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Spring Quotes of Note: Defense (Part II)

As CU’s spring practices wind down, it’s time to take a look at the quotable quotes which have been posted during the second half of the sessions. Spring ball, 2021, will conclude on Friday, April 30th, with the CU Spring Showcase (9:00 – 11:00 a.m., MT, Pac-12 Networks).

Quotes of Note” from the first half of Spring Practices (through April 9th) can be found here.

Despite not having open access to practices, there have been plenty of quotes worth noting. In case you haven’t been able to sift through all of the posted stories, here is a collection, with stories from CUBuffs.com, the Daily Camera, CUSportsNation, and BuffStampede.com.

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Defense overall …

On the play of the secondary … CU’s defense has enjoyed a good spring, and Dorrell is particularly pleased with the secondary.

“We talk about playing the defense top-down, and the reason why we want to play a top-down is that tips and overthrows, they will not land to the ground,” Dorrell said. “Lately, our secondary, our safeties have done a great job with those tips and overthrows, where they’re falling in their hands and they’ve got great vision on where the quarterback is looking and throwing. They’re actually starting to pursue and take the right angles at the receivers and when the ball is not quite on the money, the ball gets tipped.”

Under the direction of new coordinator Chris Wilson, the Buffs are enjoying a more player-friendly defense. Safety Ray Robinson said communication on the field has also been important.

“When we get close to the end zone, we just have to communicate well between the corners and safeties and the nickels,” he said. “As long as we’re on the same page, I think we’re all solid enough in our technique and our fundamentals that we’re pretty confident that we’re not going to let them into the end zone.”

Defensive Line … 

On CU lack of depth this spring … Colorado doesn’t have a lot of numbers on the defensive line this spring, but those who are participating are making an impression.

“They’re getting a ton of reps, they’re getting better and they’re seeing it, too,” CU head coach Karl Dorrell said. “We’re only playing with about four to five defensive linemen right now and thank goodness we have outside backers to be edge players, but we’re not real deep right now. But, I do like where these guys have grown and where they’ve improved.”

CU is projected to have 13 defensive linemen on scholarship in the fall, but four are freshmen who won’t enroll until the summer. This spring, Jeremiah Doss and Terrance Lang have been dealing with injuries, while Janaz Jordan has been slowed by the flu.

The lack of depth has allowed players such as junior Justin Jackson, sophomores Na’im Rodman, Jalen Sami and Austin Williams and redshirt freshmen Lloyd Murray Jr. and Jayden Simon to develop more.

“Na’im Rodman has really had a solid spring to this point,” Dorrell said. “I’m really encouraged but what Na’im is doing and Justin Jackson making some positive improvement; Austin Williams is getting in better shape. … All of those guys are getting so much better.”

Jordan started four games last year and has played well this spring when healthy.

“You can tell once he gets in shape, he’s gonna be so much better, too,” Dorrell said.

Inside Linebackers

On Jonathan Van Diest … With senior Nate Landman out this spring because of a ruptured Achilles’ tendon, Van Diest is the most experienced inside linebacker on the field. He’s competing this spring with Oklahoma transfer Robert Barnes — who played a lot at safety with the Sooners — fellow junior Quinn Perry, and freshmen Marvin Ham II, Zephaniah Maea and Alvin Williams.

Defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said last week that Van Diest is in good shape and stepping up as a leader.

“I have to know what everyone’s doing,” Van Diest said. “I feel confident enough to lead that. It makes the game fun when you play fast.

“It’s not just me but everyone’s together, and we’re helping each other.”

Although Landman is at practice and in meetings, Van Diest and the other linebackers can’t rely on his knowledge on the field. That’s helping them develop a bit more.

“It’s Quinn and I on the field more, so making these calls and leading the defense,” Van Diest said. “We are put into that role of trusting ourselves and even leaning on each other to lead the defense. … It’s definitely challenged us to lead the team and I think we’re stepping up to that challenge.”

Outside Linebackers

On Joshka Gustav … Most days at practice, Colorado outside linebackers coach Brian Michalowski likes to walk around during the stretching period and talk to the tight ends.

“Who is the hardest outside linebacker to block?” he will ask them.

The easy answer would be Carson Wells, a junior who led the country in tackles for loss per game last year. Michalowski is encouraged, however, because Wells hasn’t been the only answer to that question.

“(Joshka Gustav) has garnered a couple of nominations,” Michalowski said.

“Joshka is just that player that has continued to pour into his game,” Michalowski said. “In the offseason, and I said this last year, he was probably one of the guys that took advantage during the idle time in COVID and getting a lot of personal work in. So his want-to is very high. He’s a technician, and I always remind him of that because what really sets him apart as a player is the technique that he plays.”

Gustav surprised CU coaches with his play last season. He was projected as a potential contributor on special teams, but wound up being a key player off the bench on defense. He has taken his game up another notch this spring.

