Colorado football coaches had to limit the amount of full-team work they did in spring practices a year ago because they didn't have enough defensive linemen on the roster.
This spring there is a different coaching staff in place with a new set of problems to address in the defensive front. While there are more healthy bodies available than a year ago, most of them are raw and inexperienced players who have a long way to go to meet the potential that earned them scholarships to CU.
Sure there are guys who have played plenty of football such as Chidera Uzo-Diribe, Nate Bonsu and even Josh Tupou and Sam Kafovalu who were freshman last season, but the experience level falls off a cliff from there.
New defensive line coach Jim Jeffcoat likes what he has seen to this point from the 11 players in his group. A 12th defensive lineman, junior Juda Parker, has been sidelined by a shoulder injury and a 13th member of the group, redshirt freshman De'Jon Wilson, has missed much of spring with personal issues.
"They're working hard," Jeffcoat said. "They're trying to get better and everything. We know we've got a long way to go.
"The biggest thing is we've got to get in better shape and they understand that. The style of defense we play, we can't have guys that are over 20 percent fat, a lot of them, because we won't be effective because we play at such a fast pace."
Jeffcoat said the only way to reach that level of fitness is to play fast in practice on top of what players are already doing in the weight room with strength coaches.
The Buffs were extremely young at times on the defensive line in 2012. Senior Will Pericak was the standout in the group all season and is now expected to have an opportunity to play in the NFL this summer. But that inexperience showed up often and played a part in the Buffs producing only 21 sacks and allowing 226 rushing yards per game.
CU was also the easiest team in the nation to score on last season, finishing 120th nationally in scoring defense. The Buffs gave up 46 points a game. Obviously there were numerous factors that led to those ugly numbers, but any defensive coach will say the key to stopping offenses is a strong and disruptive front.
CU coaches at every position are doing their best to maximize repetitions this spring. It's no different for Jeffcoat who is trying to give those younger players who haven't been on the field at all or as much on game days every opportunity to learn how to play fast with sound fundamentals.
"The thing you look at is you continue the repetitions," Jeffcoat said. "The more repetitions you get, the more experience you get. You don't worry about it because young guys grow up fast when they get the repetitions.
"That's what we're thinking is keep working them and keep putting them in situations. That's why we do a lot of that is to get them to improve at a faster pace."
Defensive tackle Nate Bonsu will be a fifth-year senior in the fall. He is playing for his third head coach and third position coach this spring. Bonsu said the defensive linemen love playing for Jeffcoat for multiple reasons.
They respect him because of his success on the field as a player in the NFL. Jeffcoat spent 22 years in the league as a player and coach and won two Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys. Jeffcoat has been in coaching since 1998 and last year he helped produce the Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year, San Jose State defensive lineman
Bonsu grew up in Texas watching some of the Cowboys teams Jeffcoat played on. Bonsu actually played against Jeffcoat's second son, Jackson, in high school. He said the biggest difference between being coached by Jeffcoat and former defensive line coach Mike Tuiasosopo and Kanavis McGhee is 'the delivery.'
"They're all different," Bonsu said. "Tui had a lot of experience coaching, but Jeffcoat brings that experience of being a player in the NFL on the highest level and winning Super Bowls. ... Every time he says something, he's saying something with a purpose and he can bring you those stories about Reggie White and all those dudes he played with."
CU signed two defensive linemen in the 2013 recruiting class. Jimmie Gilbert, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound product of College Station, Texas, and Tim Coleman, a 6-3, 245-pound star at Mullen High School in Denver. Both have the talent to compete for immediate playing time when they arrive this summer.
Ideally, several of the players already on the roster will fill those roles avoiding another year of growing pains up front.
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