Spring Quotes of Note: Defense

CU has not had open practices, so there has not been independent reports as to how well the first spring practices under head coach Karl Dorrell are progressing. The Buffs are allowed 15 practices in the spring (including the Spring Game on April 30th), and are making their way to the midway point of the spring.

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 from the first two weeks of spring ball, here is a collection, with stories from CUBuffs.com, the Daily Camera, CUSportsNation, and BuffStampede.com.

RelatedSpring Quotes of Note: Offense

Defense overall …

“I’m actually more encouraged that our defense is ahead of our offense,” Dorrell said Friday after the Buffaloes’ sixth practice of spring drills.

Near the end of the Buffs’ practice at Franklin Field, they held a short, 25-play scrimmage, with an emphasis on red zone situations. During that time, it was clear that the defense won the day.

“I feel like defense is making some really positive strides and coming together and getting better at challenging the offense on every single snap,” Dorrell said. “Offensively we weren’t at our best today, but I think there’s a lot of stuff that we need to continue to fix and work on.”

The confidence is growing for the entire defense, which has been praised repeatedly by Dorrell this spring.

“In the spring the defense is usually ahead,” Dorrell said. “In places that I’ve been on really good teams, the defense is usually a little bit ahead. When training camp occurs and we kind of compete against each other and towards the end of training camp you start to see the progress that the offense has made and it kind of catches up at that point.”

On the new defensive system … “They like our scheme,” Dorrell said. “It’s more player-friendly. We’re not having as many checks. Once you guys get a chance to watch the scrimmage … you’ll notice that even in practice, you’re seeing so much more communication, where they’re confident with the calls that they’re making. That’s something that I think last year, it was gray. You’re seeing a lot of assertive calling and adjustments on the defensive side. Guys stepping up, great verbal communication, and guys are lining up and doing pretty well. So I think defensively it was a really positive step forward for a new scheme.”

Defensive Line … 

On Janaz Jordan … A former junior college transfer, Jordan earned his way into the starting lineup last season and doesn’t appear to be slowing down as the Buffs have gone through the first five practices of spring.

“Janaz has been a pleasant surprise from a year ago,” CU defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said this week. “He’s got a lot of growth in him. He’s got a really high ceiling.”

Listed at 6-foot-4, 305 pounds, Jordan took over as the starting nose tackle for the last four games of the abbreviated 2020 season, finishing with 11 tackles. He had 12 tackles in a reserve role in 2019.

Jordan came to CU after playing his freshman year at Hinds (Miss.) Community College. Although he was recruited by the previous coaching staff, Jordan fits well in Wilson’s system.

“There’s been a lot of D-line coaches here in the last few years and what we’re doing now is we’ve got a system and we’ve got a guy (Jordan) who actually believes in what we’re doing right now,” Wilson said. “What I mean by that is we’ll tailor everything towards our players, so we’re asking these guys to do things that they can do. It’s not about the system. It’s really about the personnel, so he fits our personnel. He’s big, he’s strong, he’s athletic, and we’ve just got to keep working on this conditioning.”

On Jalen Sami … “You get a guy like Jalen Sami, who’s also a big, prototypical defensive tackle,” Wilson said. “You combine those guys, you have really great tandem of interior tackles, as well as nose guards. They’ve got size, they’ve got length, they’ve got power at the point of attack. So right now it’s just getting their fundamentals in great position, as well as getting in great shape.”

On Terrance Lang … Asked about his goals, Terrance Lang, who has eight career quarterback sacks, said, “On my mirror in my room I have two goals written out. It’s to get a sack a game and the other one is, as far as school, to get a higher GPA than I got last semester. I’ve got those two goals written on my mirror in my room and I see them every day.”

Lang is not participating in team workouts this spring because of offseason shoulder surgery, but Dorrell said the 6-foot-7, 290-pound Lang is doing well in conditioning.

“He’s lapping the defensive lineman,” Dorrell told Johnson. “He runs like a deer. … It’s an impressive thing to see because he’s a fabulous athlete. We’re hoping he obviously gets recovered from the shoulder surgery and gets ready to go for the fall. We think he’s going to be fantastic

Inside Linebackers

On Nate Landman … “The rehab is going a lot better than I thought,” said Landman, who was a semifinalist for the Butkus Award last season and is not participating in CU’s spring practices this month. “I’m actually ahead of schedule. I’ve been running for the past two weeks on the underwater treadmill and after this week, they’ll move me to the (AlterG treadmill), which is just modified bodyweight running. So, I would say about two, three (weeks), maybe even a month ahead of schedule on that term.”

The Buffs are hopeful that Landman will be ready to go when preseason camp begins in August.

“Nate’s in great shape, he looks great,” Dorrell said to Johnson. “He’s got a great mindset about where he’s going, he feels good about where the rehab situation is for him. … He’s going to be ready to go for sure by the fall before we start training camp.”

On Jonathan Van Diest … With Nate Landman sidelined this spring as he recovers from a ruptured Achilles’ tendon, and Akil Jones graduating and moving on, junior Jonathan Van Diest is the most experienced inside linebacker in the group this spring.

Van Diest has seven career starts under his belt and is competing for a starting role this spring.

