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2010 Colorado Preview – Defense
Colorado CB Jimmy Smith
Colorado CB Jimmy Smith
Posted Jun 27, 2010 2010 Preview - Colorado Buffalo Defense

Colorado Buffaloes

Preview 2010 - Defense

- 2010 Colorado Preview | 2010 Colorado Offense
- 2010 Colorado Defense | 2010 Colorado Depth Chart
- Colorado Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006

What You Need To Know: The defense struggled to take the ball away, rarely came through in the clutch, and struggled a bit too much (especially early on) against the run. However, the overall stats weren’t bad considering the D got no help whatsoever from the O. Defensive coordinator Ron Collins will once again switch around alignments on the fly depending on the opponent. While the defense will play a 4-3 in theory, last year there was a lot of 3-3-5 with a nickel being the main playmaker. The secondary might be the team’s biggest strengths with a NFL-sized corner duo in Jimmy Smith and Jalil Brown, while the safeties have the potential to be fantastic. The linebackers don’t have the big names, but that should quickly change with a decent group in place that should surprise. The line is big, but it has to be more active and more effective against the run.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Anthony Perkins, 78
Sacks: Marquez Herrod, 6
Interceptions: Jalil Brown, Jimmy Smith. 2

Star of the defense: Senior CB Jimmy Smith
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior LB Michael Sipili
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman FS Parker Ohms
Best pro prospect: Smith
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Smith, 2) DE Marquez Herrod, 3) SS Anthony Perkins
Strength of the defense: Corner, Versatility
Weakness of the defense: Takeaways, Consistent Pass Rush

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The line needs another strong year from senior Marquez Herrod, a 6-2, 280-pound 3-4 end playing on the outside in a 4-3. Very strong and very quick for his size, he led the team with six sacks with 38 tackles. Just now blossoming into his potential, he could grow into an All-Big 12 performer with a few more stats. He has the size and he has the tools, and now he just needs to be more consistent.

Working in the middle after starting every game on the nose is 6-1, 280-pound junior Curtis Cunningham , a very strong, very tough presence who came up with 41 tackles with two sacks after showing he could stay healthy and handle the position. Banged up last offseason, he managed to come back and be fine as he was one of the anchors up front. A nice recruit, he should blossom over the next two seasons.

6-4, 285-pound sophomore Will Pericak was only supposed to be a part of the rotation, but instead he became the full-time starter at tackle making 36 tackles and three sacks. Extremely athletic, he was originally supposed to be a tight end before converting over to the defensive side. While he’s not a brick wall against the run, he’s active and he’s a constant threat to get into the backfield.

Sophomore Forrest West got his feet wet as a true freshman seeing time in every game making ten tackles with a tackle for loss. At 6-1 and 255 pounds he’s a short, squatty, pass rusher but he’s extremely quick around the edge and should crank out a few sacks if Marquez Herrod commands constant attention on the other side. West is an outside linebacker working on the end, and his athleticism will be a huge plus.

Projected Top Reserves: Junior Conrad Obi was supposed to get a long look at a starting end spot last season, but he only played in seven games and didn’t make a stop. A star on the scout team over the years, he’s one of the team’s more versatile backup options able to play tackle or as a huge end at 6-3 and 280 pounds (having added bulk to his frame). He’ll start out the year working in a combination with Will Pericak on the inside.

At 6-1 and 310 pounds, junior Eugene Goree is the team’s biggest option for the inside. Strong enough and versatile enough to have seen time on the offensive side at guard, he’s needed more for the defensive interior with the potential to finally start producing after making four tackles with a recovered fumble. The former finalist for Tennessee’s Mr. Football has the skills.

Sophomore Nick Kasa was the star of last year’s recruiting class and he should be an interesting option. He put 20 pounds on his 6-7 frame to get up to 270, but he doesn’t appear bulky on the end. Mature enough to get a little playing time, he made two tackles and a tackle for loss in just four games of work, missing most of the year both sick and injury, and now as a do-it-all prospect he’ll work inside and out where needed while mostly serving as Marquez Herrod’s backup.

