At one point during a scrimmage on Saturday at Folsom Field, new Colorado defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot signaled a play that none of his players recognized.

"I signaled the wrong signal," said Eliot, who was hired in January after four seasons as the defensive coordinator at Kentucky. "I signaled my old signal."

Sure enough, the players gave Eliot some grief for the slip up.

"Yeah, they did," he said with a smile. "I took responsibility for it."

It was certainly a minor mistake during the scrimmage, but one that epitomizes the adjustment period the Buffs are going through on defense this spring.

Led by Eliot, three of the four coaches on defense are new this spring, including secondary coach ShaDon Brown and inside linebackers coach Ross Els. In fact, Els wasn't even hired until after the Buffs began spring practice and as of Saturday had been on the job for all of nine days.

Add in the fact that CU is trying to replace eight starters from last year, and a few hiccups are to be expected.

As the Buffs reach the half-way point of spring drills, however, they are pleased with the progress being made on defense.

"I think we're in a good spot and I think considering the changes, it's as smooth as it can be," Eliot said. "Not having an inside linebackers coach until two days into spring and having a new secondary coach, and having a coordinator that had to learn a new terminology — considering all that we've done in a short amount of time, I think it's going very smooth."


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Despite all the turnover, the Buffs are running the same 3-4 scheme and using the same terminology, and that's helped to make for an easier transition to Eliot and the other coaches.

"A (few) different wrinkles that the coaches are putting in, but besides that it's the same thing," junior inside linebacker Rick Gamboa said, "so that definitely helps a lot of the guys who have been here."

Gamboa and the rest of the defense grew to love playing for former defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, and Gamboa sees that starting to develop with the new staff.

"We're all here for each other, we all play for each other," said Gamboa, a two-year starter. "That's one thing we had with coach Leavitt; we all were in it for each other no matter what. Slowly, we'll start growing that connection with the new coaches."

Eliot expected there to be a transitional phase for the players, because every coach has a different personality. From his perspective, however, the defense is coming together.

"I came in and I wanted to see where they were and understand each player individually, and I think they're starting to understand me and my coaching style," Eliot said.

Last year, the Buffs had one of the top defenses in the Pac-12, and they're hoping to be one of the best again. It's a bit early to judge the Buffs right now, however.

"We're kind of expecting people to make mistakes, but that's the best thing about spring ball - it's time for people to make mistakes, for people to learn," Gamboa said. "Overall, it's a lot of competition and a lot of spots open, and I think that's the best thing."

Veterans such as Gamboa, safety Afolabi Laguda and cornerback Isaiah Oliver have all impressed Eliot to this point.

Eliot also mentioned safety Evan White - back after sitting out the 2016 season - as a player who has stood out. He also said he likes what junior college transfers Javier Edwards and Chris Mulumba have brought to the defense line.

While the defense is clearly a work in progress at this point, Eliot believes it won't be long before the Buffs are hitting their stride.

"I think by the end of the spring, we'll be in the swing of things," he said. "I think by August we'll definitely know everything that we need to know in and out, and the players will know how I'm going to coach things in and out and I'm going to understand them in and out."

Brian Howell: howellb@dailycamera.com, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.