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2011 Colorado Preview – Defense
Colorado LB Doug Rippy
Colorado LB Doug Rippy
Posted Jun 20, 2011 2011 Preview - Colorado Buffalo Defense

Colorado Buffaloes

Preview 2011 - Defense

- 2011 Colorado Preview | 2011 Colorado Offense
- 2011 Colorado Defense | 2011 Colorado Depth Chart
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What You Need To Know: The job of elevating the Colorado defense now belongs to well-travelled coordinator Greg Brown. He got his first good look at the talent he inherited this spring, but not quite as complete as he will in the summer. A number of Buffaloes who’ll compete for jobs in August sat out the session with an injury. The D played to mixed reviews in its final year in the Big 12, looking stout in the front seven, but wilting in the secondary. Now, that defensive backfield will attempt to regroup without Jimmy Smith and Jalil Brown, a couple of NFL corners. The strength will once again be up front, especially since LB Jon Major is returning from a season-ending injury. DT Will Pericak and DE Josh Hartigan are scrappy veterans, with All-Big 12 honorable mention on last season’s résumé.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Ray Polk, 60
Sacks: Josh Hartigan, 7
Interceptions: Travis Sandersfeld, 2

Star of the defense: Junior LB Jon Major
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore CB Parker Orms
Unsung star on the rise: Senior NT Conrad Obi
Best pro prospect: Junior FS Ray Polk
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Major, 2) Junior DT Will Pericak, 3) Polk
Strength of the defense: Depth at tackle, safeties, run defense
Weakness of the defense: Linebacker, pass defense, red zone breakdowns, takeaways

Defensive Line

State of the Unit: It’s a good year for Colorado to be bringing back all of its starting defensive linemen; the program is making a switch from a 3-4 to 4-3 base. The unit has come together as one after years of building, boasting a veteran lineup that’s coming off a solid year. The Buffs were No. 4 in Big 12 run defense and No. 3 in sacks, largely because of the play of this group.

One of the breakout performers of 2010 was 6-1, 220-pound senior Josh Hartigan , who went from special teamer to the team’s leader in sacks. He got to the quarterback seven times by using the speed and quickness of a former linebacker. Of course, a lack of size presents problems on obvious running downs and could limit his playing time when opponents go into jumbo packages.

The graduation of Marquez Herrod has opened the door for 6-3, 240-pound sophomore Chidera Uzo-Diribe to win a starting job. He showed promise in his first year of action, getting in on about a dozen snaps a game and making 3.5 sacks. A former basketball player, with loads of room for improvement, he has the explosiveness to be special in time. The transfer of Forrest West puts even more pressure on senior Nick Kasa to make a healthy return from a spring knee injury. On a line that lacks size, Colorado needs his 6-6, 275-pound frame and experience. As a reserve last season, he got in on 18 tackles.

The leader on the inside is 6-4, 285-pound junior Will Pericak , a starter in each of his 24 games. An active tackle, who slides up and down the line well, he had 45 tackles, 16 of which were for zero or minus yards. The former tight end is the best athlete among the interior linemen, which allows him to get off the snap quickly and into the opposing backfield before running plays can develop. Pericak will have a capable insurance policy behind him, 6-1, 285-pound senior Curtis Cunningham . A two-year starter, he’ll play to the whistle in order to offset a lack of muscle. He played more snaps than any other lineman, making 31 tackles and five stops for loss.

A trendy choice for breakout star up front is 6-3, 295-pound senior NT Conrad Obi . A journeyman throughout his Buffalo career, he was named most improved player of the spring. The former end has bulked up considerably over the past two years, yet has been tough to keep out of the backfield in practice. The likely successor to Obi at the nose is 6-1, 285-pound sophomore Nate Bonsu , a beast at the point of attack. Back after missing 2010 to rehab a knee injury, he brings some much-needed attitude and ferocity to the front wall.

