Two years ago toward the end of his second and final season as Colorado's head football coach, Jon Embree predicted that a group of defensive backs he recruited in the 2012 class would one day become the strength of the CU defense.
Defensive backs in that class such as Kenneth Crawley, Marques Mosley and Yuri Wright are entering their third year in the program as spring practices have started and the secondary is probably the deepest and most competitive area on the roster.
But it's not only because of those players Embree recruited. In fact, a case can be made that none of those defensive backs from the 2012 class has met expectations just yet. Wright and Crawley were four-star recruits after all.
None of them have caught up to senior-to-be Greg Henderson, a two-star recruit Embree brought to Boulder in 2011.
At this point, Mike MacIntyre has added just as much, if not more, talent to the back end of the CU defense and it's possible that Henderson could be the only Embree recruit starting in the secondary when the season opens against Colorado State in six months.
Ahkello Witherspoon, a 6-foot-3 cornerback from Sacramento City Community College is the latest addition. He will remind CU fans of a young Jimmy Smith because he's tall and lean with plenty of room to pack on some muscle. He has four seasons to play three at CU, but he's not planning to wait for playing time.
"I feel like I'm well-fitted," Witherspoon said when asked how he feels his skills stack up at CU. "I'm coming in trying to take a job. That's my mindset. That's what I'm going to do. That's what I got recruited to do is come in and work my (butt) off and challenge the guys in front of me to take a starting spot."
Colorado started seven of 12 games in 2013 in the nickel defense with three cornerbacks on the field. Henderson started all 12 games on the right side. Crawley started 10 of 12 games on the left and Chidobe Awuzie produced one of the more impressive seasons in recent memory by a freshmen cornerback playing the nickel back position and making six starts there.
If Witherspoon is going to take a job, one of those three players will be relegated to backup duty.
"He's extremely athletic, he has great length, he's got a great attitude," CU cornerbacks coach Andy LaRussa said. "I think he brings the competition level up. Any time you bring in a junior college transfer, I think it gets guys' attention. There is instant competition right there. He's got such a great personality about him. He's pushing the guys and you can see the competition out on the field."
MacIntyre is working closely with the defensive backs this spring because LaRussa is spending part of his time helping to coach the defensive ends. Crawley said he likes working one-on-one with MacIntyre and he believes he can take some big steps forward this spring.
MacIntyre praised Crawley late last season for making a lot of progress as a cornerback throughout the season. Crawley finished the year with two interceptions, but he had only two pass breakups in 761 plays.
Crawley said he hopes to improve his ball skills before the start of his junior season next fall.
"I'm always in position, I just need to be more aggressive and attack the ball," Crawley said.
Wright is also back in the mix at cornerback this spring after redshirting last season. MacIntyre said when spring drills began in 2013, Wright weighed 158 pounds. He weighs 173 pounds now, but still needs to add weight and strength.
"I think having the year really helped him mature and he's really grown in all facets," LaRussa said. "He needs to keep getting bigger and stronger and competing. I think hardest adjustment when you go from that year on scout team is getting back into running our scheme."
Senior Josh Moten is also back on the field and is listed as a cornerback, could factor into the safety competition considering the depth on the perimeter. Moten is coming off two surgeries on an Achilles tendon within the past year and says he is feeling good and hoping to stay healthy this spring and summer to give himself a chance to contribute in the fall.
Moten should be a strong addition to special teams units at the very least. He led the Buffs in special teams points in 2012.