Throughout this spring, Colorado safety Kyle Trego has noticed a difference in the Buffaloes' defense.
"Chemistry," said Trego, a senior entering his third season with the Buffs. "A lot of the guys, we're all hanging out a lot now, compared to the other years; it was kind of cliques everywhere. Now I feel like we're more of a family. Chemistry is the biggest part."
The Buffs are hoping that chemistry leads to better results.
Under the direction of first-year coordinator D.J. Eliot, the Buffs (5-7, 2-7 Pac-12) slipped to ninth in the conference in total defense and sixth in scoring defense last season.
Of course, part of that decline from 2016 — when the Buffs were top three in both categories — can be attributed to inexperience. CU lost 10 key contributors and three coaches from that season going into 2017.
Now entering his second season with the Buffs, Eliot is a lot more comfortable this spring, and the defense has felt like more of a unit.
"I think our defense is close," Eliot said in echoing Trego's comments. "I think we have good leaders; Rick Gamboa, Nick Fisher, some of those guys have done a good job of bringing the guys together and leading in the right way and leading by example. I'm pleased with our efforts there."
That leadership has been important because, as always, the Buffs have had some turnover in personnel.
Although 11 of the top 16 tacklers from last season are back, the Buffs are also breaking in some newcomers that have not only increased the competition, but could win starting jobs.
Defensive lineman Mustafa Johnson, Buff back Davion Taylor and cornerback Delrick Abrams arrived in January and all could land in starting roles. Redshirt freshmen Terrance Lang (defensive line), Carson Wells (outside linebacker) and Chris Miller (cornerback) are also playing well this spring, as is true freshman nose tackle Jalen Sami.
"They've really helped a lot," said Gamboa, a senior inside linebacker and three-year starter. "Adding another guy that wants to compete and he's not just here to be here; he wants to play. That adds a lot of competition."
With the additions comes a few hiccups, Gamboa said, but he believes the defense is doing a good job of getting through those.
"We're coming together," he said. "There's a lot of new guys and communication has been a big key.
"Defensively, we've been having a good spring."
Eliot came away from Saturday's annual spring showcase encouraged by the defense and the progress being made.
"I think we're right on track," he said. "We're headed in the right direction. We're looking forward to finishing spring out and getting into the next part of the program."
Not done yet
Usually, the annual showcase is the finale of spring football, but this year, the Buffs have a full week left on their plate. They'll practice Monday, Wednesday and Friday this week to wrap up their 15 spring sessions.
Head coach Mike MacIntyre moved the schedule back a week to allow a few players more time to heal some injuries before the start of spring drills. For TV purposes, however, the Buffs were already locked into the March 17 spring game.
"Usually after the spring game, I like to be done with spring ball," Gamboa said. "But ... I think these next three practices will definitely help us. Using (the spring showcase) as a learning experience, we actually get to learn from this and work on it next week, so I think that definitely helps."
Progress at QB
While Steven Montez is clearly the starter at quarterback, the Buffs have seen good things all spring from backups Sam Noyer and Tyler Lytle, and even walk-on Josh Goldin.
"I think they've definitely progressed," co-offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini said. "(QB coach Kurt) Roper does a really good job with those quarterbacks. I've been pleased with all the quarterbacks' progression."