Spring Practice Quotes – Defense

After spending most springs with a dearth of information about what is going on in the Champions Center, this spring we have been inundated with videos, interviews, and quotable quotes. As the Buffs hone in on their sold out Spring game, here is a breakdown by unit of some of the notable quotes from the past few weeks …


“We’re moving some guys around to different positions, especially in the secondary, to see what they can do, what they can handle, how much they can process,” defensive coordinator Charles Kelly said. “And then some of the guys up front, we’re moving them. That’s more probably the experiment part. But right now, we’re just implementing. Every day we’re adding new things. Because we’ve got to see also not only how people play, but how they can learn and process.

“You’re going to play (opponents) that do different things every week. So your scheme has to be a little bit different based off what you see. So we have to be able to find people that can adapt to those situations.”

Overall, from the front seven to the secondary, linebackers coach Andre Hart said the defense is “getting there,” in terms of coming together this spring.

“We’re never satisfied because we’re putting so much in because we’re trying to put competition on the mental state, as well as the physical,” Hart said. “On the field, the practices we do that’s going to be physical, right? But we’re adding in stuff every single day to see how they handle it mentally because here’s the thing: when we get into a game, we’re gonna be playing against teams where we’ll have a game plan, but they’ll have a game plan, too, and then we’re gonna have to make adjustments on the field.

“When those adjustments happen, you have to be able to mentally switch over what you practiced all week, to a whole new way of playing or executing the play when we get back on the field. So that’s why we’re trying to press them right now, to see how much can you handle? How much change can you handle? … So, we’re not satisfied with it (at the moment), but we are happy that the guys are taking the challenge and are trying to get it.”

Defensive Line 

Defensive ends coach Nick Williams is 33, is still a young coach who is in his first full-time, on-field coaching position. Meanwhile defensive tackles coach Sal Sunseri is 63, andbegan coaching before Williams was born, so he’s got a lot of experience and knowledge to pass along.

“I learn everyday from coach Sal,” Williams said. “He has a number of different ways to do things, to do the same thing. He believes in coaching guys differently. You can’t coach every guy the same and I learn from him every day.

“Yes, he is hard-nosed. Hell, he rips (me) and I’ll accept it. He’s been in this game 40 … I don’t know how long, 100 years he’s been coaching. But I appreciate it. I appreciate his knowledge and I’m thankful that I’m beside him and I’m blessed to have coach Sal. I love him.”

Jalen Sami and Na’im Rodman were two key players up front who are back, but several transfers have joined the group this winter. All of them are striving to follow the standard set by head coach Deion Sanders.

“Just playing extremely hard, being able to think when you’re tired, running to the ball, playing with great effort, playing violent, striking blockers, being physical, have fun,” Williams said. “That’s what I want my guys to do. Just know what to do, get lined up, communicate, and run to the ball and have fun. For the most part, they’ve been doing that.”

“We’re learning how to communicate better,” defensive ends coach Nick Williams said. “I think that’s standing out more. We’re learning that we’ve got to play fast and we’ve got to play hard for four quarters. You’ve got to play for four quarters, not three quarters, not just a half, and you’ve got to impose your will.”

Edge Rushers

Edge rusher Jeremiah Brown was one of the top players for Andre Hart last season at Jackson State, posting 46 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and six sacks. He’s going to be used in a variety of spots at CU, as well. “You’ll see him off the ball and on the ball,” Hart said. “He’s a dynamic athlete. He was that at Jackson State. He’s gonna be that for us here.”


As a group, the Buffs’ linebackers are getting better, but tackling hasn’t been up to linebacker coach Andre Hart’s standard to this point.

“I think we’re definitely getting smarter and we’re reacting quicker to our offense’s tempo based on the plays we’re putting in,” Hart said. “But I think we still need to get a little bit tougher and I mean that as far as our tackling is concerned. … It’s a mentality and I’m not sure if the days running together and how hard we’ve been practicing is getting to them, but we’ve got to toughen up. There’s no reason to miss tackles or leave plays on the field like that and if we’re going to be the best we’re going to be, we’ve got to get better at that.”

“I’m very excited,” linebacker LaVonta Bentley said. “I felt like when I was at Clemson, I had the chance and opportunity. When I did go out there on the field, I made the plays that was presented. I’m just blessed just to be here and get this bigger role because I know I’ve got it in me and I know I can show the world what I can do.”

