What They Said: Spring Quotes – Defense

The Buff Nation was only able to actually watch CU spring practices twice (April 9th scrimmage; April 23rd Spring “Showcase”). So, for information and updates, Buff fans were left to post-practice quotes from the coaches and players to try and discern progress of the team through the 15 spring practices. Below is a compilation of what was said about different players and units this spring, with thanks to CUBuffs.com, the Boulder Daily Camera, CUSportsNation (Rivals), and BuffStampede.com (247 Sports) for their reporting.

Coaching Staff

The biggest news concerning the Buffs’ defense this spring has been the switch from a 3-4 base defense to a 4-3 base defense. The CU coaching staff on defense has been rearranged, with a few additions, to make this happen.

The 2022 CU defensive coaching staff:

  • Chris Wilson – Defensive Coordinator/Outside Linebackers
  • Brett Maxie – Defensive Passing Game Coordinator/Safeties
  • Gerald Chatman – Defensive Line
  • Mark Smith – Inside Linebackers
  • Rod Chance – Cornerbacks

Chris Wilson, who returns as defensive coordinator, but has moved from coaching the defensive line to the outside linebackers … “It has given me a little bit more position flexibility and a chance to be able to walk around and work with every position to an extent,” he said. “So it really has been a benefit. I think that’s the benefit of obviously the new staff and the new roles.”

Wilson has coached defensive linemen at several stops, including Mississippi State, Georgia, Southern California and the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles, but said the transition hasn’t been difficult.

“Once you’re a ball coach, you’re a ball coach,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate enough I’ve coached every position but safeties. I’ve worked with corners, the nickels, everybody. So this is just the next part of the progression. And it also allows the defensive line to get more one-on-one attention. That’s a high priority position. And again, bouncing around (in practice) is not always easy, so I’m glad Gerald’s here. He’s doing a really good job with them.”

In the past, CU has had a 3-4 base defense but has shifted to a 4-3. That better suits the Buffs’ personnel, but the defense will utilize different alignments and packages quite a bit, so Gerald Chatman said he will preach versatility.

“I always try to coach them to be flexible, have some position flex, especially if it’s a guy like Terrance Lang who has aspirations to go play at the next level,” Chatman said. “I try to teach the guys basic fundamentals: hands, hips, footwork, playing with their eyes and that type of thing, so that they’ll have the ability to be able to play in any scheme.”

This offseason, CU is shifting its defense from a 3-4 base to a 4-3 because the staff believes it suits the personnel — particularly at linebacker.

“It’s been really good,” inside linebackers coach Mark Smith said. “I think our personnel lends itself to that. It’s a natural fit for the guys that we have on our team. It fits our strengths of what we do. That’s one thing that (defensive coordinator Chris) Wilson has always kind of said to our defense is that we want to be custom tailors and not say, ‘Hey, here’s our system,’ and then try to just fit you to our system.

“Want to find what are the guys we have and what do they do the best and then go and put them in that position to do that. … The 4-3 has really has lent itself to that. Not that we won’t do anything (else); we still have our odd package and things that we’ll get into, but it’s been a good transition so far.”

Defensive Line

Gerald Chatman said his basic approach is the same with all of his lineman.

“I coach to maximize their potential,” he said. “That’s the first thing I tell them. It doesn’t matter if it’s a younger guy, older guy; I want to maximize their potential.

“I think all the guys get recruited because they have a ceiling and I think it’s the coach’s job to get them to reach that ceiling and be there and play at a high level and work at a high level and even off the field work at a high level and do that all the time. … I think with those older guys, it’s just about taking what they do well and trying to get those guys to be consistent at doing that and then giving them new tools to work on and that type of thing.”

… On moving to the 4-3 .. “Last year … we had a couple of linebackers (Wells and inside linebacker Nate Landman), obviously, that had played a lot of football and have the ability to hopefully play in the next level,” Chris Wilson said. “So it was structured around them.

“Every year is a new team and then you just try to complement your best guys right now. We’ve got a good group of guys up front, a veteran group of guys up front, so that was the best move for us moving forward.”

“The thing that you notice is there are a lot of positive things but the things that broke down were glaring,” Wilson said. “If we can just eliminate a few of those explosives, we become a better football team expeditiously. I mean, it really goes quick, but again, eliminating those things that we did last year in regards to mental errors, those are the things that will make us a better football team.”

Redshirt freshmen Allan Baugh and Ryan Williams are looking to earn playing time on the defensive line and both have had a good spring to this point.

