On defense, I like the way our depth chart looks. Even at cornerback, where I know we're inexperienced, I still like how it has shaken out. And I'm a big fan of our shift to the 3-4 and I promise I'll tell you why.
Without further ado, here I go!
I'm excited to see this defensive line in action. Junior Will Pericak has started for us for the past two seasons, despite only having played defensive tackle for the past three. He's now listed as the defensive end, but his time inside will be of great benefit to him. He has improved steadily, and I'm excited to see the pass rush that he can bring inside this year. Behind him is fellow two-year starter, Senior Curtis Cunningham. I wouldn't read much into it, because everyone will be rotating along the line pretty heavily. Cunningham is as technically sound as they come, not wasting any motion with his pass-rush moves. These two guys will be asked to be stout inside much more than the guys on the other side, who are much more in the speed-rush mold. Behind Pericak and Cunningham is redshirt freshman Kirk Poston, who doesn't figure to get much playing time in 2011 behind those guys.
On the right side, sophomore Chidera Uzo-Diribe looks healthy and ready to become a terror off the edge. He is crazy-quick and getting stronger. I'm expecting the presence of Kanavis McGhee to be felt in a few places, but Uzo-Diribe looks to be one of the biggest benefactors of his being on staff. His moves look crisp and effective, and I'm very excited to see what he can do. Behind him is senior Tony Poremba who was granted a scholarship this summer and has always been a high energy guy. The #3 player here is one that people are curious about. Junior Nick Kasa was getting hyped not too long ago, but I wouldn't worry too much about where on the depth chart he's listed. There will be lots of rotating across the defensive line, and I believe Kasa will get snaps at multiple positions. He really does look like a new man and I have a feeling we'll see him more often than not on obvious passing downs. Behind Kasa is Stephane Nembot, who I missed because of a freshmen orientation session. I was looking forward to seeing him in person, so I guess I'll have to wait a little bit. The coaches have said he's going to play this year, so we'll see how he does.
Follow the jump because I might solve the worlds hunger problem somewhere amongst the linebackers!
I think we're going to get pretty solid production out of this position. Senior Conrad Obi was easily the most powerful defensive linemen I saw in the practice I was at. We've been waiting for him to be ready to contribute, and it looks like he's planning on going out with a bang. Enough has been written about him, though, so I'll move on. Behind him will be sophomore Nate Bonsu. Bonsu looked great in limited time during his freshman season, but he missed all of last year with a knee injury. He is starting to look healthy and I'm excited to see what he does at the nose. His quickness was pretty darn good back in 2009, so we'll see how much of that he retained after injury. Behind him is former offensive lineman, Eric Richter. The Junior is the strongest player on the team. He may not play much in 2011 as he continues to adjust to the position, but I bet he has an impact in 2012. His power is readily apparent, but he has a ways to go with his technique before he can really be good. I'm excited to see what Mike Tuiasosopo can do with him.
This is going to be fun. Flexibility is the name of the game, and the 3-4 defense affords plenty of it. It starts here, with the jack-backer, who is going to be senior Josh Hartigan this season. He has played linebacker in his time here, and while he's best at getting after the quarterback, he has the ability to backpedal, which will force offenses to account for him in multiple facets of the game. I'm sure he'll spend most of his time rushing the passer, but he can now do that from all over the field and can occasionally stay back to throw offenses off.
Behind him are two other guys who have played both in a two-point stance (standing up), and with their hands on the ground. Senior David Goldberg is listed as the #2 guy, and he's a physical guy who works hard. He originally was at Penn State before suffering some injuries, leaving and then walking on here. He has now earned a scholarship for this season, and has been a defensive end and a linebacker at his various stops. Behind him is true freshman Juda Parker, who will be a guy to keep your eyes on. He looks like he'll get some playing time this year, and hopefully he'll be ready to take over the jack spot in 2012. He's got good size and speed, and Coach McGhee is working hard with him on technique and instincts. During some of the drills I watched, McGhee was spending extra energy on having Parker perfect some of his pass-rushing moves and shedding blockers. It's all in the details, and he's making sure Parker understands all of them. I think this bodes well for the kid,
We will have a lot of umph inside this year. We will finally get to see junior Doug Rippy get his shot at the mike linebacker spot, which should be exciting. He's always been one of the best athletes on the team, and it sounds like he's finally putting it together mentally. He's at his best when he gets to play downhill and attack, and it looks like that's exactly what the coaches are asking him to do. He hits hard and closes fast, and could have a very special two finals seasons here. Behind him is true freshman Brady Daigh, who looks like the real deal. He still needs to work on his instincts and some technique, but he has the size, speed and strength to make an impact if needed. He could be a very good one down the line.
