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Countdown to Spring Practices – Defensive Backs

Previously posted

— Cornerbacks (8) … Returning starter (bold):

  • Seniors … None
  • Juniors … Nigel Bethel; Jaylen Striker
  • Sophomores … Kaylin Moore; Nikko Reed
  • Red-shirt freshmen … None
  • 2022 Signees … Jason Oliver (EE); Joshua Wiggins (EE); Simeon Harris; Keyshon Mills

— Safeties (7) … Returning starter (bold):

  • Seniors … Isaiah Lewis
  • Juniors … None
  • Sophomores … Toren Pittman, Tyrin Taylor; Trevor Woods; Jeremy Mack (TR)
  • Red-shirt freshmen … None
  • 2022 Signees … Dylan Dixon; Xavier Smith

The Stats … 

If you count up the starts at cornerback and safety for the CU backfield for the 2021 season, you would be looking at a total of 48 starts. If the Buff roster had held together, the players who made all 48 of those starts would be back, and the CU defensive secondary would be one of the strongest units on the roster.

But …

The reality for safeties coach Brett Maxie and cornerbacks coach Rod Chance is that the 2022 roster returns players who totaled … wait for it … 16 of the possible 48 starts (17 if you count Nigel Bethel’s start as a nickel back against USC).

Of those 17 starts, senior safety Isaiah Lewis had 11, Trevor Woods had two, with Nigel Bethel, Nikko Reed, Kaylin Moore and Tyrin Taylor each posting their first career starts last fall.

CU did pick up a junior college transfer in Jeremy Mack, who comes to CU from East Mississippi Community College in Scooba, Mississippi. While Mack may be a quick study, and get some early playing time as a sophomore, it’s hard to reconcile that gain with the losses of Christian Gonzalez (12 starts in 2021); Mark Perry (12 starts); and captain Mehki Blackmon (8 starts).

The 2021 stats from the remaining roster:

  • Isaiah Lewis … 12 games … 635 plays … team-leading 79 tackles (55 unassisted) … two interceptions … seven third down stops …
  • Trevor Woods … 10 games … 139 plays … 23 tackles (13 unassisted) … one pass broken up …
  • Tyrin Taylor … 11 games … 257 plays … 10 tackles (8 unassisted) … one third down stop …
  • Nigel Bethel … 6 games … 151 plays … 9 tackles (7 unassisted) … two third down stops … three passes broken up …
  • Nikko Reed … 12 games … 199 plays … 8 tackles (5 unassisted) … three third down stops … two passes broken up …
  • Kaylin Moore … 6 games … 134 plays … 7 tackles (5 unassisted) … one pass broken up …

Nationally … 

  • Passing defense … 242.9 yds/game … 83rd nationally
  • Total defense … 436.0 yds/game … 101st nationally
  • Scoring defense … 28.5 pts/game … 77th nationally
  • Third down conversions, defense … .451 … 113th nationally

Comments … New cornerbacks coach Rod Chance put a brave face on the challenges he faces reconstructing the CU lineup at cornerback. Instead of having a shutdown corner in Christian Gonzalez and team captain Mehki Blackmon to work with, Chance is starting over, with a grand total of three career starts between Nigel Bethel, Kaylin Moore, and Nikko Reed.

“I’m going to focus on the men that are in the room more so than the guys that are not,” said Chance, hired as CU’s new cornerbacks coach on December 31st. “Those are the guys who we’re gonna go to battle with. Those are the guys we’re gonna win football games with.”

Nice in theory – difficult in practice.

And that’s just the cornerbacks. At safety, Isaiah Lewis is back, but he is the only upperclassman on the roster. If Lewis is locked down as the starter at strong safety, who will be up for starting at free safety.

Brian Howell at the Daily Camera tabbed sophomore Toren Pittman as one to watch. Senior Isaiah Lewis should have a starting role locked up, but the other spot is wide open. CU doesn’t have much depth at safety, so the opportunity is there for Pittman, now in his third year, to make an impression.

Notice any stats for Toren Pittman above? No? Well, that’s because there weren’t any. Was Pittman injured? No. Pittman was actually second on the team in special teams points last fall, with four unassisted tackles, four “forced fair catches”, and a team-leading seven “First Downfield (on kickoff or punt that altered return path)”.

