2008 Colorado Preview - Defense
Colorado DT George Hypolite
Colorado DT George Hypolite
Posted Apr 21, 2008

CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Colorado Buffalo Defense

Colorado Buffaloes

Preview 2008 - Defense

- 2008 CFN Colorado Preview | 2008 Colorado Offense
- 2008 Colorado Defense | 2008 Colorado Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Colorado Preview | 2006 CFN Colorado Preview 

What you need to know:
The defense was fine at times, but with no pass rush, it had a nightmare of a time against the good passing teams. Unfortunately, the Big 12 is loaded with good passing teams and excellent quarterbacks, and considering the Buffs' early weakness should be a pass rush from the ends and cornerback play, it'll be vital to get better over the first month before Texas comes to town to kick off the Big 12 season in October. The run defense should be solid with George Hypolite and Brandon Nicolas forming a good tackle pair, and while star LB Jordon Dizon is gone, the situation should be even better with plenty of options and more on the way from a good recruiting class. The safeties, D.J. Dykes and Ryan Walters, will be terrific.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Jeff Smart, 89
Sacks: George Hypolite, 6
Interceptions: Ryan Walters, 2

Star of the defense: Senior DT George Hypolite
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior DE Maurice Lucas
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Marquez Herrod
Best pro prospect: Hypolite
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Hypolite, 2) SS D.J. Dykes, 3) SS Ryan Walters
Strength of the defense: Tackle, safety
Weakness of the defense:
Pass rush from the ends, proven corners

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
The line was fine against the run last year and has a first-team All-Big 12 star, and a possible All-American, in 6-1, 285-pound senior George Hypolite to work around on the inside. A great interior pass rusher with 6.5 sacks, he was also ultra-active against the run making 51 tackles and ten tackles for loss despite missing a game with a hamstring problem. While he's a bit undersized, he's too quick for most guards, he demands to be double teamed on every play, and often it still doesn't matter.

Also returning on the inside is 6-3, 290-pound senior Brandon Nicolas, an honorable-mention All-Big 12 selection, but first he has to get healthy after missing spring ball. He's expected to be fine for the start of the season, and the former Notre Dame transfer should be a rock against the run after making 46 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and three sacks.

Needing to step in for Alonzo Barrett at right end will be senior Drew Hudgins, a promising pass rusher who made 93 tackles and 19 sacks for Highland CC in Kansas, but injured his Achilles heel and missed the entire season. At 6-4 and 235 pounds, he's a tall, lanky defender with a great burst.

Back on the other side is 6-4, 260-pound senior Maurice Lucas, a plugger of an end making 36 tackles with two sacks. While he has been a decent reserve in the past and a nice spot starter, he hasn't been able to use his combination of athleticism and quickness to become a steady pass rusher. A former top-recruit for the program, he has to come through.

Projected Top Reserves: Until Hudgins is ready, the Buffs have the equivalent of a third tackle in 6-2, 270-pound sophomore Marquez Herrod. While he might have impressive bulk, he's also one of the team's faster linemen with tremendous all-around athleticism. He made eight tackles and a tackle for loss in a reserve role, and now he should figure more prominently in the rotation.

Working on the nose until Nicolas is 100% is redshirt freshman Eugene Goree, a 6-1, 295-pound inside presence with great quickness and good pass rushing potential. He was a finalist for Tennessee's Mr. Football, and now he has to shine and become a regular up front for the next four years.

6-4, 250-pound junior Jason Brace is finally at a natural position on the end. Used as a way-undersized nose tackle, he didn't come up with any stops in his limited role. Now that he's playing in the rotation with Herrod and Hudgins at right end, he should be able to make a little bit of an impact.

