2007 Colorado Preview - Defense

Posted May 18, 2007

Preview 2007 Colorado Buffalo Defense Preview

Colorado Buffaloes

Preview 2007 - Defense

- 2007 Colorado Preview | 2007 CU Offense Preview
2007 CU Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Colorado Preview 

What you need to know:
The defense was better than it every got credit for considering the offense provided no help whatsoever. The starting 11, in whatever configuration that turns out to be, should be excellent as long as a pass rush is found from the ends. The linebacking corps will be the strength with tackling-machine Jordon Dizon leading the way. George Hypolite and Brandon Nicolas form an excellent tackle tandem to work around, while Terrence Wheatley is an All-Big 12 corner to handle everyone's number one. Now there needs to be more from the secondary, and the run defense has to be as strong as it was last year despite losing key linemen Abraham Wright and Walter Boye-Doe.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Brad Jones, 72
Sacks: George Hypolite, 2.5
Interceptions: Terrence Wheatley, 5

Star of the defense: Senior LB Jordon Dizon
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior DE Maurice Lucas
Unsung star on the rise: Junior SS Daniel Dykes
Best pro prospect: Senior CB Terrence Wheatley
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Dizon, 2) Wheatley, 3) DT George Hypolite
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, tackles
Weakness of the defense:
Pass rush from the ends, backup linebacker

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
The key to the line will be replacing stars Abraham Wright and Walter Boye-Doe, and the hope will be for junior Maurice Lucas and senior Alonzo Barrett to step up and shine. Barrett has never quite been healthy with knee and elbow problems throughout his career, but he's been around long enough to have seen plenty of snaps. Now he has to produce after making 12 tackles last season. He's 235 pounds with decent speed and pass rushing potential.

Lucas saw a little time as a reserve making 14 stops, but he has the talent and athleticism to become a star. A top recruit for the program, he has yet to be unleashed as a full-time pass rusher.

The tackles should be more solid led by the return of junior George Hypolite. While not a true space-eater at 6-1 and 285 pounds, he earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors last season with 50 tackles and 13 tackles for loss. He's too quick for most guards and should be a regular in the backfield once again.

On the nose will be 6-3, 280-pound junior Brandon Nicolas, who was a rock against the run making 57 stops while being decent at making plays behind the line. The former transfer from Notre Dame has proven to be a solid anchor to work around.

Projected Top Reserves: Ready to provide a desperately needed pass rusher is top JUCO transfer Drew Hudgins, a 6-4, 235-pound playmaker who made 93 tackles and 19 sacks for Highland CC in Kansas. He'll start out behind Lucas on the left side, but he could quickly find starting time at either spot. Also pushing for time will be redshirt freshman Marquez Herrod, a bigger option than Barrett on the right side at 255 pounds. He's also one of the team's fastest linemen with the speed to play linebacker.

6-4, 265-pound sophomore Jason Brace isn't the prototypical nose tackle, but he's a good pass rusher who should be an active presence behind Nicolas after making three tackles in a little bit of time last season.

260-pound redshirt freshman Eric Lawson is another undersized tackle who'll be a key reserve in the rotation. He's a smart, tough defender with tremendous athleticism.

Watch Out For ... Hudgins to quickly be a major player. If he's not a star right away, the line will have to manufacture pressure from the inside. Fortunately, the Buffs have ...
Strength: Quick tackles. Hypolite and Nicolas are proven playmakers in the backfield, while Brace, Lawson, and Taj Kaynor can all move.
Weakness: Overall pass rush. There wasn't even a hint of consistency throughout the spring, so Lucas and Barrett will be under tremendous scrutiny all fall or else they'll be replaced by Hudgins and Herrod.
Outlook: The line's production will take an overall dip with the question marks at end, but the tackles will be excellent and the pass rush, in time, will come with a steady rotation of players. The coaching staff would like to use several different options to keep things moving and to keep everyone fresh, and CU has more prospects going into this season.
Rating: 7


Projected Starters
The top playmaker in the Buff front seven will be senior Jordon Dizon, a smallish 6-0, 225-pound weakside defender who plays inside in the scheme. He's a tackling machine with 280 career tackles and a team-leading 137 stops last season. He's also turned into more of a pass rusher with four sacks and seven tackles for loss, but he's at his best coming up with the open-field tackle to kill a drive.

In the middle will be 250-pound sophomore Michael Sipili, a good-looking young run stopper who should do a good job of replacing second-leading tackler, Thaddaeus Washington. He saw a little bit of starting time last year finishing with 31 tackles on the year. With good range and burst, he should do a good job of getting into the backfield.

On the outside will be 6-3, 225-pound junior Brad Jones, a good run stopper who has to do far more in both pass coverage and pass rushing just a half a sack to go along with 72 tackles. While he won't get the publicity of Dizon, he's just as strong in the open field against the run.

Projected Top Reserves: Able to play inside or out, 6-2, 210-pound sophomore Bryan Stengel will start out behind Jones on the strongside but could see time anywhere. While he's built like a safety, he has range like one, as well.