Watch Out For … Uzo-Diribe to start making more headlines than Hartigan on the outside. The sophomore hasn’t played this sport for very long, yet showed flashes of potential last season. If he can continue to sharpen his technique and pass rushing skills, he could be a dangerous force off the edge by October.
Strength: The inside rotation. Okay, so there’s no bona fide star at tackle, but the Buffs harbor no shortage of experienced players. Now that Cunningham is coming off the bench, Bonsu is healthy, and Obi is preparing for take-off, Colorado will have fresh legs at tackle throughout the year.
Weakness: Depth on the outside. It was a rough offseason for the defensive ends, which were squeezed by graduations and voluntary departures. A healthy return from Kasa is huge because the one Colorado end capable of providing a consistent spark off the bench.
Outlook: This will once again be a blue-collar group that operates with a non-stop motor. The linemen will scrap all year, generating pressure and making it difficult for opponents to run the ball with consistency. A classic case of the sum being greater than its parts, the Buffalo line is an underrated group that’ll make life a little simpler for the back seven.
Unit Rating: 7


State of the Unit: For the Colorado linebackers, it’ll be a case of one step forward and two steps back. While the Buffs are excited to be getting back one of their top performers from injury, they also lose a couple of valuable seniors to graduation. Michael Sipili, in particular, was a tone-setter at the second level and the leading tackler of 2010. Developing the young players and building a workable two-deep will be primary goals of the coaching staff in the summer.

The most exciting news at linebacker surrounds the return of Jon Major , who missed the second half of 2010 with an MCL sprain. At the time, he was leading the Buffaloes with 57 tackles. Particularly clutch on third down and in run defense, he has the 6-2, 230-pound frame to shed bigger blockers and make the stop. He’s had two significant knee injuries in Boulder, which will loom over him for as long as he’s with the program. When healthy, he’s an all-conference caliber defender at strongside.

Providing insurance for Major will be 6-2, 225-pound sophomore Liloa Nobriga . An extremely active defender, who enjoys flying off the edge, he started the Oklahoma game and finished the season with 46 tackles. He has budding instincts, already showing a keen nose for the ball.

At weakside, the staff plans to turn to 6-1, 210-pound senior Patrick Mahnke , a veteran who’s done a little bit of everything for the program. A converted safety, he moves well laterally and will contribute in pass defense. As a reserve in 2010, he made 35 tackles coming off the bench.

In the middle, the coaches have been raving about the play of 6-2, 225-pound junior Doug Rippy

, one of the breakout performers of the spring. Although he’s done most of his damage so far on special teams, but that’s about to change. The top recruit from 2008 is poised to bust out with an ideal combination of range and toughness. Backing up Rippy will be 6-0, 220-pound sophomore Derrick Webb . Pressed into action because of injuries last fall, he responded with 17 tackles in seven games, and possesses the versatility to handle multiple positions.

Watch Out For … Rippy. This could be the year for No. 51 to take off and begin fulfilling expectations. He has a world of talent, but hasn’t been able to stay on the field long enough to achieve any consistency. With a fat opportunity staring him in the face, he’s capable of seizing it in 2011.
Strength: Major. When at 100%, he’s a game-changer who makes everyone around him a little better. He fills running lanes with ferocity and will wrap up in the open field. The Colorado defense wasn’t nearly same after he went down in the Texas Tech game.
Weakness: Durability. Can the Buffalo linebackers remain healthy long enough to reach their potential? This group has been banged up way too often, impacting an already questionable level of depth.
Outlook: When the topic is the linebackers, fingers are going to be crossed all year. Can Major avoid another serious injury? Is this the year that Rippy erupts? Is Mahnke really ready for a promotion? Heading into 2011, there are too many question marks and not enough sure-things at the second level for Colorado.
Unit Rating: 6.5


State of the Unit: By far, the biggest need area this offseason will be at cornerback, a position that lost recent NFL draftees Jimmy Smith and Jalil Brown to graduation. No amount of player development can offset the departures of two pass defenders of that caliber. Considering how poorly the secondary performed last fall even with the pair still in Boulder, the new staff has to be feeling an inordinate amount of trepidation about what lays ahead for the rebuilt defensive backfield.

The clear strength of the secondary will be at safety, where a couple of veterans return. At free safety, 6-1, 215-pound junior Ray Polk is coming off a table-setting season. He finished second on the team with 72 stops and played on every snap of the first seven games. A top-flight running back recruit when he arrived, his size and speed ensure that he’ll continue to get better with more experience and coaching.

The leader of the defensive backfield—and starter at strong safety—will be 5-10, 200-pound senior Anthony Perkins . At the time he suffered a torn ACL in Week 5, he had 38 tackles, more than any other Buffalo player. While neither the biggest or fastest member of the secondary, he’s a savvy, instinctive defender who knows where he belongs on the field at all times. Behind Perkins is 6-0, 205-pound senior Travis Sandersfeld , who started five games at nickel last season. The tough competitor and heady veteran made 39 tackles in seven games, but missed significant time to an ankle injury.

