Countdown to Spring Practices – Defensive Backs

Previously posted:

— Cornerbacks (11) …

Returning starter (bold); walk-on (italics); early-enrollee (EE):

  • Seniors … Nigel Bethel
  • Juniors … Nikko Reed
  • Sophomores … Travis Hunter (TR) … Tayvion Beasley (TR) … Kyndrich Breedlove (TR) … Jason Oliver … Simeon Harris … Liam McGannon
  • Red-shirt freshmen … Joshua Wiggins … Keyshon Mills … Braden Keith
  • 2023 Signees … Cormani McClain … Carter Stoutmire

— Safeties (10) …

Returning starter (bold); walk-on (italics); early-enrollee (EE):

  • Seniors … none
  • Juniors … Trevor Woods Tyrin Taylor … Myles Slusher (TR) … Cam’Ron Silmon-Craig (TR) … Shilo Sanders (TR) … Jeremy Mack … Trey Ortega
  • Sophomores … Ben Finneseth … Austin Dahlke … Jordan Woolverton
  • Red-shirt freshmen … Dylan Dixson … Xavier Smith … Oakie Salave’a
  • 2023 Signees … Jaden Milliner-Jones (EE) …

The Stats … 

2022 stats for returning players …

  • Nikko Reed … 719 plays … 44 tackles (34 unassisted) … team-leading two interceptions … four third-down stops … team-leading seven passes broken up
  • Trevor Woods … 509 plays … 84 tackles (66 unassisted) … one interception … eight third-down stops … five passes broken up
  • Tyrin Taylor … 636 plays … 29 tackles (20 unassisted) … one interception … two third-down stops … two passes broken up
  • Simeon Harris … 316 plays … 21 tackles (16 unassisted) … one third down stop
  • Jason Oliver … 211 plays … 11 tackles (8 unassisted) … one third down stop
  • Nigel Bethel … 93 plays … 2 tackles (2 unassisted) …
  • Joshua Wiggins … 31 plays … 2 tackles (1 unassisted) …
  • Elsewhere ...
  • Myles Slusher … at Arkansas … Played in 23 games over three seasons, starting in 15. Had 93 total tackles, nine tackles for loss, two and a half sacks, one forced fumble, seven pass deflections and two interceptions
  • Cam’Ron Silmon-Craig … at Jackson State … Played in 25 games in two seasons, with 111 total tackles, 10 tackles for loss, four sacks, five interceptions, 11 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble, and two fumble recoveries. First-team All-SWAC in 2022
  • Tavion Beasley … at Jackson State … Played in nine games, with eight tackles, two interceptions, three pass breakups and one fumble recovery
  • Travis Hunter … at Jackson State … Played in eight games, with 20 tackles, 10 pass breakups and two interceptions, also coming up with one fumble recovery
  • Kyndrich Breedlove … at Mississippi … In two seasons at Mississippi, he played in 10 games, mostly on special teams
  • Shilo Sanders … at Jackson State … Played in 13 games, with 15 tackles (11 solo), with one interception and three passes broken up (had four interceptions for Jackson State in 2021)

Nationally … CU in 2022 … 

  • Passing defense … 264.7 yards/game … 113th in the nation
  • Third down percentage defense … .531 … 131st (last) in the nation
  • First downs allowed/defense … 309 … 121st in the nation
  • Passes intercepted … 6 … 112th in the nation
  • Total defense … 509.8 yards/game … 130th in the nation
  • Scoring defense … 44.5 points/game … 131st (last) in the nation

What to watch for …

The Thorpe Award is presented annually to the nation’s top collegiate defensive back, and the University of Colorado has two Thorpe Award winners in its history. In 1992, Deon Figures won the Thorpe, followed two years later by Chris Hudson.

More recently at CU, the Pac-12 South division champion Buffs had a secondary with all four of its starters being drafted into the NFL (Chidobe Awuzie in the 2nd round of the 2017 draft, with Ahkello Witherspoon going in the 3rd and Tedric Thompson in the 4th. Isaiah Oliver would go on to be drafted in the 2nd round of the 2018 draft).

What Coach Prime and his staff are building in the defensive backfield might rival what the CU teams of the early 1990’s and the 2016 had to offer.

