Way Too Early Depth Chart – Defense

RelatedWay Too Early Depth Chart – Offense

Trying to accurately predict a two-deep roster during Fall Camp is a tricky business. There are too many variables involved, and, with practices generally kept from public view, it’s hard to discern which players may have risen in the off-season, and which have not made anticipated progress.

Trying to accurately predict the two-deep roster during spring practices is folly. Coaches are trying to give younger players opportunities, and the walk-on who leads the team in rushing during the spring game may not even see the field of play come fall.

Trying to accurately predict the two-deep roster in January, when the roster may still see another dozen or more players be swapped out?

Lunacy.

But … with so many positive additions to the CU roster in the past month … Why not?

So here is the latest (subject to daily change) look at the Buff eligibility chart and projected starters for the defense and special teams …

Guide: bold = returning starterItalics = walk-onTR = Transfer Portal addition … Class of ’23 = Freshman from the Recruiting Class of 2023

Defensive line

Eligibility: 

  • Senior … Jalen SamiNa’im Rodman … Taijh Alston (TR) … Leonard Payne, Jr. (TR)
  • Junior … Marshawn Kneeland (TR) … Shane Cokes (TR)
  • Sophomore … Tyas Martin … Aaron Austin … Ryan Williams … Allan Baugh
  • Freshmen …

Thoughts … Last month, Coach Prime posted the following tweet: “Hey Hey Hey, I’m looking for Game Changers on the Offensive & Defensive Line. I need Smart, Tough, Fast, Discipline young men with Character! “I AIN’T HARD TO FIND” #CoachPrime @CUBuffsFootball Let’s go baby!”

At least Coach Prime understood CU’s greatest deficiencies. Since he posted his tweet looking for big bodies, the four above-listed defensive linemen have signed on. Leonard Payne is a 6’3″, 308-pound graduate transfer from Fresno State; Alston, at 6’4″, 220-pounds, played two years at West Virginia; Marshall Kneeland is 6’3″, 275-pounds, and earned a Pro Football Focus run grade of 85.5 (good for 18th in the country) playing for Western Michigan; while Cokes, at 6’4″, 220-pounds played 10 games at defensive end last season at Dartmouth, producing 53 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 8.5 TFLs.

As the lineup stands today, there are a total of six defensive linemen on the roster who have extensive starting experience, including CU returning starters Jalen Sami and Na’im Rodman. CU does have four sophomore defensive linemen returning, but arguably it’s as likely that some of these players will be off the team come August as it is that they will become starters.

Is this lineup deep and talented enough to keep opposing offenses at bay?

I’m going with “no” … so look for Coach Prime & Co. to add several more pieces to this puzzle between now and August 1st …

Outside linebacker/Edge rusher

Eligibility: 

  • Senior … none
  • Junior … Joshka Gustav … Jeremiah Brown (TR)
  • Sophomore … Devin Grant … Zion Magalei
  • Freshmen … Kaden Ludwick (R-Fr.) … Shakaun Bowser (R-Fr.) … Taje McCoy (Class of ’23)

Thoughts … Colorado was last in the nation in sacks in 2022. That’s 131st out of 131 teams, with the Buffs generating nine sacks in 12 games, the only team in the nation which managed to not average at least one sack/game. Tackles for loss? CU was only slightly better, coming in at No. 126 nationally. Oh, and the two starters at outside linebacker for the Buffs last year – Guy Thomas and Robert Barnes – are gone.

Jeremiah Brown, who had 30 tackles for Jackson State last fall (including five sacks), brings his talents to Boulder, but the rest of the group is inexperienced. Grant and Gustav have played a combined 35 games, but not as full-time starters. Both have been role players – and Gustav missed all of the 2022 season with injury. The upside for these players is definitely there, albeit unproven.

It is not a question of whether there will be additions to this group between now and the start of spring ball, but just how many additions there will be (and what sort of experience they will bring with them).

So, when you are reading reports of potential transfers coming to Boulder for visits, pay particular attention to those described as outside linebackers or edge rushers, as they will be a focal point of the search for CU coaches.

