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2017 Colorado Buffaloes Season Preview: Defensive Line

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All starters are gone. Who steps up?

Returning: Leo Jackson, Jase Franke, Timothy Coleman, Frank Umu, Lyle Tuiloma

Departing: Jordan Carrell, Josh Tupou, Samson Kafovalu

Incoming: Chris Mulumba (JC), Javier Edwards (JC), Terrance Lang,

The offense was simple to preview. I feel like 90% of my words on those articles were just “see what they did last year? It’ll be that but better.” Not to diminish my own opinion, that’s a perfectly valid argument. It was just a very linear series of articles. Now we get into the speculative stuff. Let expectations run as wild as the imagination! Let potential come before production! It’s on to the defense, where flux doesn’t begin to describe the state of the whole unit. Given that the defense is a mirror image of the offense, it’s only right to start on the other side of where we left off, the defensive line.

The players we saw so often last year are gone. Jordan Carrell, Josh Tupou, and Samson Kafovalu played an absurd amount of snaps and balled out doing it. Carrell and Tupou are both on NFL rosters now and Kafovalu may have more talent than both. In a 3-4, the defensive line has to be stout at the point of attack, first and foremost. It was a rare sight to see these guys pushed back. The second job is to push the edges in and disrupt plays. Kafovalu excelled at this, and Carrell used his background as a 4-3 defensive tackle (and future in the NFL) to beat some of the guards. Tupou may have been the most important man in the front seven. His heft was a godsend this year, as a true nose tackle is needed to make a 3-4 work. He occupied multiple blockers at once, won the line of scrimmage, and even pushed the pocket a few times. He truly was an iron man in the middle. They all played their hearts and were a huge reason for the defense’s success last year.

And now they’re all gone. That doesn’t necessarily spell doom and gloom for the Buffs, though. Experience can’t be replaced, but an upgrade in talent certainly helps. CU has an intriguing mix of talent and experience on the D-line, and if they put it together, they may be successful this year.

Let’s start with the man that fans have seen the most of - Leo Jackson. The defensive end has played since he arrived as a sophomore out of a junior college in California. He started intermittently in 2015, then took a backseat to Samson Kafovalu in 2016. He’s ready to join the spotlight again. I can honestly say that I’ve never been disappointed in Leo Jackson when he plays. He is consistent and solid. As a 3-4 end, he will be tasked with holding the edge, which he should be able to do against almost anybody. But Jackson has shown a penchant for pass-rushing, and he should be able to let loose, depending on where he lines up on the line. Leo is a solid 6’2 and about 280 pounds, and he is plenty mobile. The definition of a solid Pac-12 player. Second on the experience chart is Tim Coleman, the redshirt senior. He has played through multiple position changes and injuries to arrive at this point. Transitioning from 4-3 rush end to 3-4 linebacker to 3-4 end takes a lot of work as is, and Coleman did it all. Now a solid 270ish pounds, Coleman looks to bring the pressure that he could always bring. He may not play as a starter due to his slighter frame, but he looks to rotate in quite a bit. If it’s third and long, watch out. Now that he has developed strength, his motor and natural speed will be even more deadly. We haven’t seen much of Coleman yet, and that’s not a knock on him; the cards just kept falling away from him. But now there’s very little between him and the quarterback. Expect to see #59 quite a bit in the fall, and he may just play his way into a starting job. The same may be said for the third returning senior, Jase Franke. The DE/DT/NT has moved around quite a bit, but his play has remained solid. Does anyone else remember that Franke started the ill-fated Hawaii game as a nose tackle in 2015? He played well, too. And he had potential. One serious concussion later, and a resurgent comeback season from Josh Tupou, and he got to learn on the bench. Well, now he’s back, and he’s turned into the line’s utility man. Due to his time at most positions, he can play almost all with ease. The pre-camp had him officially as the starter at nose tackle, but he will most likely split his time as a rotational tackle and end. Franke has always been crazy strong, and the time in the weight room has made him even bigger. He could probably hold up in the middle against some teams on the schedule, but he would be better served as the first guy off the bench for a breather. He could also be used as a pass rushing nose tackle, given that he has a little more giddy-up than the projected starter. Basically, he is the Fixer of the group (that is a Republic Commando reference that I don’t expect anyone to get). He is a solid option for any situation, but a specialized player may be more desired.

We finally get to the new faces. Frank Umu is a solid redshirt sophomore that is in contention for a starting end role. He is the perfect example of replacing superior experience with superior talent. While Kafovalu and Carrell were great, they were recruited as 4-3 defensive linemen. As such, they were a little shorter and skinnier than some coaches want in their 3-4 lineman. Umu has no such problems. The man is at least 6’5 and at least 290 pounds. He is a big boy, and in his third year in the program, stacked. All of the baby fat is gone and replaced with muscle. By all accounts, he’s moving well and grasps the defense. If Umu could step up, he would be the first prototype of what a CU defensive end should look like. Long, strong, and ready to Donkey Kong some OLs. Joining him as a redshirt sophomore is Lyle Tuiloma, the under-the-radar recruit from Hawaii. He came is a huge body that could rumble, and guess what - he’s still that. His body is the right kind of huge now and he can move a little better, but what makes Lyle the player that he is hasn’t changed. At 6’3 and 305, he is a block of granite. He is in the mix for backup nose tackle duties. His time to take over has been delayed by the incoming nose tackle starter, but his time will come when he patrols the middle.

(George Frazier was covered in the receivers portion of the preview, but he may also spend time at defensive end.)

Now, we get to the man that I’ve alluded to. The Bulldozer. Three Sexy himself. Javier Edwards. He is an incoming JuCo transfer, and he probably outweighed the incoming defensive backs by himself. Now down to a svelte 350 (or Three Sexy, depending on who you ask), he is ready to rock and roll in the middle. He is a true nose tackle. After CU plucked him away from the arms of multiple SEC schools, they realized what they had. How are you supposed to run on this?

A picture says a thousand words, but I’ve already past that, so I’ll keep going. Edwards’ biggest test will be conditioning. There’s no way the coaches can ask him to play as much as Tupou or Carrell did last year, but he won’t have to. There’s plenty of bodies in the rotation now to carry the load. But if Edwards can show the same stoutness at the point of attack that he showed at Blinn College, there will be plenty of 3rd and longs for CU and chances for him to get off the field. The surprising thing with him is how well he sheds his blocks. Despite being double and triple-teamed, he always seemed to end with a clear shot at the ball-carrier. He will be huge for CU this year. Another junior college name to know is Chris Mulumba, who is the ultimate companion if you ever feel unsafe walking home at night. A 6’4, 24 year old judo black belt, Mulumba discovered football a little late, and CU discovered him even later. He was injured during his time at Diablo Valley Community College, so his tape didn’t circulate as much as it should’ve. At CU, he will have time to adjust thanks to the depth, and he will need it. But if and when the lightbulb turns on, watch out. He’s huge, knows how to use his hands, and is a freak athlete. This is the guy that has the weird profile on draft day.

CU has also added some exciting freshmen like Terrance Lang and Jalen Sami, but I don’t expect either to play this year. Instead, I expect the mix of old and new faces to try to make up for the stellar play of last year’s front. It will be tough, but they’ll have plenty of help. This year is also partially about building towards 2018. CU will again lose three solid contributors in Jackson, Coleman, and Franke, but the extra rotation and the talent upgrade should mean that the line becomes even more fearsome. With more upperclassmen and exciting underclassmen, Coach Mac’s dream for strong trench warfare is becoming realized.