defense is going to help us as we try to go play at a high level. If you look at our conference, the teams that are playing the best defense are the teams that are playing in the championship each and every year. We want to be in that position.”

The learning curve is high for this unit. While help is on the way this fall when injured starters return, at the conclusion of spring practices, the two players atop the safety depth chart were Rakestraw, a converted wide receiver, and Trey Udoffia, a converted cornerback.

Fingers crossed …

 

Special Teams …

Punter

Starter: Alex Kinney, Sr.

Backups: Davis Price, Sr.; Sam Loy, Jr.

Placekicker/Kickoff

Starter: James Stefanou, Jr.

Backups: Davis Price, Sr.; Evan Price, Fr.; Tyler Francis, Fr.

Holder

Starter: Alex Kinney, Sr.

Backup: Josh Goldin, Sr.

Snapper

Starter: J.T. Bale, Sr.

Backups: Nate Landman, Jr.; James Townsend, R-Fr.

Punt Returner/Kickoff Returner

TBA this fall

Comments … Not much of note here. Alex Kinney and James Stefanou were the returning starters last year, and are the returning starters this year.

Now, if the pair can just stay healthy.

Alex Kinney was injured in Lincoln in game two, and so is back for a second try at a senior season. James Stefanou was set for an All-Pac-12 season last September … but proved to be one of four kickers to attempt a field goal for the Buffs in 2019.

Perhaps the only roster positioning of note (especially since no punt returners or kick returners were identified) is that Sam Loy is listed as the third-string punter. The transfer from Vanderbilt was expected to be the starter this year, replacing the departed Alex Kinney. Now, not only is Kinney back, but Loy is listed behind Davis Price in the punter lineup.

Here’s hoping that Loy is ready to take over in 2020.

Overall … If you want to spend the summer worrying about the CU defense, the results from the Spring game gave you some ammunition … 55-27 final represents the most points ever scored in a true CU spring game.

But head coach Mel Tucker saw positives on both sides of the ball.

“Obviously you want execution on both sides of the ball,” Tucker said of the Spring game. “They are all my guys out there. (But) football’s not a game of perfect. What I really wanted to see, I wanted to see guys compete, I wanted to see guys finish, I wanted to see guys strain, I wanted to see guys execute. We got that today.”

For the most part, there has been nothing but optimism coming out of the Champions Center.

“There’s a good vision here,” sophomore linebacker Jonathan Van Diest said. “We’re all buying into it, we all see it. We know what it takes and it’s a lot but we’re willing to go for it.

“The mindset is different. When we were doing our offseason workouts there’s an expectation, but we hadn’t seen it fully until spring ball hit. Once spring ball hit, we saw it, we adapted and we overcame and rose.”

How much rising the Buffs will do in the standings this fall is yet to be determined.

After all, everyone is undefeated in the spring …

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2 Replies to “Post-Spring Depth Chart: Defense and Special Teams”

  1. Yup ya gotta love all the “What-ifs?”

    The best new addition to the Mighty Buffs undoubtedly is the coaching staff.

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