Inside linebacker

Eligibility: 

  • Senior … LaVonta Bentley (TR)
  • Junior … Marvin Ham … Isaac Hurtado
  • Sophomore … Mister Williams … Eoghan Kerry … Aubrey Smith
  • Freshmen … Victory Johnson (Class of ’23) … Morgan Pearson (Class of ’23) … Kofi Taylor-Barrocks (Class of ’23)

Thoughts … There has been significant upgrades to the quality of this unit … but it may not show on the field right away. All three of the Class of 2023 recruits are rated in the Top 100 at the position, with Morgan Pearson in the Top 50 nationally. But … the  Buffs need help now. The top two inside linebackers from 2022 are gone, with the top tackler from last fall, Josh Chandler-Semedo, as well as the No. 3 tackler, Quinn Perry, having graduated.

Senior transfer LaVonta Bentley will certainly help to pick up some of the slack. Bentley comes to CU from the other CU – Clemson. Over the span of his career with the Tigers, Bentley played in 40 games. Last season, Bentley played in all 13 games, registering 21 tackles, three for a loss including one sack in 163 defensive snaps. Returning Buffs Ham, Hurtado and Williams have played well at times in limited roles, with Ham seeing the most time in 2022, with 13 tackles in 195 plays. Kerry and Smith have a lot of upside, along with the new freshmen, but this unit is woefully short on experience. Even if you look at Bentley’s stats at Clemson and Ham’s stats at Colorado, each only played on average about 10-15 plays/game … and those are the experienced guys.

There is a  great deal of potential in this unit, but potential isn’t what Coach Prime are banking on for the 2023 season. It wouldn’t hurt to get another upperclassman or two to give the CU coaching staff more options for this fall.

Cornerback

Eligibility: 

  • Senior … Nigel Bethel
  • Junior … Nikko Reed … Toren Pittman
  • Sophomore … Jason Oliver … Travis Hunter (TR) … Tayvion Beasley (TR)
  • Freshmen … Joshua Wiggins (R-Fr.) … Keyshon Mills (R-Fr.) … Carter Stoutmire (Class of ’23)

Thoughts … This could be fun.

A month ago, CU fans were concerned about losing another quality cornerback to the Transfer Portal, with Nikko Reed being one of the most talented players on the roster. Three quality defensive backs defected after the 2022 season (Mehki Blackmon and Christian Gonzalez played for USC and Oregon, respectively, with both now leaving early for the NFL Draft. Safety Mark Perry, meanwhile, was second on the team in tackles for national championship participant TCU), Seeing that, it would have only made sense for Reed, CU’s next great back, to leave the 1-11 Buffs for greener pastures.

And now?

It not only appears that Nikko Reed will be returning to the black-and-gold, but it may turn out that he will be the third-best cornerback on CU’s 2023 roster. The most decorated prospect in the Recruiting Class of 2022, Travis Hunter, is in the fold, and should be an immediate impact player in the Pac-12. Hunter becomes the first Buff to ever have been the top recruit in a Class (Darrell Scott was the No. 4 overall player in 2008; Marcus Houston was the No. 5 overall player in 2000), and adding him to the roster is a huge get.

Still, Coach Prime may not be done. Not to jinx anything, but Cormani McClain, the No. 1 cornerback in the Recruiting Class of 2023 (and No. 2 overall recruit in the nation, behind only quarterback Arch Manning), will be making his destination public on January 15th … and the Buffs are one of the favorites.

Even without McClain, the cornerback crew should be solid. Hunter and Reed would give CU two shut down corners, with another Jackson State addition, Tayvion Beasley, joining Hunter in Boulder. Beasley played for Coach Prime at Jackson State, but, before committing last spring, he held offers from schools like USC, Oregon, and Michigan, so this is not a traditional FCS transfer.

Those three quality corners … And that’s before we talk about the five other cornerbacks returning to the CU roster, and the excellent Class of ’23 addition, Carter Stoutmire.

Without McClain, the Buffs will still have one of the strongest cornerback units in the Pac-12. With McClain? This may be one of the most talented cornerback rosters in the nation.

Deion Sanders is a College Football Hall of Fame and NFL Hall of Fame cornerback … Here’s guessing there will be no lack of talent wanting to come to Boulder as long as Coach Prime is at CU.