245-pound Marcus Burton is a veteran backup who's been decent over the last two seasons on the weakside and in the middle. The junior will start out behind Dizon as a bigger option on the inside after making seven tackles last season.

Pushing for time in the middle will be 225-pound junior R.J. Brown, who's purely been a special teamer so far. He has enough practice time, now he needs to produce when the lights are on.

Watch Out For ... Sipili to be rock-solid. Dizon will be in on almost every tackle and will be the top defender in the corps, but Sipili won't be far behind.
Strength: The starting three. Dizon, Sipili and Jones will combine for about 300 tackles and will be forces against the run. As long as they stay healthy, they'll form one of the team's biggest strengths.
Weakness: Proven reserves. There isn't much to get excited about with Stengel, Burton and Brown needing plenty of time to be near the level of the starting three. It would be nice if there was a consistent rotation, but that might be tough early on.
Outlook: The linebackers will be all over the place against the run and in the backfield, and as long as they can be consistent against the pass, they'll be one of the better corps in the North. The faster the coaching staff can rely on the reserves, the better. CU's corps is far better when there's a good rotation, although it'll be next to impossible to get Dizon and Jones off the field.
Rating: 8

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters
The secondary struggled last season, but it wasn't necessarily the fault of senior Terrence Wheatley, one of the Big 12's best all-around corners earning first-team honors last year making 57 tackles, five interceptions and 11 broken up passes. While he's not all that big at 5-10 and 175 pounds, he has 4.4 speed and is terrific at making up ground when the ball is in the air. The question mark is his health. He was fine throughout last year, but he's had problems in the past with his hamstring as well as a wrist injury that cost him all of 2005.

On the other side will be junior Benjamin Burney after spending most of last year at safety making 23 tackles. He has good speed and strong tackling ability, but he'll have to be consistent with everyone staying away from Wheatley.

There's a chance Burney will see time at safety again, but 200-pound junior Ryan Walters is a lock to start at free safety coming off a 57-tackles, two interception season. He could stand to do more to help out against the pass, but there's no questioning his hitting ability and strength against the run.

Senior Lionel Harris is had a strong year against the run at strong safety with 67 tackles when he took over for a banged up J.J. Billingsley. While he doesn't have much in the way of range, he's good at making the stop when needed.

Projected Top Reserves: The Buffs got a big bonus when Idaho's best defensive player, Daniel Dykes, transferred last year. He made 141 tackles in Moscow and almost never missed an open-field tackle. He's a 6-2, 204-pound intimidating force who'll make a big push for the strong safety job.

At corner, 6-2, 200-pound redshirt freshman Jimmy Smith will provide a big option behind Burney. If Burney moves to safety, Smith needs to be ready to use he great speed and athleticism to become a steady defender.
Watch Out For ... Dykes. It was a huge blow to Idaho last year when he left, and now he'll be one of the team's best new playmakers. He'll get a starting spot sooner than later.
Strength: Veterans. Wheatley is a great corner to work around, while Walters and Harris know what they're doing. Burney can play just about anywhere in the secondary, while most of the backups have been around long enough to be ready to step in when needed.
Weakness: Production. The Buffs got ripped apart by anyone who could throw giving up 200 yards or more in every game but two, and they lost those (Oklahoma and Kansas). Everyone is good at tackling, but can they cover?
Outlook: It's not like they were tested in practices last year, and now they'll get a little more work and should be far better prepared. There's enough overall talent to expect a big improvement after allowing 228.5 yards per game, but more has to be done to defend. Tackling once the catch has been made isn't the problem, it's preventing the play being made in the first place that CU has to be better at. There will be plenty of shuffling in the lineup to get the best players on the field at all times regardless of position.
Rating: 7

Special Teams

Projected Starters
You don't just replace a weapon like Mason Crosby, who hit 19 of 28 kicks with three of his misses coming from beyond 60 yards and four coming from 50-59 yards out, but senior Kevin Eberhart has a nice leg and enough range to connect from connect from 50 yards. Consistency will be his key. He'll get a look at the punting duties, but they'll almost certainly be handled again by sophomore Matt DiLallo, who had a terrific year averaging 43.7 yards per kick with 14inside the 20 and no touchbacks. He has a big leg and was great at bailing the team out of field position jams.
Watch Out For ... Eberhart to be just fine in place of Crosby. He might not hit the jaw-dropping bombs that Crosby could nail from time to time, but he'll be rock-solid.
Strength: Punting. DiLallo was terrific as a freshman and has the coverage team to have another big year. The Buffs were seventh in the Big 12 in net punting, but 31st nationally. Now CU should be in the top 15 overall.
Weakness: The return game. CU was 104th in the nation, and last in the Big 12, in punt returns and 95th in the country in kickoff returns. Hugh Charles and Byron Ellis will try to provide more pop on kickoff returns, while Stephone Robinson will try to be better on punt returns after averaging just 5.1 yards per try.
Outlook: If the return game comes around, the special teams will be among the best in the country. Eberhart needs to hit everything 35 yards and in, while showing a little bit of consistent range. DiLallo has to avoid the sophomore slump.
Rating: 7.5


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