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Spring Practices … First Look: Defensive Backs

Program Note … Spring practices begin March 18th (Spring Game: April 27th). Between now and the start of spring ball, previews will be posted for each unit of the 2019 Colorado roster.

… Previously posted: QuarterbacksRunning BacksWide Receivers/Tight EndsOffensive LineDefensive LineLinebackers

The roster: 

CORNERBACKS (9 scholarship):

Seniors: Dante Wigley; Delrick Abrams
Juniors: Ronnie Blackmon; Trey Udoffia; Mekhi Blackmon; Kevin George
Sophomores: Chris Miller
Redshirt freshmen: None
True freshmen: K.J. Trujillo*; D.J. Oaks

bold: denotes returning starter

* Early enrollee; will participate in spring drills

SAFETIES (8 scholarship):

Seniors: None
Juniors: Aaron Maddox; Derrion Rakestraw
Sophomores: Hassaan Hypolite; Isaiah Lewis
Redshirt freshmen: Lavon Wallace; Ray Robinson
True freshmen: Mark Perry; Trustin Oliver

bold: denotes returning starter

The stats (2018)

Delrick Abrams … 478 plays … 44 tackles (36 unassisted) … six third down stops …. eight passes broken up (led team) …

Dante Wigley … 576 plays … 36 tackles (30 tackles) … one interception … four passes broken up …

Trey Udoffia … 340 plays … 31 tackles (28 unassisted) … three third down stops … three passes broken up …

Derrion Rakestraw … 262 plays … 19 tackles (14 unassisted) … one interception … four third down stops … three quarterback pressures …

Aaron Maddox … 108 plays … 15 tackles (14 unassisted) … two third down stops …

Chris Miller … 140 plays … 10 tackles (seven assisted) … two third down stops …

Mehki Blackmon … 172 plays … nine tackles (eight unassisted) … three passes broken up …

Ronnie Blackmon … 95 plays … five tackles (two unassisted) … two third down stops …

Who’s in Charge? … 

Colorado has three coaches on the defensive side of the ball who will be working with defensive backs.

The “full-time” defensive backs coach is Travares Tillman, and he has a pretty thin resume.

Tillman, 41, comes to CU after spending the previous three seasons (2016-18) at the University of Georgia.  He was a graduate assistant working with the defensive backs the first two years before transitioning into a quality control role with the defense for the 2018 season.

Before that, he was coaching high school football (and was an assistant coach, at that).

Concerned? Well, CU has two other defensive back coaches to help Tillman out.

The first is Tyson Summers, who is charged with looking after the safeties when he is not performing his role as the defensive coordinator.

Summers’ resume has more meat on the bone, with Summers also coming Colorado from the University of Georgia, where he spent the last year and a half as a defensive analyst for quality control.

Summers, 38, is returning to the Centennial State where he spent the 2015 season in Fort Collins at Colorado State, also as the Rams defensive coordinator and safeties coach under its first-year coach and former Bulldog, Mike Bobo.  The CSU defense made remarkable strides defensively that season under his tutelage, improving 30 spots or more in several categories from the previous year, including 85th to 55th in total defense, 32nd to ninth in passing defense and 114th to 21st in tackles for loss.

He left CSU after just that one season to become the head coach at Georgia Southern, a program entering its third year in the Football Bowl Subdivision and the Sun Belt Conference.   Summers would spend almost two years in the role, guiding GSU to all of five victories.

Not super impressed with the two coaches chosen to take on the responsibilities of producing more NFL draft choices for “DBU”?

Fear not … as the head coach has extensive experience as a defensive backs coach.

For much of his coaching career, CU head coach Mel Tucker has coached defensive backs. From Miami (Ohio) to LSU to Ohio State to Alabama to Georgia, Tucker has extensive experience coaching defensive backs in college. Oh, and their is Tucker’s time in the NFL – at Cleveland, Jacksonville, and Chicago – almost always coaching the secondary.

Is Tucker’s experience enough to overcome the shortcomings of his defensive back coaches? Tucker is a rookie collegiate head coach, so you would think that much of his time will be consumed learning all that goes with being a head coach.