Safety

Eligibility: 

  • Senior … none
  • Junior … Trevor Woods Tyrin Taylor … Jeremy Mack … Cam’Ron Silmon-Craig (TR)
  • Sophomore … Simeon Harris
  • Freshmen … Dylan Dixson (R-Fr.) … Xavier Smith (R-Fr.) … Oakie Salave’a (R-Fr.) … Jaden Milliner-Jones (Class of ’23)

Thoughts … While Colorado is deep and strong at the cornerback position, questions still remain when it comes to CU’s safeties. On the face of it, the Buffs aren’t in a bad position, with two returning starters in Trevor Woods and Tryin Taylor. Playing strong safety, Woods was second on the team in tackles last season, with 84, and may have led the team in that category had he not missed two games. Taylor started the last seven games of the season at free safety after Isaiah Lewis was lost to injury.

That being said … well, we don’t have to go over CU’s defensive stats again, do we? The Buffs were in the bottom ten in almost every statistical category last year, and were dead last in points allowed per game (44.5 points/game. The only other team in the 131-team FBS to give up over 40 points per game was South Florida, at 41.17. The next lowest Power Five team was Arizona, a full eight points less/game than the Buffs, at 36.5 ppg.).

Long story short … every starting job on the defense is up for grabs, and the Buffs would likely be better off if Woods and Taylor do not remain CU’s best options. Both will earn playing time, but there may be better starters out there. Cam’ron Silmon joins the Buffs as a Transfer Portal addition from Jackson State, but he was not the most prized Tiger to join CU’s lineup.

More help will be needed at the safety positions – or one or more of CU’s returning underclassmen will have to show significant improvement – before Buff fans will breath easier about the last line of CU’s defense.

Kickers

Eligibility: 

  • Senior … none
  • Junior … Alejandro Mata (PK)Mark Vassett (P) (TR)
  • Sophomore … Trent Carrizosa (P) … Jacob Politte (LS)
  • Freshmen … Jace Feely (PK)

Thoughts … Who knew there would be so much drama in the kicking game?

The Buffs appeared to be set for the next few seasons at both punter and kicker, but the landscape has changed. CU’s punter of the present and future, highly-rated freshman Ashton Logan, was to hold down the punting chores for the next few years. Sophomore kicker Cole Becker, meanwhile, was solid if not spectacular at the kicking position, hitting 11-of-13 of his field goal attempts (long of 49 yards), with 36 of his 43 kickoffs going through the end zone for a touchback.

Now … Logan is long gone, having been dismissed from the team in mid-season, with walk-on Trent Carrizosa taking over. Cole Becker is also gone, having recently entered the Transfer Portal.

The punting chores will likely be passed on to transfer Mark Vassett from Louisville. Vassett, who has two seasons of eligibility remaining, earned All-ACC honorable mention this past season for the Cardinals. As a sophomore, Vassett ranked 18th in the country with a 44.63-yards per punt average (52 punts for 2,321 yards), which set a single-season record at Louisville. During his two seasons, Vassett averaged 43.3 yards per punt, the best career average in Louisville history. In his 100 career punts, Vassett pinned the opponent inside of its 20-yard line 36 times and he had 16 punts of at least 50 yards.

Field goal attempts will now be handled by Jackson State transfer Alejandro Mata. As a true freshman this past season at Jackson State, Mata made 12-of-13 field goals, with a long of 38 yards, and 51-of-52 extra points. Both of his misses were blocked. He did not handle kickoff duties for the Tigers.

At CU, Mata will be reunited with a pair of high school teammates, running Victor Venn and linebacker Aubrey Smith, who were true freshmen with the Buffs this year. All three helped Buford (Ga.) High School win state titles in 2020 and 2021.

Mata will have to win over the Buff Nation, though, as many Buff fans do not see Mata as being an upgrade from what CU had in Cole Becker.

Punt and kick returners … This won’t be settled until well into Fall Camp, but with the talent, depth and speed at the wide receiver and cornerback positions, this could well be an area of strength for the Buffs in 2023.

The University of Colorado football team went 1-11 in 2022. Along the way, the defense was not only bad, but historically bad. The Buffs finished last in the nation in rushing defense (131st), 113th in passing defense, 130th in total defense, and last – 131st – in scoring defense.

And only five starters return.

So, to say it’s a complete rebuild for Coach Prime and defensive coordinator Charles Kelly is an understatement. Even with the additions to the roster which have been made, only the cornerbacks appear to be set with Pac-12 quality starters.

