Countdown to Spring Practices – Defensive Linemen/Edge Rushers

… Program Note … CU spring practices open on March 19th. Over the next few weeks, there will be a unit-by-unit preview posted every week leading up to the start of spring ball.

In addition to a look at the current roster and questions which Coach Prime & Co. will be looking to address this spring, we’ll take a look at the odds of whether the described unit is likely to face attrition after the spring. The CU roster is currently hovering around 95 scholarship players, with a deadline of August 1st to get to the NCAA mandated maximum total of 85.

Previously posted:

Up next Friday: Linebackers

— Defensive Linemen (9) …

Returning starter (bold); walk-on (italics):

  • Seniors … Jalen SamiNa’im Rodman … Taijh Alston(TR) … Leonard Payne Jr.(TR)
  • Juniors … Shane Cokes (TR)
  • Sophomores … Tyas Martin … Aaron Austin … Ryan Williams … Allan Baugh … Mason Maddox
  • Red-shirt freshmen … none
  • 2023 Signees … Jacob Woida

— Edge Rushers (9) …

Returning starter (bold); walk-on (italics):

  • Seniors … Taylor Upshaw(TR) … Jordan Domineck(TR)
  • Juniors … Jeremiah Brown(TR) … Joshka Gustav
  • Sophomores … Devin Grant … Zion Magalei
  • Red-shirt freshmen … Kaden Ludwick … Shakaun Bowser
  • 2023 Signees … Taje McCoy

The Stats … 

2022 stats for returning players …

  • Jalen Sami … 467 plays … Started all 12 at defensive tackle … (36 career starts, including 19 straight) … 38 tackles; 20 unassisted … three tackles for loss … five quarterback pressures … one forced fumble
  • Na’im Rodman … 384 plays … Started nine games at defensive tackles … (42 games played; 18 career starts) … 20 tackles; 7 unassisted … five third down stops
  • Tyas Martin … 305 plays … Played in 13 career games; no starts … 13 tackles; eight unassisted … three quarterback pressures; two third down stops
  • Ryan Williams … 147 plays … Played in 14 career games; no starts … 8 tackles; six unassisted … one tackle for loss; one third down stop
  • Devin Grant … 122 plays … Played in 17 career games; two career starts … 15 tackles; nine unassisted … two tackles for loss; three third down stops; two quarterback pressures
  • Aaron Austin … 83 plays … Played in 10 career games; no starts … no tackles; two quarterback pressures
  • Allan Baugh … 8 plays … Played in one career game; no starts … one tackle
  • Zion Magalei … 7 plays … Played in seven career games; no starts … one tackle
  • Elsewhere ...
  • Taijh Alston … at West Virginia … Played in 28 total games with 56 total tackles, 15 tackles for loss, eight sacks, and four forced fumbles
  • Leonard Payne, Jr. … at Fresno State … Played at Fresno State for five seasons, seeing action in three, 28 total games with nine starts … Had 35 tackles, 10.5 for a loss with 5.5 sacks, two quarterback hurries, two fumble recoveries and one safety
  • Shane Cokes … at Dartmouth … Started all 10 games in 2022 registering 53 total tackles, eight and a half for a loss, four and a half sacks, a pass deflection, and a forced fumble … Played in 22 games starting 20
  • Taylor Upshaw … at Michigan … Played at Michigan for five seasons, seeing action in four, 37 total games with two total starts … Had 36 total tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, one interception, one pass deflection, and one forced fumble
  • Jordan Domineck … at Arkansas … Played five seasons, most recently at Arkansas (four previous seasons at Georgia Tech … in 2022, had 34 tackles; 19 unassisted, with 7.5 sacks
  • Jeremiah Brown … at Jackson State … In two seasons at Jackson State, Brown played in 20 games and recorded 53 tackles, 11 for a loss with seven sacks, four quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles, a blocked kick and fumble recovery.

Nationally … CU in 2022 … 

  • Passing defense … 264.7 yards/game … 113th in the nation
  • Rushing defense … 245.1 yards/game … 131st (last) in the nation
  • Team sacks … 9 … 131st (last) in the nation
  • First downs allowed/defense …  309 … 121st in the nation
  • Team tackles for loss … 4.1/game … 126th 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 …

If you just skimmed through the 2022 stats for the CU defense noted above, take a moment to look back at them now. The Colorado defense last season was not only bad, it was historically bad. The Buffs were not only (far and away) the worst Power Five defense in the nation, they were arguably the worst defense in the country.

There were 131 FBS teams last season, (Sam Houston and Jacksonville State will make it 133 this fall) and Colorado finished dead last – 131st – in rushing defense and scoring defense, and were second-to-last in total defense. Those are not random statistics … those are baseline numbers for any defense, and CU posted numbers worse than 130 other schools.

For purposes of the discussion of the defensive line, another sorry stat must be recognized: The Buff defense generated a grand total of nine sacks last season … every other team in the country posted at least 14.

So, yes, CU does have two returning defensive line starters in Jalen Sami and Na’im Rodman, and the pair do have a combined total of 54 career starts, but it’s going to take more than experience to fix what ails the Buff defensive line.

Six transfers to the rescue.


Coach Prime had some interesting comments when asked what he is looking for in a defensive line recruit:

On “The Rich Eisen Show” ahead of the Super Bowl, Coach Prime spoke about how he tries to find quarterbacks who come from two-parent households and get good grades in school.

“We want mother, father, you know, dual parents,” Sanders said, as transcribed by Outkick’s Dan Zaksheske. “We want that kid to be 3.5 [GPA] and up because he’s got to be smart. He can’t make bad decisions off the field. At all. Because he has to be a leader of men. There are so many different attributes and what we look for when we see a quarterback. And, (we) would love a coach’s son.”