We’ll see how it all works out …

Cornerback depth … 

Five different players started games at cornerback last season … and all five return.

Delrick Abrams (eight starts) and Dante Wigley (eight starts) have the most experience, but a player with all of two starts last fall may be the best of the bunch.

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 recent workout, Miller’s right shoulder dislocated. He had surgery and will miss spring practices, which begin March 18.

“I don’t really see it at as a setback,” Miller told the Daily Camera. “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.”

“I want to play all 12 games this year and then be an All-Pac-12 player or an All-American,” Miller said. “That’s my goals, as high as can be. I can’t wait (to play). CSU better be ready, because I’m coming.”

Now, about those safeties … 

If there are any graduate transfer safeties still out there, it would not be a surprise if Colorado coaches are hot on their trail.

Mel Tucker & Co. have picked up six junior college transfers this off-season … but none are safeties.

Nick Fisher started every game last season at the free safety position, and was on the field for 48 games in his CU career.

Evan Worthington started nine games at strong safety in 2018, started 23 games as a Buff, and was the only CU player invited to the NFL Combine this spring.

Counting the one game started by journeyman senior Kyle Trego, and 22 of the 24 starts at safety at Colorado last season are gone.

Darrion Rakestraw had those two starts. He and fellow junior Aaron Maddox are the only upperclasmen safeties on the roster.

Sophomores Hassaan Hypolite and Isaiah Lewis have shown flashes, but there are no guarantees at this point as to their abilities to take over as starters against Pac-12 competition.

One potential answer may come from the linebacker corps. From Neill Woelk: “Versatile Davion Taylor, who last year started 10 games at the outside linebacker/Buff back spot, will get a long look as a true defensive back in spring ball. The Buffs lost both starting safeties from last year to graduation, and Taylor’s speed and size could make him a good fit there.”

There will be many storylines for Buff fans to watch during spring practices – who will step up at running back? How will the Buffs take to the new offense of Jay Johnson? How will the defensive line work out with so few players on the roster?

And … who will be CU’s starters coming out of spring ball? … Will Davion Taylor be an answer?

Or … is one (or both?) of CU’s starting safeties for 2019 attending classes elsewhere this spring? …

Overall … the defensive secondary at the University of Colorado is in good position. “Defensive Back U” has several players on the roster who could follow the parade of defensive backs from Boulder into the NFL.

The problem is … most of the candidates are cornerbacks.

There are riches at the cornerback position, but there are some serious questions at the safety positions.

Spring practices, 2019, will help to fill out the depth chart at free safety and strong safety.

But we probably won’t know until August who the starters will be come August 30th v. Colorado State.

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3 Replies to “Spring Practices … First Look: Defensive Backs”

  1. ON the bright side, with a much better push from the d-line, the corners and safeties won’t have to do as much this year nor stay with their man as long.

  2. Didn’t catch the Taylor comments the first time around…I would be concerned that we are moving him again…his lack of playing experience overall showed last year as he got better as the year went on. Would hate to see that again…just keep him at ‘bulldog/buff back’ and turn him loose!

  3. I feel the defensive secondary is about to make a quantum leap in improvement of play. Think about it. HCMT has played and coached this position for multiple decades. He has hired asst. coaches that he is familiar with and knows how to coach up these kids. The talent is there. The technique was lacking last year especially at the cornerback position.
    Delrick Abrams is a true stud and will have an All Pac-12 type of season in 2019 if he can stay healthy. The sky is the limit for this young man. He has a quick step once the ball is snapped and does a great job of jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage as well as blocking down field on run plays. He also our best cover corner.
    Aside from Delrick, the other corners need to be coached up. I was not impressed by any of the other corners last year. Can some one tell me what all the hype is for Chris Miller. He didn’t play that much and when he was out there, I don’t think he separated himself from Trey U. or Dante Wigley. Looking forward to see what KJ Trujillo will bring to the mix!!
    Safeties should be a strength for this team. Aaron Maddox and Hassaan Hypolite looked good when they got in there last year. Maddox brings a nasty attitude when he is about to tackle an opponent.
    I can’t wait for spring ball to see this work in progress.

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