Not to disparage Pittman’s work on special teams, which is always overlooked and underrated. But … the fact is that, despite being healthy last season, and dressing for ten games, Pittman did not see any action on defense.

And now he is being touted as a potential starter at free safety.

Scary times.

Burning questions for spring … 

  • Are there enough bodies to even conduct full scrimmages this spring? CU only has 15 scholarship defensive backs on the roster, with four of those being true freshman who won’t be on campus until this summer. Two other potential starters – cornerbacks Nigel Bethel Jr. and Jaylen Striker  – are coming off of significant injuries (Striker missed all of the 2021 season; Bethel missed the second half of the season). If Bethel and Striker are limited, CU is down to four cornerbacks, with two of them being true freshmen early enrollees – Jason Oliver and Joshua Wiggins – and a grand total of five safeties;
  • How long will the Oakie Salave’a quarterback experiment last? With the defensive backfield so limited, it would make sense to have Salave’a ready to go at safety, where he could be a starter as a true freshman. Head coach Karl Dorrell said Salave’a would be given an opportunity at quarterback, but CU may not be able to afford the luxury of having Savale’a spend his first spring as a Buff on the offensive side of the ball;
  • Is there any credible argument for not finding more help from the Transfer Portal this spring? With all due plaudits to junior college transfer Jeremy Mack, CU’s defensive backfield – which wasn’t dominant as it was – has been gutted, and is in desperate need of replenishment. If more help isn’t found this spring, it’s going to be a long fall for the defense. Both Rod Chance and Brett Maxie are seen as good recruiters – let’s hope they are working the phones this spring.

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9 Replies to “Countdown to Spring Practices – Defensive Backs”

  1. Love your write-ups & insight Stuart. On the Defense podcast, could’ve done w less negativity from Brad. He seems to expect All Pac12 starting lineup and would still find issues for not being All Americans. His most salient point was to ignore 85% of Spring talk. 🙂

    D-Line: we have the same starting lineup as the ATM game, but with Jordan & Sami as mountains in the middle of a new 4-man front. Lang & Rodman are going to be stout w Lang breaking out with fewer double teams on him. Out front 4 average over 5yrs ea of P5 experience!

    Thomas & Main outside and Perry & Barnes inside are solid.

    Biggest question mark is the secondary and I’m hoping we add an upper classman CB from the portal this spring.

    1. Thanks! Hopefully the write up will help a few more Buff fans find the website, and perhaps even “Due North”!

  2. Defense wasn’t good with the transferees. Fix the offense as VK says and you also improve the D. Less plays on the field should translate to less yards and point allowed. Like the attitude of the coach. Worry about the guys who are not the ones that aren’t.

    1. What’s that that we hear they want all the time? Complementary football? That would be nice to see. I’m worried about the offense. I’m not quite terrified about the defense, but, there are lots of reasons for concern, based on what we know now, at least from my lens.

      The good news? September 3rd isn’t tomorrow.

      Go Buffs.

  3. If the new or newer kids in the D backfield have ice in their veins that should go a long ways towards keeping VK’s plays down.

  4. . If more help isn’t found this spring, it’s going to be a long fall for the defense.

    Hell, it was a long fall for the defense last year.
    That ranks just about last in division 1 schools that played 12 games

    Texas was at 847 A&M at 844

    That ranks just about last in division 1 schools that played 12 games

    Texas was at 847 A&M at 844

    834 plays on defense
    In 12 games
    ucla 842
    stan 834
    cal 829
    wash 806
    usc 786
    az 756

    9 game conference
    utah 520
    usc 557
    az 559
    ore 565
    wsu 588
    osu 595
    ucla 606
    wash 606
    Cal 606
    asu 620
    stan 634
    col 635

    average defensive plays in conference is 541

    Sheesh the problem looks right at ya

    The problem was the offense, meaning lack there of.

    I will look at number of offensive plays but it has to be an inverse situation.

    Go Buffs

    FIX THE DAMN OFFENSE AND THE DEFENSE WILL HAVE A GREAT CHANCE TO BE MUCH BETTER

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