BOULDER CO - NOVEMBER 20: Quarterback Collin Klein #7 of the Kansas State Wildcats rushes with the ball as Josh Hartigan #55 of the Colorado Buffaloes closes in for the tackle at Folsom Field on November 20 2010 in Boulder Colorado. Colorado defeated Kansas State 44-36. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
With recruiting heating up and fall camp around the corner, it is a good time to assess how the Buffs are looking at each position going into the season and for the upcoming years. So far we have covered quarterbacks, running backs, tight ends, offensive line and wide receivers. Next up is the defensive line. Below is the depth at the position by eligibility year as we stand today:
|Summer Eligibility Chart - Defensive Tackles|
|Curtis Cunningham||Will Pericak||Nate Bonsu|
|Conrad Obi||Eric Richter|
|R-FRESHMEN||2011 SIGNEES||2012 VERBALS|
|Kirk Poston||Tyler Henington|
|Summer Eligibility Chart - Defensive Ends|
|Josh Hartigan||Nick Kasa||Chidera Uzo-Diribe|
|R-FRESHMEN||2011 SIGNEES||2012 VERBALS|
2011 Season and Depth: The defensive line has the most returning experience of any unit on the 2011 Colorado team. CU has three returning starters with a combined 60 total starts as well as a considerable amount of players who have seen game action. Last season, the Buffs' ranked 48th in rush defense giving up 140 yards a game on the ground while finishing 91st in points allowed at just under 31 a game. Although there is a lot of returning experience, defensive coordinator Greg Brown will need more out of this unit for the Buffs to be successful especially when you consider the loss of cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Jalil Brown to graduation. If this group does not get pressure on the quarterback, it will be a long season.
In 2010, the Buffs sacked the opposing quarterback 34 times, the most since the 1995 season. Colorado returns 17 of those sacks this year with Josh Hartigan having the bulk with seven. A year ago, Hartigan emerged out of nowhere to lead the Buffs in sacks. As a sophomore, Hartigan was mostly a special team player. But in 2010, he played in 11 out of the 12 games, led the team in total plays for a defensive end and flourished in the role. In addition to his seven sacks, Hartigan had nine tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage and eight third-down stops which was the most on the team. His performance a year ago landed him second team All-Big 12 by the AP writers and honorable mention by the coaches.
Hartigan, a 6'1" 220 pound senior, is slightly undersized but he makes up for it in speed and athletic ability. His seven sacks a year ago is the most returning of any defensive end in the Pac-12.
Although last season was Hartigan's first year of success on the defensive side of the ball, he will be counted on greatly in 2011 to have a repeat performance. With linebacker's B.J. Beatty and Michael Sipili graduating and defensive end Forrest West moving on to North Carolina State, the Buffs lost three of its better options at getting to the quarterback. West, Sipili and Beatty combined for 15 sacks, 14 tackles for loss and 17 quarterback pressures meaning Colorado lost about half of their sacks from a year ago in those three.
Colorado also returns sophomore Chidera Uzo-Diribe, who had 3.5 sacks, but beyond that, CU does not have many players with proven ability to get to the quarterback. The three players behind Hartigan and Uzo-Diribe on the depth chart had a combined two total sacks a season ago. Junior DE Nick Kasa will be one of those counted on to get to the quarterback. The 6'6" 275 pound end has been injury prone during his career after being a highly recruited four star out of high school.
In the five games Colorado won, they totaled 24 sacks, an average of just under five per game. In the seven they lost, the defense only had 10 combined sacks, just over one per game. That is a pretty telling stat.
The interior of the line is where the Buffs return the most experience. Will Pericak, a 6'4" 285 pound defensive tackle, is considered to be one of the better returning defensive players for Colorado in 2011. He was named Big 12 honorable mention a year ago and has started 24 straight games since his redshirt freshman year. He has played in over 1,100 plays the last two years; second most on the defensive line over that time frame. The Buffs return players with experience on the interior of the defensive line in Nate Bonsu, Conrad Obi and Curtis Cunningham so new Defensive Line coach Mike Tuiasosopo will have options. The problem is players like Cunningham and Bonsu missed spring ball so Tuiasosopo hasn't had a chance to evaluate the group as a whole against each other.
A year ago, Pericak finished eighth in tackles with 45, two sacks, three tackles for loss and eleven tackles for no gain. He also blocked a field goal against Colorado State in the season opener.
Cunningham, a 6'1" 285 pound senior, has always been considered undersized but seemingly finds a way to be disruptive. He is the most experienced defensive lineman on the roster playing in 36 consecutive games since he came to Colorado as a true freshman. He is currently in a battle with Pericak for the starting defensive tackle spot but this unit will be rotated heavily throughout the year.
