2012 Colorado Preview – Defense
Colorado LB Jon Major
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Colorado Buffalo Defense
Preview 2012 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: Colorado houses talent on the defensive side of the ball, but is there enough to spur a turnaround from the past few dismal years? The Buffs were brutal in 2011, ranking last in the Pac-12 in takeaways, pass efficiency defense and total D. Still, this is not a program without potential. And the defense is going to be ahead of the offense for at least the early part of the season. Out of coordinator Greg Brown's 4-3 alignment, Colorado will have a couple of players at each level capable of contending for all-star honors. Up front, DT Will Pericak is an underrated mainstay, and DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe has the look of a breakout star. The linebackers, behind Jon Major and Doug Rippy, will be the strength of the defense. The secondary, while vulnerable, has more depth than it's had in recent years. There's certainly a lot of work to be done in Boulder, but Colorado feels as if it finally has the troops to start getting the job done.
Star of the defense: Senior LB Jon Major
Tackles: Jon Major, 85
Sacks: Chidera Uzo-Diribe, 5.5
Interceptions: Ray Polk, Greg Henderson, Terrel Smith, 1
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore CB Josh Moten
Unsung star on the rise: Junior DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe
Best pro prospect: Senior LB Doug Rippy
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Major, 2) Senior DT Will Pericak, 3) Senior LB Doug Rippy
Strength of the defense: Getting pressure, the linebackers
Weakness of the defense: Run defense, durability, pass defense, takeaways, red zone defense, third down defense
Two starters are gone and two are back as the Buffaloes attempt to regroup on the fly in the trenches. Providing a ground floor on the interior will be 6-4, 285-pound senior Will Pericak who has been in the starting lineup for every game of his career. A linebacker when he arrived on campus, he has packed on the weight, yet hasn't lost the quick feet and good hands that have helped make him such a disruptive player from the inside presence. The honorable mention All-Pac-12 pick finished fourth on the 2011 team with 64 stops, a gaudy number for a tackle, while pressuring opposing quarterbacks eight times.
Coming out of spring, sophomore Kirk Poston sat atop the depth chart at the other tackle position, but can he remain there? He lacks both experience and ideal size, which could create an opening for 6-1, 300-pound Nate Bonsu . The junior earned a letter in 2011, and is better equipped to handle the rigors of defending the run. He has a strong base, and is a real bear at the point of attack. However, he's also injury-prone, having missed 2010 to rehab a knee injury and this past spring following shoulder surgery.
At right defensive end, or JACK in the Colorado system, junior Chidera Uzo-Diribe spent the past few months as if he plans to be the program's most ferocious pass rusher this fall. He excelled in the weight room and on the practice field, bulking up to 6-3 and 255 pounds without sacrificing his burst or explosion coming around the edge. The one-time situational pass rusher, who had 5.5 sacks and three forced fumbles in 2011, now has the build to remain on the field for all three downs at a position that's a cross between an end and an outside linebacker.
At left end will be 6-3, 245-pound sophomore Juda Parker , the only other scholarship end on the roster in the spring. He has terrific closing speed, a plus for an edge rusher, but remains raw and susceptible to get bowled over by physical blockers. He's essentially where Uzo-Diribe was in 2011, a lineman better suited as a situational defender.
Watch Out For … the arrival of the rookies in August. The Buffs inked nine defensive linemen in February, hoping that at least a couple can make impacts right away. Kisima Jagne , for one, was one of the state of Arizona's top recruits, and an end who could rise into the two-deep before the opener.
Strength: Generating pressure. Okay, so last year's top sacker, Josh Hartigan, is gone, but Colorado still believes it'll get after the quarterback this fall. Uzo-Diribe and Parker will form a cat-quick tandem on the outside, while Pericak attacks the soft underbelly of opposing fronts. The Buffs were 36th nationally in sacks, a ranking their capable of approaching in 2012.
Weakness: Run defense. This is a major problem in Boulder that shows no signs of abating. The D allowed an unacceptable 5.3 yards a carry last season, allowing way too many plays to continue beyond the first line of defense. Considering the dearth of interior talent it has after Pericak, Colorado will be vulnerable up the gut once again.
