2009 Colorado Preview - Defense
Colorado CB Cha'pelle Brown
Colorado CB Cha'pelle Brown
Posted Jun 22, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Colorado Buffalo Defense

Colorado Buffaloes

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2009 CFN Colorado Preview | 2009 Colorado Offense
- 2009 Colorado Defense | 2009 Colorado Depth Chart
- 2008 Colorado Preview | 2007 Colorado Preview | 2006 Colorado Preview

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.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Jeff Smart, 118
Sacks: Marquez Herrod, 4
Interceptions: Shaun Mohler, 2

Star of the defense: Senior LB Jeff Smart
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DE Marquez Herrod
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 Marcus Burton
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, Secondary Potential
Weakness of the defense:
Tackle Size, Proven Steady Pass Rush

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
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: Combining 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 this fall.

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 special.
Rating: 6.5


Projected Starters
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 strong.

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 the best.
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 steady.
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.
Rating: 7.5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters
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.

The 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 nickel back.

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 even better.
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 picks.
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.
Rating: 7.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters
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.
Rating: 6