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2009 Colorado Preview - Defense
Colorado CB Cha'pelle Brown
CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Colorado Buffalo Defense
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What you need to know:
There will be plenty of switching
around in styles as the season goes on with the D starting out
running a 4-3 but likely playing mostly a 3-4. The strength of
the defense is at linebacker with six good options to go along
with a nice-looking secondary. The Buffs gave up 215 passing
yards per game, but that was good enough to finish first in the
Big 12. The line has potential with Marquez Herrod a strong
pass-rushing option, but the tackles aren't big and will need to
be a part of a constant rotation. Overall, the defense won't be
bad by any stretch, the back seven, or eight, will make sure of
that. However, this isn't a big-play group and it'll have
problems with its consistency.
Star of the defense:
Senior LB Jeff Smart
Jeff Smart, 118
Marquez Herrod, 4
Interceptions: Shaun Mohler, 2
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DE
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore SS Patrick Mahnke
Best pro prospect: Junior CB Jimmy Smith
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Smart, 2) Smith, 3) LB
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, Secondary Potential
Weakness of the defense:
Tackle Size, Proven
Steady Pass Rush
The line was hardly strong last
season, and now it has to replace its best player,
tackle George Hypolite at tackle. 6-5, 265-pound
senior Taj Kaynor will take over
after making just two tackles in a limited role. At
his size, he'll have to use his quickness to be a
factor, but it's asking for way too much to look for
the same interior pass rushing ability that Hypolite
was able to bring. He'll have to prove he can hold
up against the run against the more physical teams.
Replacing Brandon Nicolas, an all-star, on the nose
will be Eugene Goree, a promising
6-1, 295-pound sophomore with good strength and the
potential to be an anchor for the next three
seasons. The one-time finalist for Tennessee's Mr.
Football can move, but he only came up with three
tackles in his first season. He needs to be an
anchor right away.
The star of the line should be junior
Marquez Herrod, a 6-2, 265-pound pass
rusher who's stronger than any of the tackles. While
he was only used in limited situations, mostly as a
pass rushing specialist, he came up with four sacks
and 14 tackles. Now he should be a big-play producer
on the left side where he should be a regular in the
opposing backfield. But that was supposed to be the
case last year and that didn't happen.
There will be a combination on the right side with
sophomore Conrad Obi getting the
first look after making one tackle in his limited
action. The 6-3, 265-pounder has mostly been a star
on the scout team and has the pure pass rushing
ability to be solid once he starts to get more work.
Consistency will be the key to more playing time.
Projected Top Reserves:
with Obi on the right side, and bringing more bulk,
is sophomore Lagrone Shields, a
6-3, 270-pound run stuffer with just enough upside
to potentially be a killer all-around end if the
defense ever shifts to a 3-4. He made just one
tackle in his two games of work, and while he has
tackle side, he's an end.
Needing to come back healthy is Chris
Cunningham, a promising 6-1, 275-pound
sophomore who made nine tackles with two tackles for
loss in his limited time. He's a quick inside
presence who can play either tackle spot, but is
better off the nose. He was out this spring hurt,
but he's expected to challenge for a starting job
The star of this year's recruiting class was
Nick Kasa, a massive 6-7, 250-pound end who
is an engulfing defender against the run with good
pass rushing ability. Mature enough to play right
away, he could be too good to keep off the field and
is expected to quickly grow into a major factor. He
can do it all, and for a line that needs a talent
upgrade, he fits.
Watch Out For ... Herrod.
He has it, but he hasn't been able to
showcase it too much. He's had his chances, and he
has come up with big sacks and big plays when he's
been on the field, but now he has to be a major
factor in a full-time role. The team needs a
sure-thing pass rusher, and he's it.
Strength: Size on the ends. For good and bad,
there's an interchangeable factor to the line.
Everyone is around 265 and everyone is quick. There
has to be a good rotation at tackle to keep everyone
fresh, but the ends are big.
Weakness: Run defense. This is a quick group, but
it's not so athletic that it makes up for the issues
in size. The Buffs didn't face a who's who of
running teams yet gave up 166 yards per game.
Outlook: There's nothing that stands out on a
defensive front that's starting from near-scratch.
