Coming into his second year with the Colorado football team, safeties coach ShaDon Brown knows that the Buffaloes have to get better on the back end of the defense.
Brown also knows he's got one of the best players on the team in his position group to help with that improvement.
With the Buffaloes beginning practice on Friday, they will lean heavily on senior Evan Worthington, who could be one of the best safeties in the Pac-12.
"He is a phenomenal athlete who is getting bigger and stronger," Brown said. "Last year, he was thrown into a spotlight role. This year, I think he'll be much, much better than he was in 2017 because of his knowledge.
"I give the guys tests every week in the spring on their knowledge and what they know. You can see the drastic difference in knowledge that he has now versus last year."
Led by Worthington, CU's safeties face a big spring as they look to anchor the defense.
Brown will take the first big steps in trying to fill the holes left by free safety Afolabi Laguda and Buff back Ryan Moeller. Both have graduated after playing a combined 82 games, with 55 starts, over the past few years.
Worthington, who played boundary safety last year, gives the Buffs a big, physical and intelligent leader in the back of the defense. This spring, the Buffs will look for him to take the next step in his development as a player and as a leader.
This spring is also big for senior Nick Fisher. Throughout his career, his potential has been off the charts, but he's always been behind talented veterans such as Tedric Thompson, Laguda, Moeller and Worthington. He'll have his best chance to earn a starting role.
"He's got phenomenal speed; he's a physical, tough kid; and he's a coach on the field," Brown said.
Fisher played a career-high 315 snaps last year, and when he wasn't on the field, he was helping Brown.
"Nick would tell me things I may not have seen that's going on in the game to help the guys that were playing," Brown said. "He's a good teammate, a good worker."
This spring, the Buffs will also look to work newcomer Davion Taylor into the mix. The favorite to take over the starting role at Buff, Taylor signed with CU this winter after two years at Coahoma (Miss.) Community College.
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Taylor has exceptional speed, and the Buffs believe he could be the ideal fit for the Buff.
"What we try to look for is a guy who has the girth and can be heavy handed and play on the tight end, take on blocks and also be able to cover a little bit in man coverage," Brown said.
Senior Kyle Trego has played just 30 snaps over the past two years, but his experience at safety and Buff will be valuable this spring.
Sophomore Kevin George and redshirt freshman Isaiah Lewis will also get a chance to play quite a bit this spring. The Buffs aren't sure if George will be more of a cornerback or safety, but Brown said they'll look at him in both spots.
Three other safeties are here this spring, but will be either limited or out with injuries.
Senior Jaisen Sanchez is expected to be limited after missing last year with a torn pec, while true freshman Ray Robinson, a January enrollee, is expected to be limited after tearing his ACL last summer. Sophomore Aaron Maddox, a transfer from Pima (Ariz.) Community College, had surgery on a torn labrum in January and his status for spring is unknown.
The Buffs should have Sanchez, Robinson and Maddox on the field by fall, at least, and they'll also add true freshman Hasaan Hypolite, who can play safety and Buff.
"We have more guys now that can play," Brown said.
That's a good thing, as long as they can play better than they did a year ago.
"I thought we got wore down late in games some as a defense, but also as a secondary," Brown said. "There were some tackles we didn't make. We have to get better there and we have to get better with our eyes in the secondary.
"There are times when we're covering a receiver and we didn't have great eye discipline and we didn't make the play. That's the thing I'm harping on this spring.
"I'm just excited to see how they develop this spring."