The CU roster is presently at 88 bodies, three more than allowed under NCAA guidelines. As a result, for every new transfer or commit receives from here on in, one of the names listed above or in the preview for the offense will be asked to move on.

Coach Prime has already added 35 new names to the CU roster, but 50 remain from the 1-11 2022 team. Progress has been made, but the finished product is still a ways off …

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14 Replies to “Way Too Early Depth Chart – Defense”

  1. Yo stu,

    Where is that place where you were gonna keep the roster scholarship by position update? Or was that someone else doing that

    vkb

  2. I think last years scheme is largely responsible for our defensive performance. I am a knowledgeable amateur and I could literally call successful plays against us.
    – go to 2 wide on the weak side, a tight end off the line and a single wr to the strong side. We will move our strong side backer outside of the tight end and shift the weak side backer to nearly over center. The guard starts a combo block with the center on the d tackle before pealing off to the weakside linebacker. This allows the center to get position on the d tackle. The weak side tackle takes on the end and since our weakside end was undersized he just gets blown off the ball. The tight end pulls now through the weak side hole and goes hunting the safety. The strong side guard reach blocks the d tackle and the strong side tackle releases the d end and goes hunting the strong side backer who is 2 yards outside of his block so it is the simplest block in the world. The qb freezes the end from collapsing down and locks the linbackers in their spot for a second by giving RPO/RO motion. Providing the d end does not come crashing down and completely ignores the qb he hands it off. The running back now has everyone blocked and an extra blocker hunting the safety becuase there is no way the strong side backer can fill. It is just friggin impossible. So your other safety who starts at 14 yards has to come down and make a play. But he is the guy of last resort so he cannot be an aggressive tackler and ends up catching the running back 7-10 yards down the field. Now all of you will remember our brilliant coaching staffs answer to this was what I mentioned above. The d end now cRashes down, ignores the qb completely. The qb reads this and keeps the ball, he now runs off the tackles butt who is lined up against the Mike linebacker 1:1 with position. The safety is now responsible for the tackle but he has to hold position until the qb crosses the line so now the qb can read the tackles block and if the safety and the strong side backer does not play it perfectly he can pick his side……. Teams ran this exact play, and versions of it all season. I have no clue why our d coaches though this alignment would work. And what benefit they really thought they got by moving the strong side linebacker so far out of position. But it never friggin changed. This was what we went to whenever we saw that formation. It was like stealing candy from a baby. It was not the kids fault. Our coaches were bad, real bad last year. In addition, I am fairly certain Smith ruined some linebackers. Seemed like a nice guy but all of his linebackers “caught” blockers instead of aggressively hitting their responsibility. I am sure some of you heard the old adage “you know you are going to get blocked so go slam yourself into the hole and make a pile”. Our linebackers never did that. Instead we stayed at depth and waited for whoever was responsible for blocking us came out to block us…..ridiculous. I get RPO is tough on linebackers but that was ridiculous. Our d lineman knew one pass rush move….bull rush. Where is the hand fighting to rip? Where is the outer stab step attack inside? I never saw it. Is saw a bull rush over and over again.

    The one thing I will say about players is I did not see freshman grow. Woods, Reed, Taylor were all the same size they were last year, they were all the same player they were the year before. I would have expected them to add at least 5-10 pounds. Woods especially is not going to be able to bear up to the pounding a safety will take at his size. I suspect there was a fairly lackadaisical off season program last year. If guys want playing time this year there will be competition. You better be putting in the time.

  3. Good read, Stuart. I’m more positive on Trevor Woods. I fell in love with his ply last season. I remember thinking how The replays of the D getting burned never (very rarely) included him, unless he came from elsewhere to make the damn tackle. He played with fire and ability, providing many of our limited defensive highlights. I’d like to see how he performs when surrounded by players that can handle their own. My hunch is he’ll look even better if he can focus on only his own assignments.

  4. Right now it feels like the defense, especially run defense will be asked to not lose the games. The offense should be way better than last year so they will need to just keep the opposing offenses from running wild on us. Now if Travis Hunter is as good as advertised and the secondary is truly loaded, they may be able to cheat with a lot of smoke and mirrors blitzing instead of playing straight up. I remember the 2005 broncos were very much like that and they got to a game within the Super Bowl. The good news? They can’t be worse than last year and will likely be better but I agree we need some new additions to be at least formidable especially at edge rusher.