Sophomore Derrick Webb is another guy I've been excited to see get some time, and he'll be starting at the will linebacker spot. He is a compact guy, but he hits harder than anyone else on the team. He will be asked to track guys through the garbage and drop the hammer on ball carriers and receivers over the middle. I don't know about him in coverage, but that's the beauty of the 3-4: You can mask some of the players' weaknesses by moving them to different places on the field. Behind him is a guy who does have solid coverage skills. Senior Patrick Mahnke, who originally was a safety for us but didn't quite have the speed to compete there, has found a home as a situational linebacker for Coach Cabral. He still doesn't quite have the size to hold up in the middle, but I think we'll see him get some snaps against some of the teams that like to throw the ball al lot. If nothing else, he's a guy who provides quality depth after having gotten a lot of playing time earlier in his career. After that is redshirt freshman Lowell Williams, who I still haven't seen enough of to like him. He's small, and looks lighter than the 200 lbs he's listed at, but he does have pretty good speed. Playing at the will (on the weakside) may give him an opportunity to contribute, despite still lacking a bit in the size department.
The other outside linebacker spot will be manned by junior Jon Major. He keeps getting so close to breaking out and really becoming a star, so hopefully this is the season that it happens. He's the complete package, so hopefully he can stay healthy this year. He possesses the kind of talent that may eventually place his name amongst the great linebackers that CU has had over the years. He looks like he may have regained the speed that makes him so special, and I think playing him outside may allow him to fully use it. He's a leader on the defense and is one of the most important players we will have out there in 2011. I expect him to make himself known to the other Pac-12 teams pretty quickly.
Behind Major is sophomore Liloa Nobriga. He shows a lot of promise, and brings pretty good size to the position. Considering Major's injury history, there is a solid chance that Nobriga will get plenty of playing time this year, so hopefully he is ready. He is a talented guy that will make his presence known if he sees the field, and he may be one of the guys to watch this year. Behind him is true freshman K.T. Tu'umalo, who still needs to pack on a bunch of weight, but he has the instincts and speed to make things happen.
Thank goodness we get senior Anthony Perkins back from his knee injury this year. The defense wasn't great before he was injured, but it was terrible afterwards. He lines up as the strong safety, and has a lot of experience there. He's a leader, which is good, because he'll be lining up a pretty inexperienced group of cornerbacks. He can tackle, but his speed may have been impacted by the injury, which will be something to keep your eyes on. Listed as his backup, is true freshman Kyle Washington, but I bet that the first guy off the bench for the safeties is Terrel Smith (I'll discuss him in a minute). Washington looks the part, and brings impressive speed to the position. If he can get enough reps to know the defense, he's a guy I will be happy to have out there in the near future. I think he's going to end up being one of the steals of the recruiting class. The third guy at SS is senior Arthur Jaffee. He will mostly be used to return kickoffs this year, but he has experience playing on both sides of the ball. He's a Boulder kid, so hopefully he gets to contribute some in his final season.
At free safety, we return Junior Ray Polk. A converted running back, Polk is still learning the position, and we've seen flashes. Unfortunately, he's made a lot of mistakes there as well. He's a fantastic athlete who is fast and hits hard (when he makes the correct read), so hopefully he's figuring it all out. He could be a very good safety, and hopefully we'll see it happen in 2011. Behind him is sophomore Terrel Smith, who ended up starting in place of Perkins last season when he was hurt. Smith is small, but he hits very hard and makes plays all over the field. He will probably take over for Perkins in 2012, but for now will have to be the guy that spells the starters and takes the occasional snaps here and there. He will be tough to keep off the field, though, and may play some in the nickel this year. The third guy there is true freshman Will Harlos. He is tall and fast with good instincts. He may be an impact player in the secondary down the road, but for now he will see his time on special teams.
