Throughout the offseason, there's been plenty of attention given to what the Colorado defense no longer has on board.

Eight starters and 10 regular contributors are now gone, with more than half of them now in the NFL. Three defensive assistants — including coordinator Jim Leavitt — are gone.

The Buffaloes, meanwhile, continue to focus on what they do have and on Saturday, they showed they can still play on that side of the ball.

While the scrimmage at Folsom Field — the only practice of preseason camp open to the media and public — was purposely vanilla, the defense, led by first-year coordinator D.J. Eliot, held its own against the vaunted offense.

"That was the word, that the offense was going to come out hot, and as a defense, we're obviously thinking, 'Nah, we're going to stop the offense,'" junior linebacker Drew Lewis said. "I think we did a good job."

CU's defense came up with two goal-line stands (one against the first-team offense), safety/Buff back Ryan Moeller picked off starting quarterback Steven Montez and freshman outside linebacker Jacob Callier had a nice tip and interception of a pass thrown by walk-on Casey Marksberry.

In addition, Tim Coleman and Jase Franke had sacks, cornerback Isaiah Oliver was exceptional and the group, in general, made a statement that it's not going to be a pushover.


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Safety Nick Fisher, who sat out of the scrimmage with minor hamstring issue, said the defense knows what is being said outside of the program, but that it hasn't damaged the confidence inside the program.

"We don't listen to anything that anyone is saying," Fisher said. "We have to get our own guys ready; we have real football to play. It's coming along really well."

Of course, the defense isn't perfect, and there's plenty of work to be done to replace the core of a unit that ranked in the top 20 nationally last year. Head coach Mike MacIntyre came away from Saturday encouraged by the plays made by the defense, however.

"When you have a scrimmage, as a head coach you want to see both sides making plays and I thought we saw that today," he said. "When one side completely dominates the other, that's when you get a little nervous."

The defensive line was particularly impressive on the goal line stands. CU has to replace all three starters on its line, and the group rose up to the challenge Saturday.

There was a lot of rotation up front, as there likely will be during the season, but senior Leo Jackson and junior college transfers Javier Edwards and Chris Mulumba were often with the first team. Senior George Frazier, Franke, a junior, and sophomores Lyle Tuiloma and Frank Umu got a lot of snaps, as well.

"Defensively I was excited," MacIntyre said about the goal-line stands. "Offensively, I wish we would have knocked them off the ball a little more. That was good to see the physicalness of it, especially with a lot of our new D-linemen out there."

Despite the significant turnover on defense, the Buffs feature more experience than it initially appears.

Moeller at Buff back, Rick Gamboa at inside linebacker and Afolabi Laguda at safety are the only returning starters, but outside linebacker Derek McCartney is back from injury and has 25 career starts; Jackson was a 10-game starter in 2015 at defensive end; and Oliver was on the field for nearly half the defensive snaps a year ago.

In addition, there are several players, such as Lewis, who are getting their first real opportunity to shine and have been very impressive to coaches and teammates.

"There's so many guys on the team like that," McCartney said. "We don't know exactly how they're going to be on the field, but they have so much potential. A lot of people don't see that and they're not going to until it happens. Even me, I don't know what's going to happen with these guys; I just see what they might be able to do. That's why in my head, I'm like, 'We can be better than last year.'"

The defense has a long way to go to top last year, but through the first week of fall camp, they've shown they are on the right track.

"It's getting on the same page," Moeller said. "We've found that and we're moving forward with minimizing mistakes."

After some growing pains with new starters and new coaches in the spring, Moeller said the first week of fall camp has been significantly better.

"It feels a lot more smooth, it feels a lot easier, it feels like everything is going in the direction it should," he said.

Saturday's scrimmage was another positive step.

"As a defense, we're all building up that confidence every single day," Lewis said. "We're getting better every single day."

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33.