Watch Out For … more from the ends. Herrod might not be a true end, but he’s a good pass rusher for his size and appears to be ready for bigger things. West is a speedster on the other side and Kasa is a talent who’ll make an impact in the very near future.
Strength: Size. The tackles might not be massive, checking in at around 280 pounds per man, but the big ends help provide the bulk up front. Herrod is a tackle playing end, Kasa is 270, and West is a good-sized, compact 255.
Weakness: Consistency against the run. For such a large, quick line, the production simply hasn’t been there against the run allowing 166 yards per game two years ago and 161 per outing last year. There have been moments when the line has been solid, but it’s has been inconsistent overall.
Outlook: The line got better as last year went on, allowing just five touchdown runs in the final five games, but it has hardly been a brick wall. With three starters returning, good depth, and some promise and potential for some of last year’s young new players (like Pericak) growing into steady producers, the line should be better. More pass rushing would be nice, steadier run defense would be better, and a few dominant performances would be a huge plus to carry the rest of the team.
Unit Rating: 6.5


Projected Starters: Senior B.J. Beatty is the lone returning starter to the linebacking corps, but he made a mere 30 tackles and 2.5 tackles with four tackles for loss in his ten games of action. The 6-2, 234-pound strongside defender has a non-stop motor and great range, but he’ll have to be more of a leader and more active now that he’s taking on a bigger role.

Moving into the middle in a full-time role will be Michael Sipili , a 6-1, 250-pound senior who started three times last season and finished with 39 tackles with two tackles for loss. A big, tough, physical option for the inside, he can also get into the backfield from time to time. He was supposed to be one of the new stars of the show three years ago, but was suspended for the season for an off-campus incident and he has never quite found his way into a major role until now. With the size and the experience, he has the potential to be one of the team’s leading tacklers.

6-1, 225-pound sophomore Jon Major is an inside linebacker by trade but will work on the weakside after spending last year getting healthy. He saw time in six games and made 13 tackles, but that’s after coming back from a torn ACL suffered as a true freshman. One of the team’s top recruits, the former Colorado Gatorade Player of the Year was a monster get for the program and was supposed to be a factor from day one before getting hurt. 100% healthy, he should be a major producer.

Projected Top Reserves: Junior Patrick Mahnke was one of the stars of the offseason with high school sprinter’s speed and good 6-1, 205-pound size for a safety. But he suffered an ankle injury and only ended up playing in four games making 12 tackles. Now he’ll move to weakside linebacker where he can use his range and athleticism to be an all-around playmaker in space. He’s tough against the run and will be fine in pass coverage.

In a bit of a surprise, 6-2, 245-pound junior Tyler Ahles became a good reserve making 26 tackles with a sack and four tackles for loss as a backup linebacker and a special teamer. Able to play inside or out, he’ll start out the season on the strongside behind B.J. Beatty but will move around when needed.

Redshirt freshman Derrick Webb was a strong recruit for Dan Hawkins two years ago ranked as one of the top outside linebacker prospects in the country. The 6-0, 220-pound cousin of former San Francisco 49er star, Roger Craig, will work in the middle, but he has the quickness and the big-time hitting ability to move to the outside when needed.

Watch Out For … Sipili. The Buffs never got consistent play in the middle last season with four different players rotating into the spot. Sipili was built for the job with the right frame and the experience to be one of the team’s leading tacklers. The hope is for everything to funnel into him.
Strength: Depth. There might not be a ton of experience among the backups, but Webb, Ahles, and Mahnke could more than hold their own for a stretch if they were the starting threesome. The Buffs have just enough options and enough versatility to play around with the lineup as needed.
Weakness: Sure-thing stars. There are some prospects and there are some good players with terrific high school résumés, but there isn’t any one sure-thing killer who demands all-star recognition (at least not yet).
Outlook: Colorado has gotten decent production out of the linebackers, but as a corps, they haven’t been as special as expected. It’s a sound, deep group that should be better against the run with a little bit of time, and it should be a big more disruptive overall once the starting threesome get used to playing with each other. With good depth and nice prospects for all three spots, this could quietly become one of the team’s stronger units.
Unit Rating: 7


Projected Starters: While he might have had a few rocky moments, senior Jimmy Smith has all the tools to get a long look from the next-level types. He’s 6-2 and 210 pounds with 4.4 speed and great tackling ability. He came up with 70 tackles and broke up ten passes with two picks. He’s growing into a fantastic all-around defensive back who should get more all-star recognition this season with all the skills and all the ability to erase one side of the field. He’s almost too good to test on a regular basis.

Back on the other side is senior Jalil Brown coming off a 66 tackle season with two picks and 15 broken up passes. Originally a nickel and dime defender, he should he could cover on the left side after returning from a shoulder problem. Very fast and very active, he’s a good speedster with the toughness to stick his nose in against the run. One of the team’s most versatile defenders, he can play anywhere in the secondary.

Sophomore Ray Polk is slated to step in at free safety in a full-time role after starting two games in the middle of last season. The 6-1, 210-pounder made 40 tackles, but he didn’t do much against the pass and he didn’t show off enough of his great range and playmaking potential. While he’s still growing into the job, he’ll become a whale of a defender once he becomes a bit more consistent.

