Colorado Football: Fall Camp to Provide Answers on Defense
2011 Colorado Preview - Defense
Personnel: Defensive Tackles: Senior Curtis Cunningham; senior Conrad Obi; junior Will Pericak; junior Eric Richter; sophomore Nate Bonsu; red-shirt freshman Kirk Poston ... Defensive Ends: Senior Josh Hartigan; senior walk-on David Goldberg; senior walk-on Tony Poremba; junior Nick Kasa; junior Forrest West; sophomore Chidera Uzo-Diribe
New to the Buffs this fall: freshman Stephan Nembot; freshman Juda Parker; freshman walk-on Andre Nichols
Strengths: If there is one unit on the Colorado Buffaloes football team which is long on experience, it is the defensive line. Senior Curtis Cunningham and junior Will Pericak share the honor of the Buffs with the most consecutive starts entering the 2011 season, with both players having started every game in 2009 and 2010 (24 starts overall).
The other starter from most of last year, senior Josh Hartigan (nine starts in 2010) also returns. Pericak led the defensive line last season with 45 tackles, while Hartigan led the team in sacks, with seven.
The defensive line is also deeper than most units on the team, with junior Nick Kasa, sophomore Nate Bonsu, and junior Forrest West already having seen plenty of playing time.
Optimism concerning the defensive line was bolstered this spring by the play of senior Conrad Obi. With Kasa, Cunningham, Bonsu, and Kirk Poston out for much or all of spring practices, Obi took advantage of his opportunity.
The 6'3", 295-pound senior has played in 28 games in his Colorado career, but that number is deceiving. Obi was in for only 64 plays in all of 2010, registering all of four tackles.
This spring, however, Obi caught the coaches' eyes, as well as observers from several college football publications. Obi, though a senior, could rightfully become CU's "Newcomer of the Year" in 2011.
Weaknesses: Despite showing significant experience along the defensive line, the group has yet to show a great deal in terms of overall production.
Colorado was decent against the run last season (ranked 47th nationally), but that was due - at least in part - to being woeful against the pass. The Buffs came in at 110th in pass defense - and that was with two NFL-caliber cornerbacks in the secondary.
Some of the blame certainly can be laid at the feet of the former coaching staff, but there was also a lack of execution on the part of the players. Josh Hartigan and Will Pericak were honorable mention All-Big 12 players last season.
For Colorado to be successful in 2011, they will have to move up the all-conference ladder a step or two.
The Buffs can go 8-5 if: The Colorado defensive line dominates play. Put simply, the best unit on the defense will have to carry the team. The Colorado offense will score more points in 2011 than in 2010 (when Colorado ranked 84th in the nation with 24 ppg).
Until the offense finds its rhythm, however, it is up to the defense to keep the Buffs in the game. The burden falls on the most experienced and talented unit, the defensive line.
If Josh Hartigan and Will Pericak are receiving all-conference honors, and if Conrad Obi and other "newcomers" (where have you gone, Nick Kasa?) blossom under the new coaching staff, Colorado will be competitive in the Pac-12.
The Buffs will go 5-8 if: The defensive line is merely adequate. If the defensive line merely holds its own, deficiencies in the Colorado linebacker corps and secondary will be exposed.
Last season, with Cunningham, Pericak, and Hartigan combining for 33 of a possible 36 total starts, the defense ranked 83rd in total defense and 91st in scoring defense. If Colorado continues to hover around those rankings in 2011, it will be a long season for the Buff Nation.
What needs to be resolved in fall camp: Colorado is adjusting to a new coaching staff, and with the new staff come different alignments on defense. How well the defensive line continues to learn and adapt to the new 4-3 schemes will be worthy of attention in the weeks leading up to the season opener against Hawai'i.
It will be also interesting to see if either of Colorado's highly-rated defensive line recruits, Juda Parker and Stephan Nembot, will prove themselves worthy of playing time as true freshmen.
I would also like to see if Nick Kasa, one of the most celebrated recruits of the Dan Hawkins era, is able to make his mark now that he is an upperclassman.
Personnel: Inside linebackers - Senior Patrick Mahnke; junior Douglas Rippy; sophomore Derrick Webb; red-shirt freshman Derrick Webb .... Outside linebackers - Senior walk-on David Goldberg (also listed as a defensive lineman); junior Jon Major; sophomore Liloa Nobriga; red-shirt freshman Lowell Williams.
New to the Buffs this fall: freshman Brady Daigh; freshman Woodson Greer; freshman K.T. Tuumalo; freshman walk-on Alec Parker.
Strengths: Unlike the defensive line, the linebacker corps took a hit from graduation, as Michael Sipili, the team's top tackler in 2010, and fellow starter B.J. Beatty, are no longer with the team.
However, it should be noted that, in all likelihood, junior Jon Major would have led the team in tackles had he not gone down with a sprained/torn MCL against Texas Tech, costing him the final four games of the season. Major's absence also allowed sophomores Liloa Nobriga and Derrick Webb to see valuable playing time.
The talk of the spring, though, was of junior Douglas Rippy. The 6'2", 225-pound junior had a "break out" spring. Last season, Rippy was in for only 27 plays, and, like fellow "break out" spring player Conrad Obi, registered only four tackles. Now, much will be expected of Rippy.
"We always knew he had the ability, it was just a matter of time before he would break out," said CU linebackers coach Brian Cabral after spring practices. From the end of the 2010 season to the start of spring practices, Rippy dropped 22 pounds, and is now listed as the starter in the Mike (inside) linebacker position.
