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Countdown to Spring Practices – Defensive Backs

Note … This is the second in a series of unit-by-unit spring previews. A new unit will be previewed every few days over the next month, leading to the start of spring practices in late March. The linebackers preview will be posted midweek …

Previously posted … 

Special Teams Preview

The Roster … 

bold = returning starter … italicized = walk-on … *= early enrollee (in school for spring practices) … **transfer (in school for spring)

— Cornerbacks (10):

  • Seniors … none
  • Juniors … Mekhi Blackmon
  • Sophomores … Tarik Luckett … Nigel Bethel, Jr. … Jaylen Striker … Kyle Scofield
  • Red-shirt freshmen … D.J. Oats
  • True freshmen … Christian Gonzalez … Chris Carpenter … Trey Ortega
  • 2021 Signees … Tyrin Taylor* … Nikko Reed … Kaylin Moore

— Safeties (6):

  • Seniors … none
  • Juniors … Isaiah Lewis … Chris Miller … Curtis Appleton
  • Sophomores … Mark Perry … Dustin Johnson … Ryan Travis 
  • Red-shirt freshmen … Anthony Lyle 
  • True freshmen … Toren Pittman
  • 2021 Signees … Trustin Oliver (JC)** … Trevor Woods
  • 2021 Commits … none

The Stats … 

Derrion Rakestraw, who will be suiting up for the Tulane Green Wave next fall, was second on the team in tackles last fall, with 35 (a distant second to Nate Landman, who had 61 tackles). Among the returning Buffs, Isaiah Lewis was fourth on the team in tackles, with 27, while freshman cornerback Christian Gonzalez was sixth, with 19.

The Buffs had four interceptions in the five-game regular season, one each by linebacker Carson Wells, safety Curtis Appleton, and cornerbacks Nigel Bethel and Mehki Blackmon.

The team leader in passes broken up was Isaiah Lewis, with eight, followed by Carson Wells with five and Mehki Blackmon with four.

Isaiah Lewis was named as an honorable mention All-Pac-12 performer …

Nationally … 

  • Third down conversion defense … .318 … 13th in the nation
  • First downs allowed, defense … 128 … 27th in the nation
  • Passes intercepted … 4 … 94th nationally
  • Passing yards allowed … 239.2 yds./game … 71st nationally
  • Scoring defense … 31.67 pts./game … 77th nationally
  • Total defense … 420.3 yds./game … 76th nationally

CommentsCornerbacks … One of the best results of the odd 2020 season was the fact that Christian Gonzalez got to play six games … and will return this fall as a true freshman. Gonzalez was targeted by many of CU’s opponents, but he learned the position, and, like the storied group of CU defensive backs from a few years back – Isaiah Oliver, Tedric Thompson, Chidoe Awuzie, Ahkello Witherspoon – who struggled early but then became great Buffs, Gonzalez seems destined for an NFL career. Mekhi Blackmon also more than held his own for much of the 2020 campaign, and, with CU’s trio of sophomores getting some playing time in 2020, this unit could grow from a liability to a strength.

Safeties … Yes, it’s kind of hard to understand the Buffs having having three returning starters for two positions … especially when the starter at strong safety, Derrion Rakestraw, has left for Tulane. Well, Mark Perry and Isiah Lewis alternated starts at free safety this past fall, with Lewis earning All-Pac-12 honorable mention for his work – mostly as a nickel back. A question mark here is Chris Miller, who can be an excellent player … when he is in the lineup. Miller only saw action in the UCLA and San Diego State games last fall. If Miller can’t stay on the field, junior college transfer Trustin Oliver (who was originally part of the CU Recruiting Class of 2019) may be asked to step up and contribute.

This being the first spring practices of the Karl Dorrell era, this will be an opportunity both for the coaches and the players. Brett Maxie has been promoted to defensive pass game coordinator.  Maxie, 59, who will continue in his role as safeties coach, is a veteran secondary coach of 21 combined seasons between the professional and collegiate ranks, which followed 13-year career as a defensive back in the National Football League. Improving a defensive backfield which was 71st in the country in pass defense last year will be his priority.

And there will be plenty of teaching moments. Seven of the eight cornerbacks who will be on campus this spring – and three of the five safeties – are underclassmen. For a majority of the players, this will be their first spring practices in Boulder. “Our staff will consist of great teachers,” Karl Dorrell said when he was hired last spring. “I consider myself a teacher.”

This March, Dorrell and Maxie will finally get their chance …

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One Reply to “Countdown to Spring Practices – Secondary”

  1. The one glaring illogical decision last year was moving/counting on Miller as Star, said it then, not a great idea to move the most fragile guy from the outside into a very physical position, and of course he got injured. Need to move him back outside if they ever expect him to play the majority of a season.

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