Outlook: A microcosm for the entire program, the Buffaloes harbor talented players, such as Uzo-Diribe and Pericak, but too few to feel confident about the D-line. Colorado will again struggle to hold up at the point of attack, a situation that'll be exacerbated by the unit's lack of depth at tackle and end. Exceeding expectations will require multiple underclassmen to play above their experience level in 2012.
Unit Rating: 6
If only the Buffaloes can stay healthy, they've got a shot to feature one of the Pac-12's most underrated corps of linebackers. Leading the charge from strongside will be 6-2, 240-pound senior Jon Major who made a triumphant return from an MCL sprain that halved his 2010 season. He racked up a team-high 85 tackles, seven stops for loss and three sacks, recapturing his pre-injury form. He's a tough and physical run defender who fills lanes quickly, playing with all of the instincts of a middle linebacker. In fact, he excelled on the inside a year ago when an injury necessitated that he relocate.
At weakside, junior Derrick Webb will once again be manning the position for the Buffaloes. He's a hard-hitting 6-0, 230-pound veteran who has added an additional 10 pounds of muscle to his frame in the offseason. A six-game starter in 2011, he posted a career-high 54 tackles and four stops for loss, and is looking for a lot more this fall. Webb will be backed up by 6-1, 220-pound sophomore Kyle Washington , the converted strong safety who appeared comfortable in the spring at his new position. He had 20 stops a year ago as a backup and special teamer.
The situation that bears the closest watch is middle linebacker. For the time being, sophomore Brady Daigh resides in the pole position. The second-year player wasted no time springing into action in his first year, seeing the field and making 18 stops as a rookie. He's an instinctive, downhill defender with the sturdy 6-2, 245-pound frame to handle the rigors of the Pac-12. However, …
… this job belongs to senior Doug Rippy . The 6-3, 240-pound guided missile was having a terrific 2011 campaign when a knee injury instantly halted it in Week 7. At the time, he had 62 tackles, five stops for loss and three sacks. A ferocious wrap-up tackler, with excellent range, he's expected to resume full conditioning drills in June. Rippy's return is not only important for the Colorado D, but it's going to be crucial for his quest to continue playing on Sundays in 2013.
Watch Out For … Rippy's return. For good reason, the linebacker and his staff are taking things slowly, but at some point he'll have to be turned loose so the knee can be tested. Breaths will be held across Boulder. The Buffs will have a solid collection of linebackers no matter what, but could be dominant if No. 3 is back at full strength in time for the fall.
Strength: Intimidation. These Buffs are flat out nasty where it matters most, at the point of contact. The key players have good size and the leverage needed to really lower the boom. While Colorado has had all kinds of problems stopping the run, the issue has more to do with cracks in the first line of defense than the second one.
Weakness: Durability. Can the Colorado linebackers remain healthy long enough to reach their considerable potential? Major missed half of 2010 with an MCL sprain. Rippy missed half of 2011 with a knee injury of his own. It's time for this group to get one full season together to see just how assertive it can be.
Outlook: Rippy says he'll be ready to go in time for the opener. If he's right, the linebackers will be the hands-down best unit on the 2012 squad. The Buffs are going to house a lot of quality on the second level, including a couple of defenders who could be playing for pay a season from now. There's also a nice mixture of veteran stoppers and youth, like Daigh, to help ensure that the program will be talented at linebacker for years to come.
Unit Rating: 7.5
The Buffaloes needed to rebuild in the defensive backfield last season. It showed. The secondary took its lumps, yielding 34 touchdown passes while picking off just seven. One of the silver linings was the development of 5-11, 180-pound sophomore Greg Henderson who did more than just win a starting job in his first season. He evolved into the program's most consistent pass defender, even earning honorable mention All-Pac-12. A fluid athlete, with budding ball skills, he debuted with 58 tackles, four stops for loss and a team-high nine pass breakups.
The battle for the other starting cornerback job isn't likely to be decided until the summer. For now, everyone is looking up at sophomore Josh Moten who is coming off a strong spring. The 6-0, 195-pound, with the good speed and loose hips, got a taste of action in five games a year ago. However, he still might have to beat out fellow sophomore Jered Bell who appeared to be closing in on a starting job when he tore his ACL last August. Now up to 6-0 and 195 pounds, he has successfully bulked up to handle bigger wide receivers, which he hopes to be doing upon his return to contact drills this summer.
