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Countdown to Spring Practices – Defensive Line

… Program Note … Colorado’s first of 15 spring practices will be conducted on March 18, with the spring game scheduled for April 27th at Folsom Field.

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 add new players – or face attrition – after the spring.

Previously posted:

Up next: Edge Rushers … Coming Wednesday

— Defensive Line (11) …

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

  • Seniors … Shane Cokes … Chazz Wallace … Chidozie Nwankwo … Tauren Carter … BJ Green (SA)
  • Juniors … Amari McNeill … JJ Hawkins … Anquin Barnes
  • Sophomores … Quency Wiggins
  • Red-shirt freshmen … none
  • 2024 Signees … Brandon Davis-Swain (EE) … Eric Brantley, Jr. (EE)

The Stats … 

While the Colorado offensive line bore a great deal of the blame for the Buffs’ 4-8 final record (and deservedly so), the Colorado defensive line was not without fault. Yes, the Buff defense was better last fall than it was in 2022, but that was only because the 2022 defense was historically bad.

When compared to its peers this past season, the Buff defense was somewhere between not very good and terrible. While there was some talent in the secondary, deficiencies in the front seven made it difficult for CU to stop pretty much every offense it faced.

The national stats below speak for themselves. In statistical categories where quality of defensive line play is key, including third- and fourth-down stops and rushing defense, Colorado was consistently in the 100’s nationally.

Shane Cokes is the lone returning starter along the defensive line, and his stats from last season are reflective of the problems facing defensive tackles coach San Sunseri and new defensive coordinator Robert Livingston this spring … Cokes started nine games in 2023, but failed to record a sack or tackle for loss. Cokes was able to get away with playing at 275 pounds at Dartmouth, but he was pushed around by the 300-pound offensive linemen of the Pac-12.

Nationally … CU in 2023 … 

  • Rushing defense … 176.4 yds/game … 107th nationally
  • Third down percentage defense … .467 … 122nd nationally
  • Fourth down percentage defense … .625 … 114th nationally
  • Total defense … 453.3 yds/game … 127th nationally
  • Scoring defense … 34.83 pts/game … 121st nationally

What to watch for …

This spring, Chidozie Nwankwo may become a name Buff fans learn to pronounce. A transfer from Houston, Nwankwo, a/k/a “The Block Bully”, played four seasons for the Cougars, competing in 41 games with 32 starts. He posted 95 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and five sacks in his career. This past season, Nwankwo played 10 games, posting 25 tackles, five tackles for loss and a sack.

Better yet … Nwankwo’s run defense grade of 78.2 on PFF this past season ranked 14th in the Big 12 among all defensive lineman and edge defenders. Nwankwo is a player who can plug up the middle, forcing double teams … a trait which has been lacking along the CU defensive line for some time.

After Nwankwo, the battle for playing time should be interesting. Amari McNeill returns, and could be the early favorite as he has already spent a season in Boulder. McNeill played in all 12 games last fall, starting four. Overall, he recorded 31 total tackles, seven tackles for loss, three sacks, one forced fumble, one quarterback hurry and one pass breakup. At 6’4″, 295-pounds, McNeill has the right build to be a force along the defensive line, but the question remains as to whether he will be inserted into the lineup as a full-time starter.

Challenging McNeill for playing time are two transfers, Anquin Barnes, coming to CU from Alabama, and Taurean Carter, a transfer from Arkansas.

Anquin Barnes is another player who gives CU an upgrade in size (6’5″, 314-pounds), but the junior-to-be failed to make a name for himself at Alabama. After a redshirt year in 2021, Barnes did not see any action as a redshirt freshman in 2022, and only had mop-up duty as a sophomore last fall in two games (Middle Tennessee and Chattanooga). Barnes has two years of eligibility to prove that Alabama made a mistake in not playing him more.

Taurean Carter is another SEC transfer, but one who did see playing time. Carter checks in at 6’3″, 303-pounds, representing another large body for the CU defensive line. Carter, despite being a member of the Recruiting Class of 2019, still has two years of eligibility remaining (owing to COVID and a medical redshirt year). At Arkansas in 2023, Carter played in all 12 games, starting the first four. He totaled 25 tackles, six unassisted, three-and-a-half tackles for loss, and one-and-a-half sacks.

The size of the defensive line has improved. There are players on the roster who have Power Five playing experience. Whether there will be improvement up front on CU’s defense remains to be seen …

Burning questions for spring … 

  • A question which Buff fans will be asking of every defensive unit this spring: What does new defensive coordinator Robert Livingston have in mind for the defense? The roster was pretty much in place when Livingston was finally hired, so will the current players on the team be able to fit Livingston’s schemes, or will there have to be another overhaul of the roster come the April Transfer Portal window?;
  • Can the athleticism of Shane Cokes keep him in the starting lineup, or will he be replaced by larger recruits more adept at being run-stuffers?;
  • Is Anquin Barnes the real deal? Barnes played in only two games in past three years, so he’s not banged up … but was Alabama right in keeping him on the bench?;
  • Will early freshman enrollees Brandon Davis-Swain and Eric Brantley, Jr. make names for themselves? And, if so, it that an indictment of the upperclassmen who aren’t panning out?

Addition/Attrition likelihood … Medium … If quality 300-pound defensive linemen grew on trees, then Colorado would definitely be in the market in April to pull in some additional talent. The problem is – as it always is – that there are very few four-star defensive linemen entering the Portal, and those who did so in December have already found homes. It wouldn’t be a surprise if another defensive lineman is added after spring practices … but it would be a surprise if the addition is a game-changer.

On the flip side, there may be a player or two on the current roster who will try and find playing time elsewhere. The CU defensive line is not deep, and the need to rotate players would seemingly give current Buffs plenty of incentive to stay and earn playing time. That being said, there is still work to be done to the roster, and those not ready to contribute make be asked to seek other opportunities.


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

    1. I am going with the assumed 4-2-5 defense the Buffs may run. Green will be included in the Edge Rushers/Outside Linebackers discussion coming on Wednesday.

  1. I think we are going to play some 4-3 with the talent/beef up the middle!! But the 4-2-5 is the B-12 staple defense. I think it will be run specific, then pass specific. With the additional beef, I think Chazz Wallace could morph into Rasheed Wallace is give some production.

    1. I am going with the assumed 4-2-5 defense the Buffs may run. Okunlola will be included in the Edge Rushers/Outside Linebackers discussion coming on Wednesday.

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