CU’s starting linebackers from last year – Robert Barnes, Josh Chandler-Semedo and Quinn Perry – have all graduated and all of the returning linebackers lack game experience. That’s given Bentley an opportunity to lead, and the Buffs are looking to him to do just that.

“He’s been doing excellent in camp,” linebackers coach Andre Hart said. “He’s gotten better every single day. He’s became a leader in our room.

“I think his game experience definitely helps, but he’s not a vocal guy. He’s more of an example guy and the kids in the room, they kind of take to him. They call him ‘Unc,’ because he’s an old head as far as his game experience. … A lot of them kind of lean on him because he’s played in big games at Clemson and he’s been asked to come in at certain times when other players have gotten hurt. That experience is serving him well.”

Although CU has a long way to go to reach Clemson’s level, Bentley said the Buffs simply need to work.

“We’ve got some great players over here,” he said. “We still got to put the work in. Overall, that’s all what it’s about, putting the work in, day in and day out and making sure you know what’s going in the plays and what you’re doing off the field, really.”

At linebacker, junior Isaac Hurtado, who played just two snaps in 2022, is one of only nine players on the entire team to earn his number.

“(Hurtado) was on the bottom of my list, I’m gonna tell you, but he played that first practice scrimmage that we had and he showed up out of nowhere,” linebackers coach Andre Hart said. “I mean, he was playing at a whole different speed than the other guys and, even though he was at the bottom, I think that created some competition in my room to see that he could get his number before about three, four guys that are in front of them.

“And I’ve also moved (Hurtado) up to what we call the gold team, or the second team. So he’s going against the ones right now and I’m looking forward to seeing exactly how he keeps progressing.”

Hart said junior Marvin Ham II has moved to more of an inside role, which suits him better than being a strong-side backer a year ago.

“He’s smart and he’s been moving around well,” Hart said, while adding that sophomore Aubrey Smith, “has been another one that’s really impressed me with his talent level.”

Ham has played 29 games, with five starts, in his four seasons at CU, while Smith played 79 defensive snaps as a true freshman last season.

Defensive backs

Considered by many as the best cornerback to ever play, Deion Sanders is a Pro Football Hall of Famer and he has mentored young cornerbacks since he was a player. Sanders is putting his trust in cornerbacks coach Kevin Mathis to be the main teacher of the Buffs’ young corners. That trust began to build more than 25 years ago.

Sanders was an eight-year NFL veteran and two-time Super Bowl champion by the time Mathis joined the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 1997. They played together with the Cowboys for three seasons.

“He really took me under his wing,” Mathis said. “There was something about me, just the way he saw me practice and the way I handled myself on the field that made him pour into me and it just continued everywhere I went. He’s always been a mentor of mine.”

Learning from Sanders carried Mathis through his own 10-year NFL playing career and into coaching. More than a decade ago, he began coaching at Sanders’ Prime Prep Academy. When Sanders became the head coach at Jackson State in 2020, he hired Mathis as his cornerbacks coach and then brought him to Boulder in December.

“I think like he does so I’m really an extension of him on the field, especially in coaching,” Mathis said. “He taught me the majority of the things that I know at that position.

“To be the corners coach anywhere with him would probably be the hardest job for anybody because he’s the best ever to play the game. So I think it gives him a sense of relief that I can coach them because I’m speaking the same language and he knows I can go out there and touch them. He trusts me to relay the messages to these DBs.”

Sanders has already brought in two safety transfers – Cam’Ron Silmon-Craig (Jackson State) and Myles Slusher (Arkansas) – and his son, Shilo Sanders (Jackson State) is expected to join the team this summer.

Trevor Woods said the newcomers haven’t given him extra motivation, however, because he’s always prided himself on his work.

“I just look at it the same way,” he said. “If I was saying I was changing the way I work, then that would mean that I wasn’t working hard before. So I just kind of try to keep what I’ve been always doing.”

“It’s a validation kind of thing,” said Woods, one of the first defensive players to earn his jersey. “No. 43 is just what I’ve always worn. I think my freshman year was really the only time I’ve ever not worn it. It’s what my dad wore in college and high school so it’s stuck with me since I’ve been little.”

“We’re gonna get on the field in a very competitive league with really elite (defensive backs) and when he comes across a DB as a wide receiver, particularly, where talent is equal, well, how are you going to win?” offensive coordinator Sean Lewis said when talking about Travis Hunter playing on both sides of the ball. “That’s where it comes down to techniques and fundamentals in your approach and your work that you do. So, as he continues to trend the right way, I think he’s gonna be able to add some value, again, in all phases of the game.”


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