Curtis took 625 snaps in 2010 over 12 games in the trenches, most among the interior defensive linemen. He finished with 31 tackles, one sack and five tackles for loss. His five tackles behind the line of scrimmage ranked second on the team in 2011. He had four tackles for no gain and four third down stops. In 2009, he recorded 41 tackles on the season (24 solo), with three for losses, including two quarterback sacks, and three others for zero gain.
But the guy who most are talking about after spring ball is Conrad Obi. Obi falls under the category of a guy who exploded this offseason. Obi, a 6'3" 295 pound senior, played sparingly in 10 games a year ago (averaging over 6 plays in each) totaling just four tackles. Obi felt he could have helped the team a year ago but was not given the opportunity for one reason or another. Enter in a new coaching staff, a new commitment to playing the best players and earning your time as well as Obi understanding this is his last chance at the college level and we now may see the potential of the defensive tackle turn into production on the field.
Obi credits new strength and conditioning coach Malcolm Blacken for getting him physically prepared in the offseason. With many players injured on the defensive line this spring like DE Nick Kasa, DT Curtis Cunningham, DT Nate Bonsu and DL Kirk Poston, Obi seized the opportunity. Obi is listed as the starting nose tackle ahead of Nate Bonsu, who played a good amount as a true freshman but was hampered by injuries last season and this spring.
2011 Signees: Jon Embree and staff brought in two exciting defensive linemen in Stephan Nembot and Juda Parker.
Nembot, a 6'8" 280 pound DE from California, was ranked as the 45th best defensive tackle by ESPN. Rivals ranked him as the 51st overall defensive end in the country. The three star prospect had a great offer list that included the Arizona St. Sun Devils, USC Trojans, UCLA Bruins, Oregon St. Beavers, Stanford Cardinal, Washington Huskies and Washington St. Cougars. Nembot is still very raw as he came to the US from Cameroon in the 10th grade when he started playing football. He still has a lot to learn from a football intelligence standpoint but he has huge upside. If Mike Tuiasosopo and Kanavis McGhee can teach him, he has the athletic ability and the size to be special.
Juda Parker is a little more polished of a player. Parker, a 6'2" 245 DE from Hawaii, was highly ranked by many of the scouting services. He had offers from the Oregon St Beavers, Baylor Bears and Hawaii Warriors among others. As a senior, he compiled 64½ tackles, 16 sacks and three forced fumbles. Rivals ranked him as the 28th best defensive end in the country and top player from Hawaii. Scout ranked him as the 36th best defensive end in the country. He was named Interscholastic League of Honolulu Defensive Player of the Year first-team All-State and All- Interscholastic League of Honolulu. He played in the Army All-American Bowl recording six tackles and a fumble recovery.
The future looks bright for these two and if they show they have a knack for getting to the quarterback, they might see some time this season.
2012 Verbal Commits: The Buffs have also had success recruiting defensive tackles in the 2012 class. Colorado received a verbal from Westlake, CA DT Justin Solis. Solis, a 6'3" 287 pounder, is currently ranked as a three star prospect, the 46th overall defensive tackle and the 86th best player in the state of California by Rivals. Scout ranks him as the 37th best defensive tackle in the land. Solis was a teammate of 2011 commit Nelson Spruce and he holds offers from the Arizona Wildcats, Boise St. Broncos, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Utah Utes, UCLA Bruins and Washington Huskies amongst others. He looks great on film and seems like a great kid off the field. Solis had 193 tackles and 17 sacks as a sophomore and junior. In his junior year he had 99 tackles and 10 sacks on a team that went 12-2. He was named the Ventura County Defensive Lineman of the Year and the Marmonte League Defensive Lineman of the Year in 2010. He was also an all-state and all-CIF selection.
Tyler Henington, a 6'3" 265 pound defensive tackle from Mullen high school in Denver, was the Buffs' third verbal commitment in the 2012 recruiting class. He had 114 tackles and a team-high 11 sacks last season. The three star prospect had offers from the Syracuse Orangemen and UCLA Bruins. He is ranked the ninth best player in the state of Colorado. Scout ranks him as the 61st best defensive end in the country.
Bottom Line for Buffs Fans: Colorado has a great amount of depth and experience returning on the defensive line but they need to be more consistent in 2011. The interior of the defensive line looks to be the strength with Will Pericak, Curtis Cunningham, Conrad Obi and Nate Bonsu returning. Josh Hartigan looks to be the player who can provide the most pressure on the quarterback with his team leading seven sacks returning but the Buffs will need help from Chidera Uzo-Diribe and Nick Kasa.