Cornerback Kenneth Crawley hoped to be making a big impact on the Colorado defense midway through his first college season, but it's safe to say he didn't plan to be leading the team in tackles.
Crawley, a true freshman from Washington D.C., has logged more playing time for the CU defense than anyone except junior safety Terrel Smith, with whom he is tied for the team lead in tackles at 40 through the first five games. Teams haven't been shy about running and throwing the ball to Crawley's side of the field, which has given him plenty of opportunities to make plays. He's still looking for his first interception, but he has managed to get his hands on a few passes.
"You would always prefer that the corners are not making the tackles," defensive coordinator Greg Brown said. "That means that ball is somehow getting back there where the corners are having to make the tackles. Of course you prefer that not to be, but also, that's part of the deal. If the ball is back there and you're a corner, you'd better make the tackle."
Crawley has no problem with that. He's the first to admit he's been burned a few times in the early going, but he's mature enough to understand even the best players have their tough times and learning experiences.
"Since I'm a freshman, teams are going to try to go at me and go deep," Crawley said. "I've got to expect more. Going into the games I've got to expect they're going to come at me early."
The Buffs play host to Arizona State on Thursday night in front of a national television audience on ESPN. The Sun Devils bring an explosive offense to town and that means Crawley figures to be a busy man once again.
"They're really good," Brown said. "Their timing is impeccable. The quarterback's grasp of what they're doing. It's pretty obvious that they're all on the same page and they can hurt you bad if you make a mistake.
"So many of their passes come off things that look like runs and have the ability to be runs. Yet, the quarterback has the ability to pull up short of the line of scrimmage and throw the ball."
CU coaches have asked their young cornerbacks to play well off the line of scrimmage at times this season. Sometimes it's an effort to disguise coverages and other times it's meant to help the players to prevent giving up deep balls.
Crawley admits there have been several times he has lined up deep when he wasn't supposed to. It's part of the learning process. So is dealing with not always making plays he made growing up.
"You're right there on the receiver and they just make a nice catch," he said. "You look back on those plays and think, 'I could have done one more extra thing to get that ball.'"
Crawley, who also returns punts for the Buffs, has had some frustrating moments during his initiation to the college game. There have been times where he felt he had good coverage only to see the ball completed anyway. He said the speed of the game and the talent of opposing quarterbacks and wide receivers is taking some time to adjust to.
"Ken is on track to be a very good player here," Brown said. "He's a true freshmen and he's doing things that we never asked Jimmy Smith or Jalil Brown to do at this age."
Crawley has a competitive personality and a drive to be the best. He has been looking forward to gauging his skills against some of the elite players in the Pac-12 Conference. Two weeks ago against Washington State wide receiver Marquess Wilson, Crawley came away feeling like he performed pretty well, particularly in the second half.
This week the challenge is ASU wide receivers Rashad Ross and Jamal Miles, who have combined for 28 catches but only one touchdown this fall.
Sun Devils lacking CBs
CU coach Jon Embree can relate to what his counterpart at Arizona State is going through. Sun Devils coach Todd Graham says his team is woefully thin at cornerback and he has experimented this week in practice with wide receiver J.J. Holliday playing the position.
Last year Embree had the same problem and used former wide receiver Jason Espinoza and running back D.D. Goodson in the secondary. Both players actually started games for the Buffs on defense in 2011.
"One of the things that is concerning is just lack of depth at that cornerback position and really (we are) just trying to look for some guys to help us on third down, help us in depth," Graham said during his weekly press conference.
Embree said he expects safety Ray Polk to return to the lineup for the first time since the season opener. However, running back Christian Powell (thigh) and defensive tackle Justin Solis did not participate fully in Monday's practice and might not be able to play. Embree said Connor Wood will be the backup quarterback again this week after missing the past two games with an injury. ... Embree has been dealing with a chronic cough that continues to show up during his interviews. He has had it through much of the first month of the season. ... Kickoff for CU's game at Southern Cal on Oct. 20 has been set for 4 p.m. The game will be televised on the Pac-12 Network.
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