Coming into the 2008 season, the cornerback position was highlighted as a weak spot on the Buffs defense while the defensive line was supposed to be the strength. I think most CU fans would say they were more impressed with the cornerback play in '08 than they were with the defensive line. Given that the Buffs lost two starters from the 2007 team in Terrence Wheatley (NFL) and Ben Burney (5'11" 190 Sr.) (injury), that 2008 assumption was not a bad one to make. But the cornerbacks overachieved last season. CB Chapelle Brown (5'7" 170 Sr.) was arguably the story of the year in the secondary, becoming a consistent playmaker and tackler. CB Jalil Brown (6'1" 205 Jr.), CB Anthony Wright (6'0" 190 So.) and CB Jimmy Smith (6'3" 200 Jr.) all saw action in 2008 and for the most part, performed well. At safety, the 2008 team was led by seniors Daniel Dykes and Ryan Walters, who are now both gone and graduated. Not so lucky for Walters and Dykes but for the future of the Buffs program, both players had health issues during the year allowing true freshman, Patrick Mahnke (6'1" 205 So.), and red-shirt freshman, Anthony Perkins (5'10" 200 So.), to get invaluable time both as reserves and a starters.
In one of the more surprising moves of the offseason, secondary coach Greg Brown received some good news. Ray Polk, a four star running back in 2008 asked to be converted to a safety. Although Polk needed offseason surgery and still has to learn the position, Buff fans should expect to see good things from him when he gets healthy and acclimated. The remaining but useful players at safety include S Tyler Sandersfield (6'1" 205 So.), who made some nice plays last year on special teams as well as S Vince Ewing (6'0" 200 RFr.) and Bret Smith (5'11" 190 Jr.).
Although the loss of three starting defensive backs from 2008 (CB Gardner McKay, S Dykes and S Walters) could cause a bit of concern on most teams, coming into spring, I had the expectation that this year's unit would be better at all positions. The cornerback spot will definitely be improved with the emergence of Jimmy Smith and the return of Ben Burney. Smith showed well at the end of the last season. Known as the most athletic and "pro ready" player on the roster, the game clicked for Smith in 2008 as a sophomore and he was expected to gain a stranglehold on one of the starting cornerback position this spring. With 2007 starter Ben Burney, 2008 starter Cha'pelle Brown and 2008 nickel back Jalil Brown all returning, their was plenty of reasons to be optimistic for 2009.
click after the jump to read the rest of the cornerback recap...
Post Spring Thoughts:
Now that spring practice has come and gone, I am still brimming with optimism. The biggest area of concern, if applicable, was at the safety position. Although Mahnke and Perkins played last year, being a full time starter is a different story. That being said, they looked solid during my viewing (four practices and two scrimmages). The good thing for these two sophomores are the players surrounding them. The Buffs have great depth & talent at cornerback and a strong linebacker corp. They can be assignment oriented (no man beats you deep) but also feel loose enough to be able to press the line of scrimmage, something we saw Ron Collins and the Buffs defensive staff use a lot this spring. Many times, the defense would be in a 3 - 3 - 5, bringing in a nickel cornerback or safety.
The spring practices further proved that cornerback should be a strong point this season. Jimmy Smith has first round talent and Ben Burney returned to the lineup, bringing another physical corner to the defense. The first day of practice, the Buffs ran one on ones to see who would run sprints (very much a jog) at the end of practice. The offense tried to run a double move on Jimmy Smith. No luck, picked off and a defensive celebration ensued. I expect that from Smith all season. Smith is also special because he can support the run. His size also allows him to handle bigger receivers and his quickness allows him to cover the speedsters. He is the complete package that should be a treat to watch this year. I am already circling the Kansas and Oklahoma State games to see Smith go up against Dezmon Briscoe and Dez Bryant.
Cha'pelle Brown got a stomach virus that didn't allow him to participate as much as he would have liked this spring but he will surely be in a battle with Jalil Brown, Burney and Anthony Wright for the other starting job as well as the nickel spot. The Buffs also moved 2008 grey shirt, Paul Vigo, to cornerback, adding another player into the fold along with Arthur Jaffee and Jonathan Hawkins.
OUT FOR SPRING - S Ray Polk (shoulder surgery)
WAS LIMITED - CB Cha'pelle Brown (stomach illness), CB Ben Burney (multiple injuries), CB Paul Vigo (leg injury), Anthony Wright (knee injury)
All should be ready to go in the fall with the addition of incoming commits: Deji Olatoye and Parker Orms.
Player(s) Who Emerged:
The four players who stood out this spring were Ben Burney, Jimmy Smith, Patrick Mahnke and Anthony Perkins. Basically, the guys who we needed to step up did to solidify the positions. Another person to watch out for is Tyler Sandersfield. He just seems to make plays, something the coaches have noticed. He is currently #2 on the depth chart at safety but also played in that nickel/rover spot where he adds another physical presence.
If the Buffs can generate any sort of pass rush, this group has the ability to cause a lot of turnovers and be a special unit in the Big 12. Forcing turnovers is always an emphasis in spring camp, especially so after the 2008 season when the Buffs finished 94th in the nation in turnover margin. Oklahoma finished first and you can see what bowl game they played in last year. It will all depend on the pass rush, though. If spring practice holds true throughout the season, Ron Collins won't be afraid to play three down linemen and be aggressive with the linebackers, safeties or cornerbacks. The good thing is all of the back seven or eight (plus depth) are returning players which will come in handy if the Buffs are trying to teach a very diverse defense with multiple blitz/cover/responsibility packages.
The secondary should also be aided by a few big wide receiver/quarterback combos coming off the schedule in 2009:
TEAMS WHO LOST PLAYMAKERS FROM LAST YEAR
CSU - will have another starting quarterback but return a pretty good receiver in Rashaun Greer who was ranked 19th in the nation with 1,114 yards receiving last season.
West Virginia - loses QB Pat White who was not a big passing threat but the run-pass option still made defenses nervous.
Kansas State - gone is QB Josh Freeman, the 19th pick in the NFL draft.
Missouri - the Mizzou trio who just killed the Buffs the past two seasons - QB Chase Daniel, WR Jeremy Maclin and TE Chase Coffman - all gone. Good riddance. The loss of Maclin alone accounts for 2,800+ total yards in '08 to be replaced in '09.
Nebraska - gone is QB Joe Ganz, WR Nate Swift and WR Todd Peterson. Swift and Peterson combined for 125 receptions, 1,727 yards and 14 touchdowns. TE Mike McNeill is the leading pass catcher returning...who?
TEAMS WHO RETURN MOST OF THEIR PLAYMAKERS
Texas - loses leading receiver Quan Cosby (1,123 yards) but returns WR Jordan Shipley and QB Colt McCoy. Plus its Texas, they reload.
Kansas - QB Todd Reesing (has never lost to the Buffs) and WR Dezmon Briscoe return. This combo should be dangerous again in '09.
Oklahoma State - along with Kansas and Texas, Oklahoma State returns a lot of explosiveness. TE Brandon Pettigrew is gone but the real playmakers in QB Zac Robinson, RB Kendall Hunter and WR Dez Bryant are all back.
TEAMS WHO RETURN PLAYERS BUT NOT READY TO CALL THEM PLAYMAKERS
Texas A&M - has their core of young skill players returning.
Iowa State - QB Austen Arnaud returns but who is he going to throw to?