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Colorado Preview 2006 - Defense
Colorado Buffaloes
Posted Aug 1, 2006

Colorado Buffaloes Preview 2006 - Colorado Defense

What you need to know ... The college football world mostly remembers the defensive meltdowns against Nebraska and Texas at the end of the regular season, but outside of two games against the eventual national champions as a few quarters here and there, this was one of the nation's better defenses. Now it should be even better. The overall team speed is average, but there are several all-star playmakers to get excited about from the 1-2 linebacking punch of Thaddaeus Washington and Jordon Dizon to talented defensive backs Terrence Wheatley and J.J. Billingsley. Defensive tackle will be the big concern early on with the search for a steady second corner also a pressing need.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Thaddaeus Washington, 112
Sacks: Thaddaeus Washington, Abraham Wright, 5
Interceptions: J.J. Billingsley, Marcus Burton, 2

Star of the defense: Senior LB Thaddaeus Washington
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore NT Brandon Nicolas
Unsung star on the rise: Senior DE Walter Boye-Doe
Best pro prospect: Washington
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Washington, 2) FS J.J. Billingsley, 3) CB Terrence Wheatley
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, safety
Weakness of the defense:
Second cornerback, tackle depth and experience

Defensive Line
Strong on potential but short on proven production, the hope is for several sophomores and a few career reserves can patch together a line that can be as close to as strong as last year's group that helped the defense finish 11th in the nation against the run. It's not just an inexperienced line; it's small. Sophomore tackles George Hypolite and Brandon Nichols had better be great out of the gate or there could be real problems. Abraham Wright has all-star potential at one end, but the other side will be a battle this fall once Alex Ligon and Alonzo Barrett come back healthy.
The key to the unit: Backup tackles have to develop in a hurry to create a good rotation, or the starters have to bulk up in a hurry this summer. A second pass rusher has to emerge on the left side to help out Abraham Wright.

Defensive Line Rating: 7

Projected Starters
- DE Walter Boye-Doe, Sr. - 10 tackles
Boye-Doe started to blow up at the end of spring ball taking over the starting spot on the left side. Ankle problems have kept him in check, but now he should be ready to roll and become a strong end now that he knows what he's doing after moving over from linebacker.  

- DT George Hypolite, Soph. - 10 tackles
An undersized 265-pound tackle, Hypolite saw significant time as a true freshman and showed a little of his unlimited potential. He's still very, very raw, but he's a fantastic athlete with too much quickness to not turn into a strong interior pass rusher.

- NT Brandon Nicolas, Soph.
The transfer from Notre Dame will get the first shot at taking over for
Vaka Manupuna on the nose. While he's not nearly as big as Manupuna, he's a strong 270 pounds who'll have to prove early on that he can consistently hold up against the bigger running teams.

- DE Abraham Wright, Sr. - 27 tackles, 5 sacks, 5 broken up passes
One of the team's most disruptive forces, the 240-pound senior tied for the team lead in sacks and had several near misses that forced big plays made by someone else. The former JUCO star will be turned loose and be asked to do even more in the backfield.

Top Backups
- DE Alex Ligon, Sr. - 18 tackles
A good pass rusher who slipped last season after making 4.5 sacks in 2004, the 265-pound senior is trying to return from tearing a pectoral muscle this winter. He's the team's biggest end and has the potential to be good starter on the other side of Abraham Wright.
- DE Alonzo Barrett, Jr. - 15 tackles
Barrett might have slipped a bit in the pecking order after dislocating his elbow this spring, but he's a good-sized 255-pound end with a little bit of starting experience. He's a good pass rusher who wasn't able to go full-tilt last season after injuring his knee.
- DE Maurice Lucas, Soph. - 20 tackles
Lucas took over the starting role inside over the second half of last season forfeiting his redshirt, but the experience helped him in a run for work on the right side. He's a good-sized athlete and a strong tackler who'll be an All-Big 12 performer before his career is over. He might not be quite ready to take that big step this year.
- DT Marcus Jones, Sr.
The career reserve must find playing time because of his size. At 295 pounds, he's the biggest tackle by far adding more bulk on the nose than the 270-pound Brandon Nichols.

If this isn't the team's strength, it'll be close thanks to one of the Big 12's best linebacker pairs in Jordon Dizon and Thaddaeus Washington. The two combined for 173 stops last season and should hover around the 200 tackle range if they both stay healthy. There's no reason to worry about losing Brian Iwuh on the strongside with the expected emergence of tall Brad Jones and the speed of backup Joe Sanders.
The key to the unit: Jordon Dizon and Thaddaeus Washington have to keep playing like they have over the last two seasons and more speedy players have to emerge among the reserves.
Linebacker Rating: 8.5

Projected Starters
- Jordon Dizon, Jr. - 61 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 TFL
Able to play inside or out, the versatile Dizon can play anywhere in the linebacking corps and should be in the hunt for All-Big 12 honors on the weakside. He's only 6-0 and 220 pounds, but he's a tackling machine with 143 tackles in his first two seasons. He wasn't asked to do much against the pass last season making most of his big plays against the run. This season he'll likely be more of a pass rusher.

