Departures: Nigel Bethel, Isaiah Lewis, Jeremy Mack, Kaylin Moore, Nikko Reed, Jaylen Striker
Additions: Travis Hunter (Jackson State), Cormani McClain, Omarion Cooper (Florida State), Kyndrich Breedlove (Ole Miss), Cam’Ron Silmon-Craig (Jackson State), Shilo Sanders (Jackson State), Jahquez Robinson (Alabama), Myles Slusher (Arkansas), Vito Tisdale (Kentucky)
Returning: Trevor Woods
You can’t have a Deion Sanders-led team without some studs in the defensive backfield. It’s also fun that we actually know these players, have an idea of how they’re going to look, and someone actually know each other from Jackson State.
The star is Travis Hunter, the #1 recruit in the 2022 high school class who will play both sides of the ball. He’s a nightmare in man coverage, as his speed, footwork and length make it difficult for even the best receivers to get separation from him. He’s obviously great on the ball and should rack up deflections and interceptions as long as opposing QBs don’t entirely avoid throwing at him. The only questions are his tackling ability since the Buffs will face lots of run heavy teams, and how much he’s going to play defense if he’s splitting time at CB and WR.
The other presumed starter at CB is Omarion Cooper, the transfer from Florida State. He started as a freshman with the ‘Noles, then moved into a supporting role his sophomore season. He’s sticky in man coverage, aggressive to the ball and a bit better in run support, as he’s a thickly built 6’0, 190-lbs. He can probably play the slot position in nickel defense, as the five-star freshman Cormani McClain will likely play on the outside in passing situations. McClain is still filling out as his body develops but he’s too talented to not play.
Those are probably the main three CBs with Kyndrich Breedlove as the fourth guy who rotates in. It’s hard to say what his game is like since he mostly played on special teams in Oxnard, but the coaches seem to like him for his attitude and toughness. He fits the position group that boasts the confidence needed for Charles Kelly’s man-heavy defensive scheme.
If Cooper doesn’t play the slot, it will be one of Myles Slusher and Jahquez Robinson. The official roster has them both listed as safeties, but it will be closer to a CB/Safety hybrid. Slusher’s real position could be listed as a ‘playmaker’ for all the work he does getting into the backfield, blitzing the corner and taking on more physical matchups in the slot. He plays a lot bigger than 6’0, 195-lbs. Robinson is more of a veteran presence who played special teams at Bama, but he should fill a role if and when he’s needed.
As for the safeties, we know exactly what we’re going to get from Trevor Woods, one of two returning starters from last season. He’s a Football Player who is always in the right place at the right time. I don’t think I have to say much else because he’s probably everyone’s favorite Buff at this point in the season.
He’s going to rotate with Silmon-Craig and Sanders. The former is a Bob Sanders-type of undersized, hard-hitting safety who plays with an intelligence and toughness that the CU fans will fall in love with. He’s become the leader of the defensive backfield and might be the most dependable player on the entire defense. Shilo is the loud and confident one in the group, surprising no one, and formed an elite pairing with Simon-Craig at Jackson State last year. This is a veteran group that should provide plenty of support in the run game and have the anticipation to break up the passes over the middle, assuming QBs do in fact avoid outside throws with Hunter and McClain lurking.