Weaknesses: The loss of two long-time starters in Sipili and Beatty will have to be overcome, and quickly. Beatty was an honorable mention at linebacker in the final year of the old Big 12, and his style of play and leadership leave a vacuum which must be filled.
How quickly the new starters adapt to their new roles will have a significant impact on the bottom line for Colorado in 2011, both on the stats sheet and the W/L record.
Colorado only has three linebackers on the depth chart - Major, Mahnke, and Rippy - who are upperclassmen, and only one - Major - with significant starting experience.
This being the case, the following bears mention: Colorado linebackers coach Brian Cabral is a legend amongst Buff fans, and his caretaker 2-1 record last fall after Dan Hawkins was fired speaks volumes for the respect that the players have for him.
Still, Cabral has generated only one first-team All-American linebacker in the past 15 years (Jordon Dizon; 2007), and only two first-team All-Big 12 performers over that span (Dizon; Jashon Sykes, 1999).
The Buff Nation remembers Colorado linebackers as being dominant and respected. Right now, they are neither.
The Buffs can go 8-5 if: Jon Major is All-Pac-12, and the Colorado linebacking unit is rated amongst the best in the conference. If Jon Major takes control of the defense and has a dominant year, and one or more previously "quiet" players - at least in terms of production - step out (Rippy? Webb? Mahnke?), Colorado can be bowl-bound for the first time since 2007.
The Buffs will go 5-8 if: The linebackers are exposed. With only three upperclassmen in the entire unit, the Colorado linebackers are perilously thin and inexperienced at linebacker. If Jon Major goes down to injury once again, and/or some of the newer faces in the unit do not step up, the Colorado defense will be picked apart by the experienced quarterbacks of the Pac-12.
What needs to be resolved in fall camp: Two of the three starting linebacking jobs are up for grabs. Douglas Rippy was the post-spring game starter at the Mike (Inside) linebacking position, ahead of Derrick Webb, who was injured during the spring (but a "full go" now).
At the Will (Inside) post, senior Patrick Mahnke was listed as the post-spring game starter, ahead of red-shirt freshman Lowell Williams.
Colorado has three scholarship freshmen joining the team this fall - Brady Daigh, K.T. Tuumalo, and Woodson Greer. It will be worth watching to see if any one of these three true freshmen are able to find the field of play early in 2011.
Personnel: Cornerbacks - Senior Jonathan Hawkins; senior Arthur Jaffee; junior Makiri Pugh; sophomore Jered Bell; sophomore Parker Orms; sophomore Paul Vigo; sophomore Ajodeji Olatoye; red-shirt freshman Josh Moten .... Safeties - Senior Anthony Perkins; senior Travis Sandersfeld; junior Ray Polk; junior Vince Ewing; sophomore Terrel Smith; red-shirt freshman Justin Gorman; red-shirt freshman Jordan Marquez.
New to the Buffs this fall: Freshman Sherrard Harrington; freshman Greg Henderson; freshman Kyle Washington; freshman Jermaine Clark; freshman Will Harlos.
Strengths: Well, there is strength in numbers, right? Overall, Colorado has 20 scholarship defensive backs - almost a quarter of the entire roster. That should count for something, right?
Colorado should, at least, be able to count on excellent play from the safety positions this fall. Senior Anthony Perkins returns, and he should be the leader of the defensive backfield. Perkins was leading the team in tackles before being injured in the Missouri game last fall, and should be back full strength this season.
Perkins teammate at safety, junior Ray Polk, started every game at free safety in 2010, completing the transition from running back.
At cornerback, the Buffs are not completely devoid of experience, as seniors Jonathan Hawkins (26 games) and Arthur Jaffee (25 games) have been around the program for four years.
Weaknesses: Pretty obvious, right? Colorado lost two starting cornerbacks, Jimmy Smith and Jalil Brown, to the NFL. How bad is the cornerback situation for Colorado this fall?
Sophomore Parker Orms, who played less than one quarter in the opener against Colorado State before going down with a season-ending ACL injury, and who missed most of the practices this spring, is nonetheless penciled in as the starting right cornerback.
One of the biggest questions looming over the program in the first spring of the Jon Embree era was: Who will replace Smith and Brown at cornerback? The problem for the Colorado coaching staff - and the Buff Nation - is that the question went unanswered this spring.
The Buffs can go 8-5 if: Senior Anthony Perkins can play the entire season, and play as well as he did the first five games of 2010. The Buffs will also need Ray Polk, second on the team in tackles last fall, to continue his growth at free safety. Parker Orms also needs to show why everyone was so excited for him to see the field in 2010 by having a great showing in 2011.
The Buffs will go 5-8 if: Colorado can't find answers to the cornerback dilemma. The Buffs are solid along the defensive line, and adequate at linebacker. The Colorado corners do not need to show that they are NFL caliber (at least not yet), but if Colorado goes deep into the season with a revolving door at cornerback, Buff fans in October will be like the fans at Duke, Indiana, and Kansas fans...and start looking forward to the tip off of the basketball season.
What needs to be resolved in fall camp: Again, stating the obvious - find two or three reliable starters at cornerback. Perkins and Polk are the starting safeties, with Sandersfeld and Ewing providing experienced back up.
At cornerback, however, Orms and Jaffee are listed as starters just because the coaching staff probably felt it unwise to leave the roster blank at those positions. Orms can - and likely will - be a great nickel back, but Colorado needs to find two true cornerbacks - and fast.
Perhaps "fast" is the operative word, as the Buffs are bringing in more speed - five new defensive backs - with the recruiting Class of 2011. If any of those five show an immediate ability to contribute, the Buff Nation might sleep a little easier as the calendar turns from August to September.
More on Colorado football at www.cuatthegame.com
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