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Colorado Football 2023 Preview: Defensive Line

The biggest question mark on a roster full of questions.

Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl Presented by Stifel - Fresno State v Washington State Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Departures: Terrance Lang, Jalen Sami, Na’im Rodman, Chance Main, Justin Jackson, Tyas Martin, Allen Baugh, Guy Thomas, Jamar Montgomery

Additions: Shane Cokes (Dartmouth), Jordan Domineck (Arkansas), Derick McClendon (Florida State), Taijh Alston (West Virginia), Arden Walker (Missouri), Sav’ell Smalls (Washington), J.J. Hawkins (Ole Miss), Leonard Payne, Jr. (Fresno State), Bishop Thomas (Florida State), Amari McNeill (Tennessee)

Returning: Joshka Gustav

Thanks to our German-born linebacker, the Buffs will have one familiar name on the 2023 DL/Edge. He’s not going to play, but we know who he is! As for everyone else, it’s a mystery what kind of a defensive front Charles Kelly is setting up, let alone who is going to contribute. Pretty much all we can do is guess until the TCU games kicks off.

The first thing to note is that this defensive line is very small. There is no Sami-sized nose tackle, no Jordan Carrell-sized defensive end. The only lineman over three bills is Florida State transfer Bishop Thomas. Everyone else is somewhere in the range 6’2, 270-lbs., some a little taller, some a little lighter. My assumption is that it will be a 4-3 front, or something of a 4-2-5, simply because there isn’t enough size to have three down linemen.

There’s some certainly that Jordan Domineck will be the primary edge rusher if he’s heathy. He’s been pretty much the only standout from fall camp, which doesn’t bode that well for the group as a whole. Shane Cokes has been very solid on the other end, though there are questions about how his game translates from the Ivy League, and whether or not it’s concerning that it was the CU OL that he looked good against. Leonard Payne is the other guy who stands out as a proven contributor in the Mountain West and he will probably start at defensive tackle.

DL coach Sal Sunseri told Adam Munsterteiger that he further expects McClendon and Walker to contribute on the edge. The interior guys are still a work in progress, he said, as Thomas and McNeill, among others, are still learning how to get low, how to use their hands and fill in the gaps. That’s going to be very important because the Buffs are going to pushed around if they can’t hold their ground inside.

Again, there are a lot of unknown variables with this group, more so than anywhere else on this mystery of a roster. TCU and Nebraska should tell us something about this group discipline and speed. Then Pac-12 schedule will reveal how physical they are and if they learned how to get low.