It would be nice if there was a killer, space-eating
tackle to work around, but there isn't. Is would be
nice if there was a sure-thing, star pass rusher,
and if it isn't Herrod, there will be problems. But
the line wasn't a glaring weakness last year and
it'll be fine this season. It's just not that
Back to take over in the middle
is Marcus Burton, a huge 6-0,
260-pound senior who was supposed to be the main man
last year, but wasn't. He ended up making a mere
eight tackles as a reserve, but he's the team's
biggest, fastest, and strongest linebacking option.
He's a workout warrior who'd destroy the NFL
Combine, but now he has to show he can play. He
missed all of 2006 with a broken leg and all of 2007
with academic issues, but now he's ready.
Ready to be a star on the weakside is Jeff
Smart after leading the team with 118
tackles with a sack. He only started three games on
the outside before moving to the middle where he
started the final nine games. Far better suited to
the weakside with good quickness and motor, he's a
sure tackler for his 6-0, 220-pound size. The former
walk-on isn't going to beat anyone up, but he'll get
in on every play.
Junior B.J. Beatty was a decent
reserve making 18 tackles with three tackles for
loss in his limited time. Now he'll get the first
look at the strongside but he'll have to fight for
the job. With a non-stop motor and great range, he's
perfect for the outside and he should be used more
as a pass rusher. The 6-2, 220-pounder can work at
either outside spot.
Projected Top Reserves:
Former JUCO superstar
Shaun Mohler paid off right away finishing
second on the team with 97 tackles and four tackles
for loss taking over on the weakside after Jeff
Smart moved to the middle. The 6-2, 220-pounder is a
tremendous athlete and could be used more of a pass
rushing specialist at both the weakside and the
At 6-1 and 240 pounds, junior Michael Sipili
is a big, tough, physical option in the
middle. He started the first three games of last
year but got banged up and ended up making 19
tackles. He was supposed to be one of the new stars
of the show two years ago but was suspended for the
season for an off-campus incident. With 31 tackles
in 2006 he has seen enough time to know what he's
doing and will be a key part of the rotation.
Redshirt freshman Douglas Rippy is
ready to become a major factor on the outside. The
6-1, 230-pounder is bigger than B.J. Beatty on the
strongside with good athleticism. He saw time as a
quarterback and a wide receiver in high school, but
he made his biggest impact as a pass rushing
defensive player. While he's the least experienced
of the top six linebackers, he could turn out to be
Watch Out For ... Burton. There was a huge buzz about
him last year at this time, but he wasn't a big
factor. That should change this year; he's too good
a prospect to not be a star. He has all the tools,
and now he has one more chance to put it all
together and become a star. If he finishes as one of
the team's top three tacklers, he'll be drafted.
Strength: A rotation. There are good backups at
each of the three positions and they can all play.
This appears to be the strength of the defense with
good options, nice size, and enough experience to be
Weakness: Toughness against the run and speed.
This group looks the part, and it should be solid,
but there wasn't enough production against the
better running teams. With Brad Jones gone there
needs to be a pass rusher who can scare an offense.
This isn't the fastest group around, so there will
be problems if the motor isn't always running.
Outlook: This was supposed to be a nice group
coming into last year, and it was solid. Now it
should be fantastic. It' so good and so deep that
the defense is likely to go into a 3-4 formation
from time to time just to get the best players on
the field. If everyone plays up to their potential,
this should be a strong unit that anchors the team,
not just the defense.
The secondary appears to be
ready to make a big jump in production, and having a
dangerous prospect like Jimmy Smith
should help. Not only is the 6-2, 200-pound junior
very big, but he has 4.4 speed and can tackle like a
safety. A true lock-down corner, who took over a
starting job over the final two games of last year,
Smith made 39 tackles with five broken up passes.
He's on the verge of stardom.
Working on the
other side will eventually be Cha'pelle
Brown, a very quick 5-7, 170-pound senior
who started ever game last year. He missed time this
offseason with a stomach problem, but when he's
healthy he's pound-for-pound one of the team's
surest tacklers finishing fourth with 84 stops with
five tackles for loss and two picks.
biggest hole to fill in the secondary, and maybe on
the team, is at free safety where big-hitter Ryan
Walters is gone. Sophomore Anthony Perkins
appears to be ready to handle the workload
after making 40 tackles in a reserve road. He's been
great this offseason with good range, decent
strength, and 5-10, 200-pound size. He'll be one of
the team's leading tacklers.
