Countdown to Spring Practices – Edge Rushers

… 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: Linebackers … Coming Sunday

— Edge Rushers (9) …

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

  • Seniors … Khairi Manns … Jeremiah Brown … B.J. Green (SA)
  • Juniors … Arden Walker … Keaten Wade … Nikhil Webb Walker … Tristan Marios
  • Sophomores … Quency Wiggins … Samuel Okunlola
  • Red-shirt freshmen … Taje McCoy … Jacob Woida
  • 2024 Signees … none

The Stats … 

Lies, damned lies, and statistics.

If I told you that last fall the Colorado defense more than doubled its sack total from the previous season, you might get a impression that the Buff defensive ends/edge rushers made significant strides in 2023.

Well, yes and no. In 2022, the CU defense came up with only 12 sacks all season. Last fall, in the first season under Coach Prime, the defense posted 27 sacks.

An improvement, to be sure. But … the 27 sack total was only good enough to be ranked 53rd in the nation. The Buffs were even worse when it came to tackles for loss, finishing 81st in the nation.

CU’s defensive numbers were definitely better than the atrocious numbers put up the year before, but the unit is still a ways away from being a determining factor in a winning season.

So it was not a surprise that outside of the offensive line, the defensive line was a priority for the CU coaching staff this off-season. Jordan Domineck, the mainstay of the defensive line last season, has used up his eligibility, while the returning players were only part-time contributors in 2022.

The net result? It’s very likely that there will be new starters on the edge for Colorado this fall, hoping to improve on the 27 sacks and the 65 tackles for loss posted in 2023.

Nationally … CU in 2023 … 

  • Rushing defense … 176.4 yds/game … 107th nationally
  • Sacks … 2.25/game … 53rd nationally
  • Tackles for loss … 5.4/game … 81st nationally
  • Total defense … 453.3 yds/game … 127th nationally
  • Scoring defense … 34.83 pts/game … 121st nationally

What to watch for …

Colorado has a new defensive coordinator for the 2024 season, with Robert Livingston coming to CU from the Cincinnati Bengals, where he was the secondary coach.

With any change in coordinators, there are always going to be questions about how that side of the ball will be run. With Livingston having exactly zero years of experience as a coordinator, the CU defense for 2024 is an even greater mystery.

At least to some extent …

Livingston spent the last five seasons working under Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, who has been widely praised as one of the best defensive minds in the NFL. Anarumo’s defenses have been consistently innovative, unpredictable and game plan-specific, and Anarumo is one of the best coordinators in the league at making adjustments, both over the course of a game and a season.

Cincinnati often runs a 4-3 defense, shifting to a 4-2-5 when offenses spread out. With the passing offenses CU will be facing in its move to the Big 12 (not to mention the fact that CU’s weakest unit is likely its linebackers), a 4-2-5 defense is currently the odds-on favorite for what you will see out of a Robert Livingston defense.

(Program Note … In case you were wondering, I am using a 4-2-5 model to break down the unit previews. The previous preview was for the defensive line, a/k/a the interior defensive linemen. With this preview we are looking at the outside of the defensive line, being the edge rushers/outside linebackers. On Sunday, we’ll take a look at the inside linebackers).

Two of CU’s four Power Five transfers signed this off-season are good bets to see significant playing time this fall. Samuel Okunlola comes to Boulder from Pitt, arriving with three years of eligibility remaining. After playing four games in 2022 (and preserving his redshirt season), Okunlola, at 6’4″, 245-pounds, last fall recorded 18 total tackles and six tackles for loss, while tying for the team lead with five sacks (247 Sports had Okunlola rated as a four-star transfer, the No. 4 defensive lineman in the Transfer Portal).

The second name to remember – though you will have to wait until Fall Camp to hear his name with regularity – is B.J. Green, who transferred to CU from Arizona State. Green, who will only have one year to play for Colorado, is 6’1″, 270-pounds, is also considered to be a four-star transfer (the No. 7 defensive lineman in the Transfer Portal). While in Tempe, Green had 13.5 career sacks in three seasons playing for Arizona State. The only downside to this transfer is that Green will not be on campus until this summer.

Two SEC transfers will also be vying for playing time. Quency Wiggins saw limited playing time at LSU, but has the right measurables (6’5″, 265-pounds), while Keaten Wade had 51 tackles and 2.5 sacks in 25 games at Kentucky.

Deciding on the lineup will be CU’s new outside linebackers coach, Vincent Dancy, promoted from defensive analyst to outside linebackers coach. Dancy worked as the defensive coordinator at Paine College in 2014 and was the coordinator at Mississippi Valley State from 2015-17 before being promoted to head coach at MVS for the 2018-22 seasons.

Coach Prime, for one, has no qualms about the promotion:

“This guy is one of the smartest guys on the staff that just needed opportunity and guess what happened? He got opportunity,” Sanders said in January, announcing the move. “Vincent Dancy is going to be a coordinator one day somewhere and then consequently a head coach. One of the most intelligent coaches and can recruit. And when he talks to the team, when I put him up in front of the team, you could tell he was a head coach. He demands attention.”

Burning questions for spring … 

  • Will holdover Arden Walker, himself a former SEC transfer (from Missouri) make the move from part-time contributor to full-time starter … or will he become a transfer candidate come April?;
  • How well will Vincent Dancy fare in his first stint as a Power Five assistant coach?;
  • Will the transfers make an immediate (positive) impression this spring, or will Buff fans be left to hope that B.J. Green will be the answer to CU’s pass rushing issues? … Or … Will Buff fans be scouring the Transfer Portal lists, hoping for additional recruits to supplement CU’s defensive line?

Addition/Attrition likelihood … High … Quality edge rushers are game-changers … but are hard to come by. Coach Prime and his staff did a good job in identifying and bringing in some of the best Transfer Portal options in the first Transfer Portal window. There will be some new options come April, and it would be a surprise if CU doesn’t stay active in the market.


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