Colorado has a sense of calm regarding its safeties, especially FS Ray Polk . The 6-1, 205-pound senior was second on the team with 80 tackles and six pass breakups, showing a continued comfort level on the defensive side of the ball. A coveted running back recruit when he arrived, he has the size, speed and athleticism to cover a lot of ground when roaming centerfield. Polk is a warrior, delivering the payload for much of 2011 with a cracked sternum and torn ligaments in his wrist.
Behind Polk at free safety will be a pair of quality junior reserves, 5-9, 195-pound Terrel Smith and 6-1, 195-pound Paul Vigo . Both players have earned a pair of letters in Boulder, with Smith collecting 36 tackles in 2011.
The final piece of the secondary puzzle figures to be junior Parker Orms , an oft-injured defensive back who keeps finding himself atop the depth chart. While he's played some cornerback, he's better suited at strong safety, where he'll have more help in coverage. More physical and emphatic than his 5-11, 195-pound frame might indicate, he racked up 39 tackles and five third down stops in less than half a season of work.
Watch Out For … the rookies. The Buffs cleaned up on Signing Day—by anyone's standard—in the secondary. Kenneth Crawley and Yuri Wright , in particular, were high-profile East Coast recruits who had a ton of offers. Both rookies also possess the size to hit the ground running in their maiden seasons.
Strength: Options. While the pass defense has struggled of late, the staff has used the past few years to bolster the overall depth and talent in the secondary. Embree and his staff have exceeded expectations in recruiting, winning some battles versus far more prominent programs. Eight holdovers have earned letters, good news for the two-deep.
Weakness: Pass defense. When the ball was in the air a year ago, Colorado was usually being beaten. Absolutely nothing went right for the secondary, which ranked 115th nationally in pass efficiency defense. Nearly two-thirds of opponents' passes were completed, and often for a substantial gain.
Outlook: The Buffs have a ton of work to do in the secondary, an area of major concern for a second straight year. While there are some promising parts, such as Henderson and Polk, the whole remains rather suspect. Now, it would not be unreasonable for progress to be expected, especially if the rookies contribute, but opposing passers will still get excited when Colorado is on the schedule.
Unit Rating: 6
Unlike a year ago, when there was a giant question mark here, Colorado will begin 2012 with a lot more confidence on special teams. One of last season's biggest developments was the emergence of sophomore Darragh O'Neill as the team's punter of the future. Born in Ireland, the walk-on jetted past his competitors in the summer, and averaged 42.6 yards a boot. He's an all-around good athlete who can punt with his left or right leg.
Sophomore PK Will Oliver , too, played an integral role in his first season of action. The then-rookie led the Buffs in scoring, hitting 11-of-16 field goals and 29-of-31 extra point attempts. After sitting out the spring following shoulder surgery, he's expecting to kick with more accuracy this fall.
Watch Out For … a return man or two to emerge in the summer. Graduations and the season-ending injury to Paul Richardson has left the Buffaloes unsure of who'll handle the return game once September arrives. The staff plans to audition true freshmen to see if they can add a little pop to the unit.
Strength: Young legs. O'Neill and Oliver weren't even considered the favorites at their respective positions last spring. Now, both are the standards by which other punters and placekickers will be measured in Boulder for the next three seasons. The pair performed beyond expectations in 2011, raising hope on special teams for 2012 and beyond.
Weakness: The return game. While neither a punt returner nor kick returner has been tabbed, the situation can't get any worse than last fall. Colorado was downright impotent on returns in 2011, ranking 105th on punts and 115th on kickoffs.
Outlook: Head coach Jon Embree was a disciple of Bill McCartney, a coach who always made special teams a top priority. While Embree made strides in his first year, there's still plenty of work left to be done, especially after allowing six blocked kicks in 2011. The good news is that the kickers are now established and trending north. The bad news is that the return game and coverage teams still need too much hand-holding.
Unit Rating: 6
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