“The first thing with those guys is that they’re coachable,” defensive line coach Gerald Chatman said. “They’re bought into taking the coaching, good or bad. They listen. I think those are the first steps for younger guys coming in is to be coachable to listen and be eager to grow eager to learn. They can fix the mistakes right away.

“I think if they can continue to be coachable and they can continue to work on their craft, work on their techniques, they’re giving themselves a chance to have success.”

Gerald Chatman, hired in March, is impressed with the group he has and the progress being made.

“I’m excited about the guys,” he said. “(They are) just working on the details and technique. I think the guys needed that, just really honing in on their craft, but they’re tough and I believe that. I saw that day one, just coming out to practice. But … the attention to detail and just a sense of urgency about how they work, those are the things that I feel that they needed the most. But, they’re tough and they enjoy football and that’s a good thing.”

Dorrell also praised the work of defensive linemen Chance Main, Na’im Rodman and Jalen Sami. “Because we have so much more depth up front, we have two solid groups of D-linemen that there won’t be that big a drop off,” he said. “I think that’s gonna be huge for us defensively this year.”

Linebackers

Defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said outside linebacker Guy Thomas is “pretty close” to being the productive player he was last season before a foot injury.

Thomas missed the last five games of 2021 with an injury, but this spring, Wilson said, “He’s really competing at a high level and I think he understands the significance of this offseason and how big it is for him. So his standard and his levels have been raised also.”

Overall, Quinn Perry started 11 games last season, and his leadership role has continued to blossom during the offseason.

“Quinn is acting like a really good leader. He’s had a great offseason training,” CU head coach Karl Dorrell said. “He’s had a good teacher. Playing behind Nate for a couple years, he’s seen how he operates. He’s not trying to be Nate, but in his own way he’s trying to show great leadership and great play and consistency, too. He is taking ownership of that. I’m glad about that. He’s a veteran, well-seasoned player. He still has things he needs to continue to work on. But he’s definitely moving in that direction.”

Third-year sophomore outside linebacker Alvin Williams is making a good impression. Mainly a special teams player the past two years, he played 38 snaps on defense last year. “We’re excited about the transformation he’s making,” Dorrell said. “He’s now a big factor in what we’re doing going on the defense moving forward.” … Dorrell also praised inside linebacker Marvin Ham II, a fourth-year sophomore with 141 career snaps. “He’s been here a few years and he’s having probably his best time of football that I’ve seen since he’s been here and he’s getting a lot of reps,” Dorrell said. “It’s paying off for him.”

Seven games into the 2021 season, Guy Thomas was one of the better players on the Colorado defense.

Although a foot injury sidelined him for the final five games, Thomas is back on the field this spring and feels he’s taken his game to another level.

“Oh, yeah, I don’t think I missed a step,” Thomas, an outside linebacker, said after a recent practice. “I think I’m just as fast. I believe that my speed didn’t go anywhere. I’m only getting better.”

Early last season, Wells and Thomas formed a solid 1-2 punch on the edge. Thomas, a former junior college transfer who began his career at Nebraska, had his most productive stretch in college. In seven games, he racked up 36 tackles, two sacks and five tackles for loss, as well as two forced fumbles.

“I made a lot of plays, but I missed a lot of plays,” he said. “This year, I’m looking to be a different guy. I’m looking to be a faster guy, a more explosive guy. I’m looking to make more plays. I’m looking to do a lot of good things and be one of the key players, impact players on his defense.”

He’s one of the older players on the defense and refers to the outside linebackers as “my group,” but also recognizes the talent around him.

Inside linebackers coach Mark Smith said redshirt freshman Mister Williams has been able to fully participate this spring, which has helped his development. “He is instinctive and he can just turn something that looks bad into a great play and few players have that ability to do that,” he said. … True freshman Eoghan Kerry came in as an outside linebacker but has been at inside linebacker this spring. Smith said, “He’s got a very, very high football IQ and he’s able to play in and out of different positions, which is very difficult for a freshman, especially an early enrollee freshman. He’s really impressed me with what he’s bringing to the group.”

Defensive Backs

Rod Chance isn’t talking about the three starters who left the team via the Transfer Portal. Instead, he’s focusing on the group that is here and getting them better in a hurry.

“They’re in that process of really putting in the work, tightening up the details of where they need to go,” Rod Chance said. “I think it’s more so them trying to establish themselves, seeing it as equal opportunity for everybody around. I think they take it as a challenge. They see there’s not many older guys around. Hey, why not me? Right now it’s time to step up and be able to contribute for winning plays.”