Perhaps the most talked about position going into this season will be cornerback. CU was terrible at defending the pass last year, yet both starting cornerbacks were drafted. We are essentially starting over outside, but there are some promising candidates. The current starter on the left side is senior Travis Sandersfeld. He has always been a good player for us, and was in heavy competition with Parker Orms last year for the nickel spot (though both were injured in the rash of DB injuries last season). He is a good athlete with good but not great speed. His real strength, though, is his head. He's a smart guy who knows the defense well and he plays with good technique. He's the safe bet at that spot, but I'm certain he won't be the only guy receiving snaps there this year. Also, his Uncle Mark is a Ralphie Report reader, so everybody say, "Hi Mark!" Behind him is sophomore Ayodeji Olatoye, who is still struggling with consistency and sticking with receivers when they make their moves. He has good speed and long arms, but he hasn't put it all together yet. After that is another sophomore, Paul Vigo. He has been around for longer than his class would indicate because of grayshirting and redshirting, but he continues to get lost in the mix of DBs. He played a bit last year at the nickel, but couldn't regain the job this year. ***I say that without the coaches having announced who will be the nickelbacks, but I believe it will be some combination of Terrel Smith and Parker Orms***
On the right side, true freshman Greg Henderson will get the nod. He's an incredibly competitive and physical DB (I know you read that everywhere, but it's true. He may be great for us in the near future. He gets right in receivers faces from the start and completely throws them off) that has that uncanny ability to stay with wideouts while they make their moves. He is going to hold down that spot for a long, long time. Behind him is sophomore Parker Orms, who I believe will get some playing time in the nickel because he's another guy that is tough to keep off the field. He's always around the ball and just gets the game of football. He doesn't look any slower after his knee troubles, and is a very happy camper now that he gets to play again. I get the sense that he's going to make the most of his playing time this year, and I don't see how he doesn't make an impact somewhere. Behind him is either (I hate some of the terms they use on the depth chart) senior Jonathan Hawkins or redshirt (and grayshirt) freshman Josh Moten. Hawkins got his shot last year, but couldn't quite hold down the fort, and Moten keeps showing flashes. I think we see more of Moten this year, and I believe he will continue to develop for us. He's a great athlete, and I watched him snag a couple of very impressive Interceptions at the practice I attended. That ability is one that coaches notice, and I think he gets a shot to earn some playing time this season.
We all know the storylines here. I haven't gotten to see Will Oliver kick, but I'm excited to. He sounds like the real deal, and consistency really is the name of the game. And it sounds like Justin Castor will still have a role, handling kickoffs and some of the longer field goals. Castor does have a strong leg, so it's good that he'll be playing towards his strengths. And speaking of playing to strengths, it sounds like Zach Grossnickle may finally get to go with his: kicking. He was a better kicker than a punter (really, how can anyone have stuck with Riddle as long as we did. He isn't a smart ST coach, he's an absolutely terrible one), so they'll give him a shot to work there. Darragh O'Neill, a guy who has been punting for less than 6 months and has never played football before will be our starting punter. Is it weird that I'm strangely OK with this? He's a competitor, and I think he'll do just fine. Someone who comes in this late in the game is focusing on technique, which is a good thing for a punter. He clearly has a strong enough leg that he doesn't have to worry about how hard he's booting it, which allows him to be more consistent. We'll see how it goes, but I feel pretty good about it. Snapping to him will be Ryan Iverson. He still doesn't have great velocity on his snaps, but he looks better than he did last year. Hopefully Coach J.D. Brookhart will get our blocking on punts and kicks in order after the disaster that was the last few seasons. Kyle Slavin is backing him up, but he's got some consistency issues, so there may be a chance for true freshman walk-on Keegan LaMar (from Boulder) to work his way up the charts. Redshirt freshman DB Justin Gorman, a former QB, will be the holder. He's got great hands and I saw him adjust on a couple of poorly snapped balls very well.
Returning kicks will be Brian Lockridge (providing his ankle his healed) and Arthur Jaffee, both of whom have done it for us in the past. Lockridge had the return for a TD against OK State not too long ago, and I always thought Jaffee was solid when he took the ball up. Behind them is Tony Jones and Keenan Canty, two fast and shifty guys who may get a shot to snag some kicks this year. I don't know how settled these spots are, but I have a feeling another player or two may work themselves into the mix. Returning punts will be starting star wide receiver Paul Richardson and he is backed up there by star running back Rodney Stewart. They are two of our most talented players with the ball in their hands, but losing either of them would be very bad news. Coach Embree did say that D.D. Goodson would be given the chance to earn that job, so we'll see how he does over the next week and a half. I'd really like to see someone else besides Richardson or Stewart get that job, because I believe they are more valuable to the offense than they would be to special teams. I understand the importance of ST, and I am very happy about the new coaching staff's dedication to improving it, but we're not incredibly deep at their positions yet.
And that's my analysis of our fall depth chart. I'm sure there will be small changes before the season starts, but that is supposedly the guys that will be traveling with the team to Hawaii. I like this team, I really do. I think we have some talent that went unused or underutilized, and I'm hopefully these coaches can find a way to get in on the field. I don't think we'll be winning any championships quite yet, but I think we'll surprise a team or two this year.