- Thaddaeus Washington, Sr. - 112 tackles, 5 sacks, 8 TFL
Washington went from being a tackling machine who made plays all over the field to a tackling machine who made plays all over the field and also got to the quarterback. With 205 stops over the last two seasons, he's one of the nation's most productive returning linebackers. He's a strong 240 pounds with an uncanny knack for never missing a tackle.

- Brad Jones, Soph. - 19 tackles, 1 TFL
It'll be up to the 220-pound Jones to take over for star outside linebacker Brian Iwuh, and he appears ready after making plays all over the field this spring. At 6-4, he's an imposing presence with more speed than Iwuh and fantastic potential to be a top defender in pass coverage.

Top Backups
- Marcus Burton, Soph. - 29 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 2 interceptions
Burton stepped in as a good backup in his true freshman season highlighted by a 99-yard interception return for a touchdown against Oklahoma State. He's a big weakside linebacker who's strong enough to handle himself in the middle if needed.
- Joe Sanders, Jr. - 1 tackle
Sanders can play inside or out moving to the strongside this season and looking great this spring. He's one of the team's faster defenders and should push hard for time all year long behind Brad Jones.

Defensive Backs
The Buffs will likely lose co-defensive MVP Garrett Burl after he violated team rules and was suspended, but they'll get back corner Terrence Wheatley after missing all of last year with a broken wrist. There's plenty of talent and lots of options to play around with around Wheatley and All-Big 12 talent J.J. Billingsley at free safety. The biggest battle will be at strong safety where Ryan Walters and Tyrone Henderson will combine for time, while the second corner spot will be up for grabs until the opener. If Henderson is a backup, Colorado will have some of the best reserves in the conference.
The key to the unit: A steady number two corner has to emerge and more big plays need to be made against the better passing teams.
Secondary Rating: 8

Projected Starters
- CB Terrence Wheatley, Jr.
Back from a broken wrist that cost him all of last year, Wheatley should be an All-Big 12 performer adding an upgrade to the speed in the secondary. He's a strong open-field tackler and a good kick returner, but his real talent is in coverage with his 4.4 speed and good enough ball skills to make him too dangerous to throw at. The key will be his health after having problems with his hamstring as well as his wrist.

- FS J.J. Billingsley, Sr. - 85 tackles, 1 sack, 6 TFL, 2, interceptions, 5 broken up passes
It's been a strange ride for Billingsley over the last few years with 94 tackles in 2004, a knee injury, an academic suspension, and honorable mention All-Big 12 honors  last season after finishing second on the team in tackles. He's lightning fast and is always around the ball making big plays.

- SS Ryan Walters, Soph. - 16 tackles
It'll be interesting to see if Walters holds down the starting spot this fall ahead of Tyrone Henderson. After a great spring with plenty of big plays and with more pop than Henderson on his hits, Walters needs to show he can be as consistent against the pass. At the very least, he appears to be a top defensive prospect for the next three seasons.

- CB Gardner McKay, Soph. - 5 tackles, 1 broken up pass
With Gerett Burl suspended from the team and not likely to be back, it'll be up to McKay to hold down the right side and be a key playmaker with teams staying away from Terrence Wheatley. He has sprinter's speed and the height at 5-11 to stay with the taller receivers, but he's rail-thin at 160 pounds.

Top Backups
- FS/CB Lorenzo Sims, Jr., Sr. - 46 tackles, 1 interception, 17 broken up passes
The former honorable mention All-Big 12 corner will find a spot somewhere on the field if he's healthy. He's needed at corner, but he's a more natural safety. He led the team in broken up passes and should be a big play nickel back if he doesn't end up starting somewhere after getting over a variety of injuries.
- SS Tyrone Henderson, Sr. - 78 tackles, 5 broken up passes
While not all that big 5-10 and 180 pounds, he's fast and can hit with 146 tackles over the last two seasons finishing third on the team last season. He's a sure-thing stopper in the open field, but he'll have to battle with the bigger Ryan Walters for the starting job.
- CB Terry Washington, Sr. - 13 tackles, 3 broken up passes
The former JUCO transfer will do a little of everything from returning kicks to playing in nickel and dime packages to playing a little corner behind Terrence Wheatley. He's bigger than Wheatley with enough speed to handle the job on the left side if needed.

Special Teams
Mason Crosby is one of the best kickers in college football, and now he'll handle the punting game as long as he doesn't slip as a placekicker. Stephone Robinson will be the main kick and punt returner again, but he needs to use his elite quickness to do more after averaging 18.2 yards per kickoff return and 9.9 yards per punt return. 
The key to the unit: Mason Crosby has to be almost as good a punter as he is a placekicker. The coverage units could stand to be better.
Special Teams Rating: 9

Projected Starters
- PK/P Mason Crosby, Sr. - 21-28 FGs, 31-31 extra points
Crosby has one of the biggest legs in college football blasting 13 of 19 field goals from beyond 40 yards with a 58-yard bomb last season. He's an All-American who's not just a bomber, he's also clutch. Dan Hawkins has already said he'll allow Crosby to try a 70-yard shot this season. Crosby will also take over the punting duties from John Torp, who was one of the best in the nation averaging 44.6 yards per kick.

Related Stories
Colorado Preview 2006 - Depth Chart
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Colorado Preview 2006 - Further Analysis
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Colorado Preview 2006 - Offense
 -by  Aug 1, 2006

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