Junior Nigel Bethel Jr., leads the group, in terms of college experience. Bethel played 10 defensive snaps at Miami in 2018 before transferring to CU. In the past two years, he has played 202 snaps, but missed the final six games with an injury and is spending this spring continuing his rehab.

“I’m eager to get Nigel back and get him back moving around,” Chance said. “He’s not there just yet. He’s still a work in progress.”

With 212 career snaps – the equivalent of about three full games – Bethel is the most experienced corner on the team. True sophomores Nikko Reed (199 snaps) and Kaylin Moore (134) are the only others with any game experience at corner. Converted safety Toren Pittman and true freshmen Jason Oliver and Joshua Wiggins have yet to play a snap on defense.

“I feel like they’re all young,” Chance said. “To me, you kind of mature once you get over 250, 300 snaps under your belt; when you start to recognize certain situations.

“It’s good to see those guys and the best thing about them, they show up with a growth mindset each day – hungry for coaching, never turn it away. It really just forces me to give them more and more each day by coming up for extra time, extra meeting, extra film. Establishing the culture in that room of setting standards of really doing more. Our standard in the room is starting to really materialize itself as we go forward.”

“I’m very excited about those young guys,” he said. “It can be a headache sometimes, but it’s also very challenging and very, very fun to coach a young room. They don’t have many bad habits, so it’s like unmolded clay that you can kind of really mold the player into the culture that you want it to be for our program.”

Safeties coach Brett Maxie said he isn’t worried about building a depth chart at his position this spring because it could change in the fall with new players coming in.

CU has only three scholarship safeties this spring — senior Isaiah Lewis and sophomores Tyrin Taylor and Trevor Woods. This summer, junior college transfer Jeremy Mack Jr. and true freshmen Dylan Dixson and Xavier Smith will join the group.

“(This spring) I just want to see guys that have some ability to contribute,” Maxie said.

Redshirt freshman walk-on safety Jordan Woolverton played quarterback for the Buffs last year. With a lack of depth at safety, he’s now on defense and playing well. Woolverton had one of the top defensive plays in Saturday’s scrimmage with a pass breakup in the end zone and has impressed his coaches.

“He had no experience playing safety, but he has been probably one of the bright spots in terms of making the transition to safety,” safeties coach Brett Maxie said. “I think a lot of it stems from him being a quarterback, just having some natural feel for it and instincts.”

Special Teams 

“I’ve gotten better at dealing with pressure, but the pressure is always there and it’s mostly because of me,” sophomore kicker Cole Becker said. “I want to be perfect. I don’t want to let my team down. You never want to miss that kick and it’s like, ‘Oh, that one was the reason we just lost.’ It’s definitely always in the back of my mind, but you just try and push that to the back and then let the confidence (take over) in knowing that you take practice reps and you’ve done it before and you can do it.”

“It was a rough start,” he said. “And it was kind of eye opening because it was like, ‘OK, you’re gonna make mistakes in college. You can’t be 100% perfect, which is how I was expecting myself to be.”

As disappointing as it was, the 0-for-3 start might have been a blessing for Becker. About 12 minutes after his third miss, Becker drilled a 51-yarder just before halftime at ASU. That began a string of six consecutive made field goals. He finished the year 14-for-20, making 14 of his final 17 attempts (he was also 25-for-25 on extra points).

Becker admitted he always wants to be perfect in his results but said last year was a great experience for him going forward.

“It’s all about the mental,” he said. “I used to spend hours and hours on the field, just rep after rep after rep after rep until I perfected it. But I realized in my first year that a lot of it is how you approach the situation and what you can take away from the result, and not the result itself. I think I’ve just learned how to be more confident in situations. Being in a couple of big-time situations last year, I feel like I have more confidence now to be able to do this.

“Having the experiences last year and hitting long ones, short ones; makes, misses, I know all the things that will happen now, so I feel like I’m better prepared for it.”

Nikko Reed returned his first kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown in the season finale at Utah last year. Chase Penry flashed his skill in averaging 17.7 yards on three punt returns.

Both will be in the mix as returns this year, but Dorrell is excited about another returner who is back in action. Senior Maurice Bell ranked fifth in the Pac-12 in kickoff return average (23.0) in 2020, but missed last year with an injured Achilles’ tendon and has recently returned to practice.

“Maurice is a factor in the kickoff return game,” Dorrell said. “He’s healthier now. He’s actually getting some live reps and he’ll get some live reps this Saturday, too. He’s recovered from his injury. It was good to get him back. He’s that extra piece in the return game.”

True freshman cornerback Jason Oliver has also been working at punt and kickoff return.

 

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