Watch Out For ... a steady rotation. If you're a Colorado defensive lineman, you're going to play at some point. The coaches like to keep bodies flowing in and out to keep everyone fresh, so young, unproven players like redshirt freshmen ends Lagrone Shields and Conrad Obi are going to get their chances to shine.
Strength: Quick tackles. Hypolite and Nicolas are proven playmakers in the backfield, while all the activity across the front four makes for a good start to the run defense. In this case, speed triumphs over size.
Weakness: Overall pass rush. This has been a major problem so far in the Dan Hawkins era, and things don't appear to be appreciably better after a mediocre spring. The Buffs were last in the Big 12 in tackles for loss and only generated 21 sacks on the year.
Outlook: The run defense was more than fine, and it should be even better with big ends and small, quick tackles, but there needs to be more pressure generated on the outside and disaster will strike if Hypolite or Nicolas go down for any appreciable length of time. The opportunity is there for someone to stand out this fall and become the go-to pass rusher. A young player can become a major factor right away if he can steadily get to the quarterback.
Rating: 7


Projected Starters
Step one is replacing the 442 career tackles of hitting machine Jordon Dizon on the weakside. While junior Marcus Burton isn't anywhere near the same type of talent, at 6-0 and 255 pounds, he's bigger, and for what Colorado does with its weakside defender, using him more on the inside, that should be a plus. He missed all of last year with academic issues, and missed all of 2006 with a broken led, but he made 29 tackles and showed plenty of promise as a freshman.

6-0, 210-pound junior Jeff Smart is an undersized former walk-on in the middle who took over early last year and finished up third on the team with 77 tackles to go along with four tackles for loss. While he's not all that big, he's very fast and very active. With Dizon gone, Smart should become an even bigger producer.

Senior Brad Jones is a good run stopper on the strongside finishing second on the team with 81 tackles and two sack and six tackles for loss. Out of the spotlight playing on the other side of Dizon, Jones held his own as a strong open field tackler and showed a nice knack for coming up with the big play.

Projected Top Reserves: Burton can't get too comfortable at Dizon's weakside position with JUCO star Shaun Mohler on the way. The 6-3, 225-pound junior was considered by many to be one of the top JUCO recruits after making 93 tackles with seven sacks and 22 tackles for loss for Orange Coast College in California. A tremendous athlete, he could be the pass rusher the front seven has been missing.

While Smart is a fast, small middle linebacker, 6-1, 255-pound sophomore Michael Sipili is a big, tough, physical defender who was supposed to step in last year and be one of the team's new defensive stars, but he missed the year after being suspended for an off-campus incident. He saw a little bit of time in 2006 making 31 tackles, and while he's not as active as Smart, he has good range and a nice burst.

Even though Jones had a big season, he's going to have to work to keep his strongside job with the emergence of 6-2, 220-pound sophomore B.J. Beatty. With a non-stop motor and great range, Beatty had a nice spring and will see time somewhere in the corps as a possible backup for both outside jobs.
Watch Out For ... the guys who weren't on the field last year. Burton has been off for two years, Sipili will be starting sooner than later, while Mohler, assuming he's eligible, will hit the field from day one either as a linebacker or a pass rushing specialist on the line. Beatty had a good enough spring to demand time, too.
Strength: A rotation. At any one time, it's possible the backups will be every bit as good as the starters. There are lots of pieces to play with and plenty of options for the coaching staff to work with.
Weakness: Proven reserves. This was an issue last year, and then the linebackers turned out to be every down rocks. This year, Sipili is coming back from time off, Burton might be a bit rusty, and there's no real returning experience on the outside other than Smart.
Outlook: Dizon might be gone, and proven experience could be an issue, but with the fantastic potential among the reserves, and a good starting threesome no matter who ends up getting the jobs, the overall linebacking situation could turn out to be even better than last year when it was the strength of the defense.
Rating: 7.5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters
Terrence Wheatley might be irreplaceable. The New England Patriot was a lock-down corner who could hit like a ton of bricks. Looking to step in on the left side will be 5-11, 165-pound senior Gardner McKay, who might be rail thin, but is extremely quick and a good producer when he got his chance making 25 tackles. A great special teamer so far, he should be decent, but he won't be Wheatley.

Looking to step in for Benjamin Burney, at least for the time being, is junior Cha'pelle Brown, a 5-7, 180-pound hitter who made 42 stops last season with an interception. He proved this spring that he could be a good starting option, and while he'll have to battle to keep a spot, he should be a good producer.

6-0, 200-pound senior Ryan Walters was a good all-around playmaker last year making 53 tackles and seven broken up passes in 11 games at free safety, but he suffered a shoulder injury and isn't returning until this fall. He could stand to do more to help out against the pass, but there's no questioning his hitting ability or his strength against the run.