The battles at cornerback will be instrumental to the team’s overall success. The favorite on the left side is 5-11, 180-pound sophomore Parker Orms , who’s working his way back from a major knee injury suffered in last year’s opener. He turned heads in the spring of 2010 with his playmaking skills and was starting at nickel before getting hurt. Fellow sophomore Ayodeji Olatoye is bucking for playing time as well and no worse than a spot on the second team. He has the physical skills and long frame to be successful, but after playing in just six, needs more experience to earn the staff’s confidence.

For now, the frontrunner at right corner is 5-11, 210-pound senior Arthur Jaffee , a former running back turned defensive back. He’s coming off a solid spring and has excelled on special teams, but his snaps in the secondary have been infrequent. He’ll resume his competition with 5-11, 195-pound Jonathan Hawkins in the summer. Another senior without much mileage on his tires, he only got off the sidelines in 2010 when injuries struck the rest of the defensive backfield.

Watch Out For … Orms. After getting hurt so early in 2010, he’ll have to settle on this fall for his breakthrough moment. He possesses the skill set in a defensive back that the Buffaloes are seeking this fall. Now he just has to go out and become the program’s best cover cornerback, with little relevant experience to call upon.
Strength: The safeties. Assuming Perkins can regain his pre-injury form, Colorado is set at safety with a pair of borderline all-conference players roaming the defensive backfield. While Perkins provides stability and consistency, Polk is a rising star at the position.
Weakness: The corners. The decline from Smith and Brown was going to be inevitable, but this could be more precipitous than anyone is willing to admit. Plenty of faith is being put in the untested sophomores on the left side, and the seniors at right corner are better suited as backups.
Outlook: Pass defense could be the weakest link of the entire program this fall. Not only is there so much uncertainty at key positions, but the Buffs are coming off a season in which they yielded 27 touchdown passes and picked off just seven over the final 11 games. Moving from the Big 12 to the Pac-12 isn’t going to make life any easier on this beleaguered unit.
Unit Rating: 6.5

Special Teams

State of the Unit: Special teams is going to an area of grave concern for the coaching staff. The Buffaloes struggled here last fall, a fact that head coach Jon Embree recognized every time he reviewed film from the 2010 season. Technically flawed the past couple of years, Colorado is going to get a crash course on how to begin doing the little things right.

Hope at placekicker comes from sophomore Justin Castor , one of the nation’s better recruits of 2010 at the position. Now up to 6-4 and 200 pounds, he has the added muscle to drive through the ball on kickoffs and field goals. His only attempt last season was blocked.

Back to handle punting duties for a second year is sophomore Zach Grossnickle , who’ll also be the emergency placekicker. He averaged just south of 40 yards and had two blocked, but improved as the season progressed and sports the potential to improve his distance.

While punt returns figure to be the domain of sophomore Paul Richardson , the program will wait until the summer to name its pecking order for kick returns. The duty was spread out a year ago among a handful of Buffs, including seniors Toney Clemons , Arthur Jaffee , and Brian Lockridge .
Watch Out For … Castor to bring some much-needed stability to the kicking game. He has the fundamentals and the physical ability to live up to his prep hype. He also made good use of his first season on campus, working out the kinks and making good use of the Colorado weight room.
Strength: Kickoff returns. The return game by committee seemed to work for the Buffaloes last season. While five different players got at least seven different chances to bring the ball, resulting in a respectable 23-yard average for a second consecutive year.
Weakness: Consistency in the kicking game. Colorado had two punts blocked and missed more than a third of its field goal tries in 2010. Those gaffes were symbolic of a unit that lacks the crispness to meet the new staff’s expectations.
Outlook: Embree was mentored as a player by Bill McCartney, a coach who always made special teams a priority. Anything less than a tight product will be unacceptable for the new staff. However, in the short term, there are going to be plenty of missteps from a collection of holdovers that isn’t quite ready to excel.
Unit Rating: 5.5
- 2011 Colorado Preview | 2011 Colorado Offense
- 2011 Colorado Defense | 2011 Colorado Depth Chart
- Colorado Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006