Preview 2008 - Defense
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2008 Colorado Depth
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2006 CFN Colorado
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.
Tackles: Jeff Smart,
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.