  5. Happy New Year Stuart,
    Things will be markedly better on both sides of the ball for our Buffs under the tutelage of Coach Prime and his staff.
    We know CP was one of the best to ever play cornerback in the NFL. Although he was a phenomenal athlete to begin with, his work ethic off the field made him so great. He will bring that to CU players, because he will make it clear that they need to raise their game all across the board.
    Anyone who thinks they can slack off in weight room, or the classroom, or in their film study to learn about the folks the will be playing against will be shown the door.
    I know a few folks who post here seem to think that coaching doesn’t matter. And all that counts is stars from the recruiting services earned in high school. What a joke.
    That #1 recruiting class last year for Texas A&M led them all the way to not even making a bowl game, let alone the national championship.
    Coach Prime knows that it takes more than natural athletic ability. It doesn’t matter how fast you are if you are running the wrong direction.
    Coach Prime will teach these young men what it takes to be the best. Those who are not willing to do the work will not be part of the team. It’s the way it needs to be.

    Go Buffs!

    Mark / boulderdevil

    1. I am certainly one of those guys who think coaching is more important than stars yet there have been over rated coaches who have had some measure of success. Besides Fisher I put Lloyd Carr and Mack Brown also in the over rated category. These guys had the pick of talent and could have done a lot more with it. Star players or super star assistant/coordinators or both? Fisher completely exposed himself with his sophomoric rant at Saban. Maybe giving an 18 year old a half million dollars isnt the best way to guarantee his performance.
      The Buffs, of course, must “lead” the nation with overrated hires, probably the most overrated ever coming right after Barnett’s dismissal…..who had a super star OC at his previous job. Even dinner bell Mel seems to be fading….on the field not financially of course.
      Having vented that
      Things have get to better here. They cant get any worse…right? last in the nation in almost everything.

      Sure hope Prime isnt an overrated hire. I know he is a good coach but the avalanche of hype has a way of jinxing things…..dont know what I’ll do as a fan if that happens.

      1. ep.
        all ready winning:

        season ticket sales are booming
        buff (prime) stuffing flying off the shelves.
        Got a qb. 2 frosh coming in are fired up for the competition
        Got a lotta speed on the team

        go buffs

        Note: OC has actually run a fast paced office and called the dang plays

    1. The CU Football program just has to be to be finally coming back to Relevancy with old “Heckel & Jeckel” aka (VK & EP) now posting their learned thoughts again. Imean these are two old geezers that must have purged the moth ball smell out of their CU clothes and taken some of those brain improvement medicines advertised on TV, soaked their gnarly fingers so as to type somewhat enthusiastic comments about the revival of the CU football fortunes. A SIGN A SIGN………
      Thank You Stuart for keeping the faith and keeping this site going & why in the heck don’t you button up that law practice and move down here to Boulder?

      1. Thanks for the kind words … and I’m just a lottery ticket away from closing down the office and spending at least the fall in Boulder.
        Now … if I could just figure out how to buy a lottery ticket (with perhaps only “prime” numbers!)

      2. The only reason you got away with that is because you are older than both of us and my first Buff game was watching Bobby Anderson. Still we always enjoy your ancient Buff history lessons.
        Now that you are in Boulder have you resisted the impulse/offer to play golf with VK? Maybe you have. Does he always illegally improve his lie? (no pun intended)

        1. Wait a minute, the old geezer hisself is living in Boulder? I thought it was one of those “homes” prevalent in Arvada. They got a growing business down there.

          Clearly as often as the “ol-AZ” posts, it must be long stretch’s between him popping back into reality awareness. He use to be prolific. Now……………………….nothing. Sad.

          And ep is correct, the ol dude is old. He even admitted it once while probably into the tequila which he said he only sipped but nobody believed that. And his golf game? He always deflected any discussion about his game……………….cause he didn’t have one.

          Now az, I have no problem driving down to your “home” and picking you up and taking you out to “putters pride” so we can end once and for all the windmill falsities. Then we can do an early bird then back to the home.
          Let me know.

          The VKB!

          Note: I have a handicap placard so we can always park close to any entrance

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