It’s still early days, of course, but the mere thought of CU signing the overall No. 1 recruiting prospect from the Recruiting Class of 2022 (cornerback Travis Hunter) and consensus Top Ten national prospect from the Recruiting Class of 2023 (cornerback Cormani McClain) is a reality which has been hard for many Buff fans to grasp. Especially when, a mere four months ago, we were most worried that Nikko Reed, perhaps CU’s best returning player, would follow the three defensive back defectors from 2021 (Christian Gonzalez, Mehki Blackmon and Mark Perry), and leave Boulder for greener pastures.

Now, we’re wondering how well Nikko Reed will fit in on one of the best defensive backfields in the Pac-12 … if not the nation.

Travis Hunter will have to demonstrate that he can stay healthy (he missed five games due to injury in 2022), while Buff fans will have to wait until summer for Cormani McClain to enroll.

While the two five-star prospects will garner much-deserved attention this fall, there are plenty of talented defensive backs who will have their first chance to impress coaches this spring, including four transfers (a fifth transfer, Shilo Sanders, will not officially become a Buff until this summer).

Two names to listen for: Myles Slusher and Cam’Ron Silmon-Craig. While Travis Hunter and Cormani McClain have all of the potential in the world, these two bring something to the table the five-star prospects do not: experience. Slusher has three years of experience playing at the Power Five level at Arkansas (including 15 career starts), while Cam’Ron Silmon-Craig has two years under his belt playing for Coach Prime at Jackson State, brining first-team all-SWAC honors with him to Boulder. Slusher and Silmon-Craig will be pushing returning safety starters Trevor Woods and Tyrin Taylor, giving CU an exceptionally strong back end to the Colorado defense.

It will also be interesting to see how many of the returning defensive backs catch the eyes of the Colorado coaches. Senior Nigel Bethel has the most experience, with juniors Jason Oliver, Simeon Harris and Jeremy Mack needing to make an impression in order to keep their scholarships.

Plus, CU has five – count ’em, five – redshirt freshmen defensive backs. These five sat out last year, patiently waiting for their chance to get on the field of play. Cornerbacks Joshua Wiggins and Keyshon Mills, together with safeties Dylan Dixson, Xavier Smith and Oakie Salave’a, will all be trying to make a name for themselves this spring. These are players who were thought a year ago – Hell, four months ago – as the future of the program. Now they will need to show out just to stay on the roster.

Burning questions for spring … 

  • Colorado has 21 scholarship defensive backs, a full quarter of the 85 total scholarship players CU will be allowed to count this August. Who will survive this battle of attrition?
  • Will Travis Hunter prove to be all that and a bag of chips this spring? Or will his participation be limited this spring, hoping to keep the five-star prospect away from injury?
  • Will Coach Prime be able to stay away from his defensive backfield, or will the Hall of Fame cornerback be spending an inordinate amount of time with his defensive backs?

Attrition likelihoodHigh … There are some talented players on the current CU roster who will be looking for playing time elsewhere come May. Coach Prime may love defensive backs, may have a feel for recruiting quality defensive backs, and may well understand the need – in a Pac-12 loaded with talented quarterbacks – to have a full room of excellent defensive backs.

But it will be next to impossible to sustain a roster of 85 players with 21 scholarship defensive backs. There are just too many holes on the roster to carry that many defensive backs into the 2023 season. Most will make the team, but when there is already a need to cut over 10 players from the current roster (more if Coach Prime is, as he says, “not done” in bringing in more players this spring), the defensive backfield is going to be a likely spot to look to make room for all of the new talent who will be playing for CU this fall.


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

  1. The thing that stands out to me in the stats above are the ones on the topline safeties. The 2 transfers with the most PT and the best stats have a number of Sacks and tackles for a loss. I would think this means they played for a DC that called for a blitz now and then.

    When you look at the 2 returning safeties with the most PT and stats, Even Woods with 80 plus tackles has 0 sacks or even one tackle for a loss.

    The hope is that we now have a DC in Kelly who can design, time and camo blitzes when we have Hunter & co to pick up the cover slack and a D line who may need the help to provide pressure on opponents QBs

    1. Agreed EP. Also, I think the new talent, depth and transfer experience in the secondary will really help them. This could make the D a different ballgame. It will take them some games and perhaps the 1st half of the season, to get the defensive install implemented and tested.

      There will be some attrition at this position, however if they bring in some talented interior defensive lineman, that will help too. IMO, you can never have too much talent in the DLine or Secondary.

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