“He’s developed great signature rushes, which has been great to see; some rushes that are very similar to (Los Angeles Chargers star) Joey Bosa. I know that’s a lofty comparison, but they work a lot of similar pass rush moves, and (Gustav) does a great job with hand placement at the point of attack. … He’s a sponge of knowledge coming from Germany and the sacrifices that he made to get to this point. You wouldn’t really expect anything different.”

On Carson Wells … Around the Pac-12, it would be difficult to find many edge players better than Wells, who posted a remarkable 4.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss in CU’s five-game regular season in 2020, plus another two sacks and 2.5 TFLs in the Alamo Bowl against Texas.

This spring, Wells has picked up where he left off.

“Carson does a great job playing in the backfield and using indicators within offensive formations,” Michalowski said. “He’s taken the coaching, and is really embracing coach Wilson’s scheme and it really fits him. If you’ve heard coach Wilson talk, we’re going to build the scheme around our players, around their skill set, and (Wells’) skill set is whooping up on the line of scrimmage and playing in the backfield and generating some pass rush. He’s really embracing it and doing very well within the scheme.”

Cornerbacks

On Mehki Blackmon … Last season, Blackmon started all six games and played more than 95% of the defensive snaps, becoming a reliable player for CU head coach Karl Dorrell and secondary coaches Demetrice Martin and Brett Maxie.

“I always had confidence,” Blackmon said. “It was always there, but it’s just a sense of somebody believing in me — coach Dorrell, coach Meat (Martin), coach Maxie giving me an opportunity to play.”

This spring, Blackmon is showing up as a leader in the secondary.

“Mekhi has taken a leadership role,” Martin said. “He’s trying to push guys along, obviously, showing them that, ‘Hey man, hard work is gonna pay off and put yourself in a good position to be able to make plays during the season.’ He’s working on that end and he’s making a conscious effort, which is good to see. When you’ve got a guy that wants the guys to follow him, it forces him to work harder and be a leader by example, too.”

After playing exclusively at outside corner last year, Blackmon said he’s been working at nickel this spring.

“We have a few newcomers this spring, early enrollees, so right now they’re trying to get those guys caught up to speed,” he said. “I’ve told (the coaches) I wanted to go into the nickel, I wanted to play in the slot, which will help me more when I do go back to corner in the fall. I just had to understand different leverages and stuff like that. So I feel like it’s gonna boost my game.”

Safeties

On Mark Perry … A projected starter at free safety, Perry is the most experienced player on the back end of the Buffs’ defense. That experience is showing this spring.

“His safety play is night and day difference from what it was in the fall,” CU head coach Karl Dorrell said. “He’s had his hands on a few catches, a few balls already with interceptions, so I’ve been very pleased where Mark’s at.”

This spring, Perry chose to pull double duty, as he joined the CU track team. At the CU Invitational, he won the 100-meter sprint with a time of 10.65 seconds (receiver Dimitri Stanley was second, at 10.85).

“It’s kind of hard to balance (two sports and school), but I feel like since we’re in kind of an offseason, it’s not as bad if I was doing something during (football) season,” he said. “Having track and football at the moment, it kind of just feels like regular season, having to practice throughout the week and then a game, so it’s not too much of a hassle. But it’s for sure a grind.”

It’s a grind that Perry doesn’t mind, however.

“I just kind of like to keep myself busy, so I decided to go back into track,” he said. “I had a pretty good senior year running track, so I just kind of wanted to build off that success and hopefully get faster, helping translate to football.”

On Ray Robinson … For Ray Robinson, there was some value to getting out of his comfort zone and playing inside linebacker the past two years for the Colorado Buffaloes.

The fourth-year sophomore feels more at home this spring, however.

A 6-foot-2, 220-pound safety from Highlands Ranch High School, Robinson is back to playing the position he started with at CU.

“I definitely feel more comfortable playing a strong safety role,” he said. “It’s kind of good to get back to my roots. I’m definitely starting to feel really comfortable and smooth back at that position.”

A first-team all-conference performer as a junior at Highlands Ranch, Robinson missed his senior year with a torn ACL in his knee. He then redshirted in 2018 and has been one of CU’s better special teams players the past two years. He has yet to play a snap on defense, however.

“It’s absolutely been a humbling experience,” he said. “Just kind of patiently waiting my turn for the past couple of years, but I also think it was good for me to get that experience of just being out on the field and getting a feel for it. … I think it’s all led me to be more comfortable with where I’m at today. I’m grateful for it and I’m grateful for where I’m at now.”

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One Reply to “Spring Quotes of Note: Defense (Part II)”

  1. Last year for the first 4 games and half the 5th before Landman went down, the Buffs were doing great in the red zone, so it shouldn’t surprise that the defense is doing as well as it is. As always in camp when going against your own it’s a question of if the offense v. the defense is doing well…

    You want to see improvement from the offense, but if the defense is already starting ahead of the offense, how do you measure if the improvements are pacing the same? even if still behind a bit?

    I guess you can look at individual improvements in each play? Are they at least in the right position, are they making the right reads and adjustments? And the little details on tape that needed to be cleaned up and are they fixing things from one day to the next?

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