Last year, the defensive Colorado Buffaloes were in a tough spot all season long. A veteran group with top talent at all levels, the D was faltering by the end of the year, partially because they were on the field all the damn time. A faltering offense led to a tired defense that struggled with depth, and further Nate Landman injuries cursed the linebacker room. In the end, the 2021 CU defense was overworked and under-developed, and wasn’t able to keep CU in every game. Now, in 2022, this unit has lost a lot of their top talent, but returns a lot of experience up front. With an expected improvement on offense, will that be enough?
Let’s start up front, with the big boys. There are many familiar names on this defensive line. Terrance Lang is back for his 6th year, bulked up to 290. Lang is now as solid as they come on the edge and will challenge for all-conference status. Jalen Sami is MASSIVE, at 6’5 and over 300 pounds, and is back to man the middle of this defense. With Janaz Jordan dismissed from the team, the backup DT duties fall on Tyas Martin, the gigantic redshirt freshman. The other true defensive lineman up front is Na’im Rodman, a solid piece that continues to improve. He was mentioned often this offseason as someone who has gotten better in 2022. As a group of three linemen, that is one of the top groups in the conference. Lang, Sami and Rodman have talent and experience that should give them an advantage over most offensive lines that they face this year. Behind them is an interesting group of depth pieces. Justin Jackson is a versatile piece that has some nice size to him, and he will play at every spot. Chance Main, the grad transfer, has some nice length on the edge and can rush the passer. Beyond that, we are looking at unproven pieces like Martin or Ryan Williams.
In this semi-new CU defense, there is a 4th down lineman that could stand that is meant to rush the passer. This is the role that Carson Wells filled last year, but now with Wells gone, we are looking at a heavy rotation. So we start looking at this edge spot with a few different option. 6th year senior Guy Thomas, a “first off the bus guy” whose listed hobbies include “working out”, is a menace if he can stay healthy. He couldn’t stay on the field after a magnificent performance against Texas A&M, but that game against the Aggies showed his potential. He’s fast, ferocious and is pretty OK in coverage in the right spots. Jamar Montgomery has been a solid performer for this team since 2020, and he will be a more run-heavy EDGE player. A Joshua Gustav injury has pressed some exciting young pieces into playing time. Alvin Williams, a player from Georgia who has SPEED, is one of my favorite young players on the whole team. He is skinny, yes, and a little short, but he can bend the end and rush the passer and he has plus athleticism. Along with him, Zion Magalei is another long prospect that focuses on rushing the passer.
Now we take a look at the heart in the middle of the defense, the middle linebackers. There are technically three starters - Robert Barnes, Josh Chandler-Semedo and Marvin Ham. HOWEVER, I expect that we see less of Marvin Ham in this semi 4-2-5 lineup and more of Quinn Perry (who is now a team captain). Barnes, a transfer from Oklahoma, has finally bulked up to his true MLB body while keeping a lot of his speed. He will be on the field in almost any combination of personnel for this defense. Chandler-Semedo, the productive transfer from WVU, will be expected to rack up many of tackles in the second level. He is not the disruptive force that Nate Landman is, but he is solid as they come at the P5 level and plays bigger than his height. Quinn Perry is the final side of this MLB triangle. He is huge, at 6’2 and 245 pounds, and very comfortable defending the run game. He looked lost at times last year, especially in open space, so the hope remains that his time in coverage is minimized this year. This unit will take a step back compared to last year’s team, but the depth is where things have improved. Young bucks Eoghan Kerry and Mister Williams bring another level of athleticism to this position, with Williams in particular playing well in the spring and fall. Expect to see both Kerry and Williams on the field often.
Prepare yourself for some trouble in the defensive backfield this season. I actually like this group of CU cornerbacks, but they are effectively pressed into action a year too early. Christian Gonzalez is going to be a first round pick for some lucky team after playing this year for the Ducks. Mekhi Blackmon is one of the few leaders on a moribund USC defense. That leaves a massive hole in the DB depth chart, filled by a total youth movement. Rod Chance will earn his salary. The starters on the boundary corners are Nikko Reed and Kaylin Moore. Reed had absolute flashes last year, with speed to burn. He’s on the shorter side, but he can keep up with anyone and his frame allows him to contest balls in the air. He only has a couple hundred college snaps to his name, but he will be relied on heavily as this team’s #1 corner. My personal favorite corner on this team plays on the other boundary. Kaylin Moore is a player that I feel has NFL potential. Moore is physical and twitchy, with plenty of short-range athleticism. He will be up in receiver’s grills all year long. We also haven’t seen much of Moore, but from what I’ve seen, he has the goods. Tyrin Taylor, another sophomore who played extensively last year, is slated to slot at nickel, which is interesting given that he is the longest of the starter triumvirate. At 6’2, Taylor is super long and skinny, which allows him to keep up with tight ends or the bigger receivers. Expect him to rotate with Nigel Bethel once the quick Bethel gets back from injury. The backups for this group are similarly young. True freshmen Jason Oliver and Keyshon Mills are the main boundary corner backups, with Joshua Wiggins and Simeon Harris in the mix as well. That is a LOT of talent that has not produced on a college field. Realistically, that will lead to breakdowns.
The safety room is another place that saw proven pieces go elsewhere. Mark Perry is now starting for Week 1 opponent TCU, which leaves pretty big shoes to fill. This room still has mainstay Isaiah Lewis, who has started for this team since 2020 and looks to cap his college career. Lewis is as solid as they come who knows his limitations and makes up for with anticipation. He’ll get beat from time to time due to that, but it also allows him to be at the right place more often than not. Next to him is possibly my favorite player on this entire roster. Filling in for Perry is sophomore Trevor Woods, who is a football player’s football player. He has the size, speed and football IQ to make a real impact from the safety position. He played well on special teams last year and had some fun defensive plays. I expect Woods to make a name for himself this year. In what is becoming a familiar refrain, the depth is not proven at the safety position. New recruits Jeremy Mack and Dylan Dixson are new recruits for the Buffs this year, but both have good size for the position. Watch out for former walk-on Anthony Lyle to get some run as well.
In general, the defense has solid top-line talent. However, in my eyes, the depth is almost totally unproven. CU will need to have the young players to step up in order to make this defense work.