Back at strong safety after finishing fourth on the team with 75 stops, to go along with an interception, is senior Daniel Dykes, a 6-2, 210-pounder who showed he could be a great open-field tackler against the top competition. A former star for Idaho, D.J. made 141 tackles for the Vandals as a big, tough, intimidating force. With Wheatley gone, he's the new star of the secondary.

Projected Top Reserves: Senior Benjamin Burney would be the starting right corner if he was healthy. The 5-11, 190-pounder started every game last year making 54 tackles, but he didn't come up with any picks and he's now likely out for the year after a variety of issues. He had five surgeries this off-season and likely won't be back until 2009.

While McKay might be the starter at one corner spot going into the fall, 6-2, 195-pound sophomore Jimmy Smith is a hair behind and will get every shot to win the job this fall. He's bigger, has big-time speed, and is going to be a starter and a top playmaker soon.

Certain to be used in nickel and dime packages, as well as a top backup free safety and corner, will be sophomore Jalil Brown, a versatile 6-1, 205-pounder who has the size to be a good option behind Walters at free safety, and the speed to work behind Brown at right corner.

With Walters out this spring, 5-10, 190-pound redshirt freshman Anthony Perkins was the starter at free safety, but he'll most likely be used more as a nickel back. Very smart and very quick with excellent upside, he'll be in the mix in some way when Walters gets back.
Watch Out For ... a great battle for Wheatley's old spot. McKay might end up being the starter, but Smith is right there in the fight. It's so close that they could each be considered co-No. 1s for the job.
Strength: Safeties. Dykes is an All-Big 12 star about to happen, while Walters, as limited as he is against the pass, is a great leader who doesn't make many mistakes. These two might not get a lot of pub, but they'll be strong.
Weakness: Pass defense. To be fair, the secondary got absolutely no help last year from the pass rush; there wasn't any. Even so, this group of DBs is great at tackling, and struggles in coverage. Good quarterbacks, if they're not pressured, will do whatever they want to.
Outlook: The secondary was supposed to be a strength last year after allowing 229 yards per game in 2006. Instead, the Buffs gave up 261 yards per outing and were shredded to bits by Baylor, Texas Tech, Missouri and Nebraska with each throwing for over 400 yards. Worse yet, the pass D got worse as the season went on with 17 of the 27 touchdown passes allowed coming in the final five games. On the plus side, there were more takeaways late in the year. Now there will be a bit of an overhaul with the starting corners, Wheatley and, most likely, Burney, out, but the safeties should be great. There's no proven depth, but there's plenty of upside with several good prospects waiting to shine.
Rating: 7

Special Teams

Projected Starters
The kicking game has been a major strength for years at CU, but it could be a bit of an issue early on after losing the decent, but unspectacular, Kevin Eberhart. Redshirt freshman Jameson Davis has a big leg, while Wyoming transfer Aric Goodman has an accurate one. Combine the two and there would be a great kicker. Most likely, the job will go to Goodman with Davis dealing with the bombs.

Junior punter Matt DiLallo is back after averaging a decent 40.1 yards per kick with a whopping 22 put inside the 20. He has a big leg and is good at bailing the team out of jams. His average might have gone down after a tremendous freshman year, when he averaged 43.7 yard per kick, but his placements were better.

Gone is Terrence Wheatley and High Charles, who helped the kick return game to be among the best in the Big 12, but sophomore Josh Smith is a speedy option to take over on kickoff returns and see time as a punt returner, while redshirt freshman Jason Espinoza will get a shot on punt returns.
Watch Out For ... more blocked kicks. Dan Hawkins has demanded his special teams turn up the heat a bit more, and they did that throughout the spring getting to the kickers and punters and wreaking some havoc.
Strength: Punting. DiLallo has had a good first two years, and while the net numbers might not seem that great, he's a good weapon to count on in a pinch.
Weakness: Reliance on the placekickers. Davis and Goodman haven't been able to settle the issue, and it could take all fall before the coaching staff is able to feel comfortable on a clutch kick.
Outlook: The return game went from 104th in the nation on punt returns to 38th, and 95th in the nation on kickoff returns to 29th. It'll be asking a lot of Smith and Espinoza to keep the trend going up. The kicking game will turn out to be fine as long as Goodman is steady.
Rating: 6.5


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