“He’s doing well,” Wilson said. “Not only is he in his optimum shape, he’s really a good decision-maker. We always say that’s a leadership position. (Inside linebackers) are kind of the quarterback of our defense. What I like that he’s done is he’s doing a great job with leadership, getting guys lined up, putting them in the right positions and being decisive. He’s done a really great job for us.”

Oklahoma transfer Robert Barnes, junior Quinn Perry and freshmen Marvin Ham II, Zephaniah Maea and Alvin Williams have also been competing at inside linebacker.

On Robert Barnes … Linebacker Robert Barnes, a transfer from Oklahoma, continues to make a good impression on Dorrell in the early going.

“You can feel his presence on the field, and he’s a veteran player,” Dorrell said. “He’s had a lot of experience. You can see how he carries himself and how he can read and diagnose plays and how he tracks the football and how he fits on runners. You can tell that he’s been around the block, so to speak.

“I think he’s going to be a really good piece for us.”

Outside Linebackers

On Carson Wells … Wells is coming off a dominant 2020 season in which he led the country with 2.67 tackles for loss per game. Despite playing just six games, he tied for third nationally with 16 total TFLs. Nationally, he was one of only 15 players with at least 14 TFLs, and the others each played at least nine games.

A 6-foot-4, 250-pound fourth-year junior, Wells is the unquestioned leader of the outside linebacker crew, but it’s a group with intriguing possibilities.

“It is a position that we feel confident that we can be very productive and mainly because of what Carson is able to do with his experience,” Dorrell said. “We know that he’s going to generate some plays on his side of it.”

… On Jamar Montgomery, Guy Thomas and Joshka Gustav … Last season, juniors Jamar Montgomery and Guy Thomas and freshman Joshka Gustav played in reserve roles and that trio is back this year.

“All three guys really kind of came on the scene and surprised us (last year),” Dorrell said. “They got better as the season progressed. Joshka was a guy that was really … I don’t think any of us were really counting on him being a factor in our defense last year. (Coaches were) probably thinking more on special teams but, lo and behold, he was playing as one of the key factors for us during the season.”

“We’re all getting better each day,” Wells said. “I think Devin had like two sacks on Monday. Joshka is coming along, too. Joshka is going to be really good for us. Jamar, too. Jamar is getting better and Guy is just trying to get healthy right now. We’ll be ready whenever fall comes around.”

It’s a group that is clearly led by Wells, but now features more experience than it did a year ago, as well as some talented youth.

“We feel good about that group, we really do,” Dorrell said. “We’re trying to simplify (the adjustments), and really let our guys just play and run and go. Our mentality on the defensive side is really going to help that group be even faster, because they’re not going to have as many checks as what we’ve done the last couple of years.”

Cornerbacks

On Nigel Bethel, Jr. … Cornerback Nigel Bethel Jr. had an interception, continuing his solid performance in spring.

“Nigel … has actually done the same things that he did in the fall,” Dorrell said. “He seems like he has an interception every day that kind of falls in his lap and he’s always around the football. I’m very encouraged with where he is and what he’s doing. His confidence is growing.”

On Christian Gonzalez … Last fall, Colorado coaches saw enough potential in Christian Gonzalez to throw him into the fire at cornerback.

This spring, Gonzalez is still just 18 years old but is benefitting from the experience he got last season.

“I do feel more confident, just after getting a regular season; well, half a regular season,” Gonzalez said Monday after the Buffaloes’ fourth practice of spring. “The game has slowed down a lot. Way more than going into last season out of high school, but it’s great.”

“He’s a good young player,” CU head coach Karl Dorrell said. “I won’t say (he played) outstanding, but I will say better than average job for a first-year player to come in here and play.

… “We’re hoping somewhere down the line, he’s going to be one of those corners that can handle his own and not really have much safety help. … I think he’s embraced that challenge that we presented for him, and he’s working pretty hard at becoming that type of player. He’s really off to a good start.”

Safeties

On Trustin Oliver … Freshman safety Trustin Oliver, a junior college transfer, has been dealing with a lower leg strain, but Dorrell has been impressed. “He asks a lot of questions and he looks good,” he said. “He’s a good-looking kid running around the safety position, so I’ve been very pleased for where he is.”

On Isaiah Lewis and the new defense … First-year defensive coordinator Chris Wilson had the goal of making the defense more player-friendly, and so far that’s paying off.

“Oh yeah, definitely,” safety Isaiah Lewis said. “We’ve got a lot of guys stepping up in key positions. … Everybody’s a little more bought in, just from the simplicity of it and being able to execute at the highest speed that we do. It’s definitely a little more simplified, but I feel like it’s the intensity that’s making a big difference for us.”

Overall … Last season, the Buffs focused on cross-training their defensive backs out of necessity. From day to day, coaches never knew if some players would be unavailable because of COVID-19, so several players learned a variety of positions in the secondary.

Dorrell said the Buffs will continue to cross-train their defensive backs because of the nature of college football.

“Because of the sophisticated offensive systems you’re seeing both in college and in the NFL, you have to have a number of secondary that can play certain roles on the defensive side,” he said. “We play with three-corner sets, in terms of three corners in the game and one safety; we play with three safeties in the game and two corners.

“The more flexible that we can get our kids to understand our scheme and then plug and play with some of the personnel, I think that’s really going to help us. We’re really teaching the defense that way, too, for them to really understand the big picture, and not just be so isolated on their one spot. That is how we’re moving forward to create that versatility in the backend.”

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