Cornerbacks Mekhi Blackmon and Christian Gonzalez started every game last season and look to silence opposing air attacks once more in 2021. Behind those two, Nigel Bethel Jr. and Jaylen Striker have game experience while a slew of true freshmen will provide reinforcements.
As a whole, the Buffaloes’ passing defense allowed 239.2 yards per game in 2020, which was 8th highest in the Pac-12.
Blackmon’s three seasons in Boulder lead the group in terms of experience. He averaged 1.2 passes defended per game at right corner last year which helped him gain a spot on the Pac-12 preseason second-team. Karl Dorrell shared that Blackmon’s health has been bumpy over the summer with knee tendonitis but said he looks good early in camp.
For Gonzalez, it was an up-and-down year for him as a true freshman starter at left corner. Opponents targeted his matchup frequently but Gonzalez held his ground and defended five passes. He said he took his rookie year as an opportunity to improve his mental game. Now with a year of college experience, Gonzalez is already displaying signs of leadership in CU’s young secondary.
“I have definitely stepped up into a leadership role in the corner room, especially me and Mekhi,” Gonzalez said. “We’ve been taking the freshmen under our wing and helping them out (to) learn the playbook. It’s been fun, helping out people and now that I’ve had half a year under my wing, more of the defense trusts me when I’m saying stuff.”
Karl Dorrell agreed that Gonzalez, who is still considered a freshman with last season counting as a COVID-19 free year, has helped CU’s incoming corners navigate their first preseason camp.
“The thing that I have noticed of him more now than even in the spring is that he’s helping those younger corners even though he’s a young corner,” Dorrell said. “He’s sharing his knowledge of what he’s learned over the last year.”
Those younger corners include Kaylin Moore, Nikko Reed and Tyrin Taylor. All three are three-star recruits but none were able to play a senior season due to COVID-19. Dorrell said that Taylor has looked strong in camp thus far after getting a taste in spring ball. If this group stays “caught up with everyone else,” Dorrell said he’s not afraid to implement them in a game.
Nigel Bethel Jr. returns after seeing limited action in four games which included an interception at Arizona. Gonzalez said Bethel took care of business last year and continues to in preseason camp.
“He’s having a great camp so far,” Gonzalez said. “He didn’t play as much last year but when he got in, he did what he had to do. I’m excited to see him continue as we keep going through camp.”
Even with the loss of K.J. Trujillo and Tarik Luckett to the transfer portal, Dorrell believes his current corners provide a comfortable level of depth.
“We have probably have more depth now than what we had a year ago where we were just concerned about who we were going to play at corner,” Dorrell said. “I think now we have at least a solid three deep on both sides.”