The star of the
offseason might have been Patrick Mahnke,
a 6-1, 205-pound backup who should be strong now
that he's pushed into a starting job. A nice recruit
brought in last year, he made 15 tackles as a true
freshman and showed good potential. Not just a
good-sized safety, he's fast. While not an NFL
blazer, he was a high school sprinter and could play
free safety if needed.
Projected Top Reserves: With Cha'pelle Brown out
this off-season, senior Benjamin Burney
got most of the work at right corner. The
veteran made 54 tackles two years ago, but missed
all of last year after having five surgeries for a
variety of issues, mainly for a shoulder problem.
The 5-11, 190-pounder is one of the team's faster
players and has the smarts to be able to step in and
know what he's doing either as a corner or as a
Junior Jalil Brown
came up with a fantastic season as a nickel
and dime back making 52 tackles with an
interception. The 6-1, 205-pounder will be the key
backup at corner behind Jimmy Smith, but he'll see a
little bit of starting time some place with speed,
size, and the experience to do even more.
Working as the main backup at both safety spots will
be Travis Sandersfeld, a 6-0,
205-pound sophomore who saw a little time last year
at didn't make any tackles. He'll be a key special
teamer and an integral part of the defensive back
rotation with solid athleticism and good smarts.
Some day he'll be the leader of the secondary.
Watch Out For ... Smith to be an All-Big 12
performer. With his size and speed, he'll not only
get recognition as an all-star, he'll get a long
look from the NFL types. He's the team's No. 1
corner and could be special.
Strength: Upside. There's just enough overall
experience returning to improve after leading the
Big 12 in pass defense. While the Buffs finished
72nd in the nation in pass defense, that's great in
last year's Big 12. This year's secondary should be
Weakness: Starting experience and interceptions.
It's nitpicking for such a promising group, but
there isn't that much returning starting experience.
There should be a good pass rush to help the cause,
but it's not always a given that great backups are
going to turn into top starters. The secondary
didn't do much to take the ball away with just seven
Outlook: After a few disastrous years, the
secondary bounced back in a big way with a solid
season relative to the rest of the league. This
year's secondary has several promising
stars-in-waiting led by Smith and Mahnke. It might
be a no-name bunch overall going into the season,
but that will quickly change.
Junior Aric Goodman
transferred from Wyoming and struggled in a huge way hitting just
5-of-14 kicks. He wasn't awful from close, but he had no range
whatsoever going just 1-of-8 from beyond 35 yards. He's the main option
for right now, but Jameson Davis needs to come back
healthy, after missing all the offseason, to handle the bombs.
Punting wasn't a problem with senior Matt DiLallo
averaging 40.5 yards per kick while putting 12 inside the 20. He didn't
get too much help from his coverage team and he didn't hang the ball up
enough, but he has a big enough leg to get the team out of a few jams.
Now that Josh Smith is gone, RB Rodney Stewart will
get the longest look as the top kickoff return option. He didn't get any
tries last year and now will combine forces with Darrell Scott
to replace Smith's 25.5-yard average. Smith averaged 10.4 yards
per punt return, and now it will be Jason Espinoza
who'll get the first chance at the spot.
Watch Out For ... the
kickoff returns to not be all that bad. Smith was occasionally special,
but Stewart and Scott will be more than fine when they get into the open
field and with a head of steam.
Strength: Punting. DiLallo's net numbers might not
seem all that great, but he's been around for three years and he knows
what he's doing. He's just good enough to air it out from time to time
and he's consistent.
Weakness: Everything else. This is a huge area of
concern after all of last year's problems. Goodman was a disaster, the
coverage teams were non-existent, and not enough was done in the return
game when Smith wasn't coming up with home runs.
Outlook: No area on the team needs a bigger
overall improvement. Losing Smith is a killer for punt returns, but the
kick return game should be fine. The placekicking has to be far better
and there needs to be more from a kickoff coverage team that allowed
26.7 yards per try.