Sanders joked (maybe?) that defensive linemen are a different story.

“Defensive linemen, it’s totally opposite — single mama, trying to get it, he’s on free lunch,” Sanders said. “I’m talking about just trying to make it. He’s trying to rescue mama, like mama barely made the flight. I want him to just go get it. There are whole different attributes that you look for in different positions.”

Now, I’m not going to get into the lineage of the six new defensive line recruits (seven counting incoming freshman Taje McCoy, who won’t be on campus until this summer), but there are some experienced defensive linemen on the way. The problem is (or may be) that the only two new Buffs who were starters last year played for FCS teams. Jeremiah Brown played in all 13 games for Jackson State last season with 10 starts, coming up with 47 tackles, while Shane Cokes started all 10 games at Dartmouth in 2022, registering 53 total tackles.

The other four new defensive linemen played for FBS schools, but saw limited action:

  • Jordan Domineck played in all 13 games for Arkansas last season, no starts, with 34 tackles
  • Leonard Payne was a starter for Fresno State in 2021; but played in ten games in 2022 with no starts
  • Taijh Alston played in all 12 games in 2022 at West Virginia, no starts, recording 18 total tackles
  • Taylor Upshaw played in all 14 games for Michigan, no starts, with 12 total tackles

With a lack of starting experience along the defensive line, and with the atrocious numbers put up by the Buff defense last season, you would think that experienced and savvy defensive line coaches would have been a priority for Coach Prime.

For his coaches, Sanders dipped into the SEC, plucking away two analysts. From LSU came Patrick Hill to coach the defensive tackles. Hill’s other coaching stops included James Madison, West Virginia State, Eastern Michigan, Central Oklahoma, Upper Iowa and Birmingham Southern, among others. Hill was the last position coach Coach Prime hired … and the first to leave, being hired away by the Minnesota Vikings.

(Update: The Daily Camera is reporting that Sal Sunseri, a special assistant to Nick Saban at Alabama, will be hired as CU’s new defensive tackles coach … Spring practices begin on March 19th …).

Which leaves the Buffs, for the moment, with only one defensive line coach, defensive ends coach Nick Williams. Compared to other coaches on the assistant coach list, Williams is still in the early stages of his collegiate coaching career. In fact, this appointment as defensive line coach is his first as a position coach regardless of level. A former defensive lineman at Georgia and North Alabama with brief stints in the Canadian and Arena Football Leagues, Williams spent the last two seasons as a defensive analyst at Texas A&M.

Williams is a great recruiter, and was certainly brought onto the staff to assist at that level, but it remains to be seen how well he will do with CU’s defensive line.

Buff fans will certain expect Coach Prime to find a stellar replacement for Patrick Hill to coach the defensive line.

And, based upon the play of the line in recent years … he’d better get it right.

Burning questions for spring … 

  • Are returning starters Jalen Sami and Na’im Rodman building blocks upon which to build CU’s new defensive line, or will they be cast aside with the influx of new talent on the roster?;
  • Of the 18 scholarship defensive linemen currently on the roster, nine – oft-injured junior Joshka Gustav; sophomores Tyas Martin; Aaron Austin; Ryan Williams; Allan Baugh; Devin Grant; and Zion Magalei; and red-shirt freshmen Kaden Ludwick and Shakaun Bowser – are returning players with little on their resume. How many will be on the roster after spring practices?; and
  • Even though CU is already at least 10 scholarship players over the limit, there still seems room for quality additions. Will there be new defensive line transfers joining the team after spring classes?

Attrition likelihoodMedium … Perhaps the weakest unit on the team, the defensive line needs more bodies, not fewer. That being said, the overhaul of the roster by Coach Prime and his staff requires additional cuts somewhere, and with eight underclassmen holdovers from the previous regime, it would make sense that several of the sophomore and redshirt freshmen will be asked to try their luck elsewhere. But … if additional help from the Transfer Portal isn’t coming later this spring, it may be prudent to hang onto as much depth as possible for an already thin roster. Stay tuned …


5 Replies to “Countdown to Spring Practices – Defensive Line”

  1. I always loved Sami. He has a motor. I can’t tell you how many times I saw him make a tackle after chasing someone down from behind. He needs more than 1 rushing move but that might be coaching. I think he might surprise and end up being the starter at nose in the 3-4 front. I do think he is going to get pushed and get stronger though and I think that will help him.

  2. In the past Coach Prime said he is waiting for the Transfer Portal to open after everyone has had spring practice to see who is then not happy at his school. I suspect he may find some big DL guys who feel they may play a lot earlier at CU than they would at an SEC school.

  3. one more thing
    Hopefully Kelly is smart enough to plan well timed blitz packages to help these guys out…..and the blitzers can refrain from telegraphing it by pre snap inching towards the scrimmage line…..unless they are faking of course.

  4. I agree with your statement on the depth Stuart. The guys who, on paper, who are expected to have the biggest impact are Cokes, Brown, Upshaw and Dominek….2 senior and 2 juniors. After that its the red shirt freshmen and sophomores along with the ….uh….less than celebrated other transfers.
    only 2 brand new guys to college and one is a walk on.
    These guys are going to all have to pan out to help lift the Buffs far enough out of last year’s performance we keep choking on to make a bowl.
    I keep hoping a few of the frosh soph guys are gamers and not subject to the “play as you practice” mantra who will rise to the challenge. Looking at last year I wonder how the coaching was at recognizing talent or taking a risk with underclassmen.
    Lotta hoping going on here.
    fortunately there has been a lot more highly rated DL guys in the portal than OL guys who are snapped up in eye blink.

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