Taking over for Benjamin Burney as the starting strong safety will be junior Anthony Perkins , a regular starter at free safety last season finishing third on the team with 78 tackles with two interceptions. While he’s not huge at 5-10 and 205 pounds, he has enough size and enough toughness to shine in the strong safety role where he’ll be able to do even more against the run. This is a natural position for him.

Projected Top Reserves: The Buffs more often than not use five defensive backs, with Cha’Pelle Brown leading the way with 96 tackles last year in the nickel. This season, all eyes will be on redshirt freshman Parker Orms , a head-turner this offseason who hit everything in sight and showed that he should be more than just a key backup at free safety. The 5-11, 180-pound speedster has the ability to be dangerous when the ball is in the air and the type of player who’s always around the play.

Ready to make his mark at one corner, at least as a top reserve, will be redshirt freshman Deji Olatoye , one of the team’s better athletes with phenomenal leaping ability and tremendous quickness. He has the skills, the athleticism, and the 6-1, 195-pound size to work as a nickel or dime defender as well as behind Jalil Brown as a backup corner.

6-2, 185-pound redshirt freshman Paul Vigo might not be the most polished corner on the team, but he’s a big hitter who can be moved to safety, nickel, or even wide receiver. One of the team’s toughest players, he has the strength to be used as a light, fast linebacker from time to time just to get his pass rushing potential on the field. He’ll start out playing behind Jimmy Smith at right corner, but he could be used in a variety of ways.

Watch Out For … Ohms. Arguably the best defensive back in spring ball, the redshirt freshman turned enough heads to demand a spot somewhere in the starting lineup. There’s a chance he could be the starting nickel back for the next four years and be the team’s leading tackler this season.
Strength: Experience and potential. Three starters return including one of the nation’s biggest quarterback tandems, while the free safety spot will be more than fine with Polk ready to play a big role. The redshirt freshmen are ready to shine.
Weakness: Sure thing backups. Yes, Olatoye, Vigo, and Orms are extremely promising and extremely talented, but they haven’t done it yet on the field. With Cal, Hawaii, Georgia, Missouri, Texas Tech and Oklahoma all on the slate before November, the secondary, and the young players have to be ready.
Outlook: There have been several problems and issues under Dan Hawkins, but one of the good things he and his staff have done is improve the play of the secondary. Considering the bombers in the Big 12, that’s no small task. There have been some down times, but overall the pass defense has been sound, and now the secondary should be the best it’s been in years with two NFL-sized corners in Smith and Brown to go along with a slew of potential playmakers at safety. There will be a few 300-yard games given up here and there, and more interceptions would be nice, but this should be one of the team’s biggest strengths.
Unit Rating: 8

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Former Wyoming Cowboy Aric Goodman was a disaster in his first year hitting just 5-of-14 kicks before connecting on 10-of-18 last year. The senior has a great leg, connecting on a 54-yarder last year, but he’s not consistent outside of 40 yards and he didn’t get a chance to show much this offseason with a hip problem. He hit 7-of-8 field goals inside the 40 but was 3-of-10 from beyond.

The punting game was a disaster last season, so redshirt freshman Zach Grossnickle , who also spent time this spring handling the placekicking duties, will get several chances to improve the production. He doesn’t have a big leg and he doesn’t hang the ball up high enough, but once he finds his groove he should be an accurate punter.

Despite averaging a pathetic 3.1 yards per punt return, wide receiver Jason Espinoza will get another shot at the job. He’s too quick to not be better, and he’ll also get a shot the starting kickoff returner job. Toney Clemons will get the first chance to take over for Darrell Scott and Brian Lockridge, who averaged 26.9 yards per try and 23.3 yards, respectively.

Watch Out For … True freshman Justin Castor . The star local product has the potential to step in and take over the starting placekicking and/or punting job right away. The 6-4, 180-pounder has a big leg and the potential to be a bomber from beyond 40 yards on field goals, while cranking out deep shots as a punter after averaging 43.5 yards per boot last year.
Strength: Kickoff returns. Most of the top return men are gone from a group that averaged 23.9 yards per try, but this should be a solid are with Clemons and Espinoza handling the work.
Weakness: Kicking. The punting went from a major strength to a total disaster in just one year, and now it’ll be an open battle to get more production. Goodman has been way too mediocre on field goals.
Outlook: After a nightmare in 2008, the special teams improved with better kickoff returns, four blocked kicks, and some nice moments here and there, but the kicking has to be better and the punt return game has to find some life.
Unit Rating: 5

- 2010 Colorado Preview | 2010 Colorado Offense
- 2010 Colorado Defense | 2010 Colorado Depth Chart
- Colorado Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006