Given how quickly he seemed to make the transition from junior college to Division I football a year ago, Colorado's Mustafa Johnson figures to get a hang of the Buffaloes' new defense at some point.

Right now, however, the junior defensive lineman admits it's a bit like trying to learn a new language.

"A lot of new terminology, but a lot of the same stuff," Johnson said after the Buffs' first practice of spring on Monday. "It's hard to forget the old stuff and remember the new terminology and know what it is.

"I've been struggling a little bit with the plays but I know a lot of other guys are picking it up real fast. I'm a little bit of a slower learner, so I'm kind of working my way through it and coming in whenever I can find time during the school day to get extra work. I'm trying to get it down."

Johnson was the Buffs' top defensive lineman last year, and one of the most dominant in the Pac-12, with 73 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. He also led the team with 16 quarterback pressures.

Under the direction of a new coaching staff — including head coach Mel Tucker and defensive coordinator Tyson Summers — the Buffs will have a different approach on defense, though, and Johnson it's just a matter of getting used to the changes.

"A lot of adjustments (at the line)," he said. "It's really not a complex defense. It's just more adjusting and being ready to adjust to what the offense comes out in. We have a lot of new calls and things like that, where we're not just going to play what we call; we're going to adjust to what the offense gives us and we're going to play off of them."


While it's a learning process for Johnson and the Buffs, he said ultimately it's still just playing football, and it's still a matter of learning in the meeting room and going through repetitions on the field.

As for competition, Johnson said it was intense on the first day and he anticipates it remaining that way as he and all the defensive linemen are trying to impress new coaches and earn playing time.

"We're all trying to compete for a new spot," he said. "It's a clean slate for everybody. We all know that if you show out to these coaches, we all have an opportunity. They made it very clear that there aren't any spots (solidified); you have to show up and play."

Always improving

Quarterback Steven Montez said he continues to work on his footwork and recognition of defenses. The rising senior had a good season in 2018, but knows he can be better.

"A lot of the footwork stuff is just me falling off in the pocket or me being unbalanced and (offensive coordinator Jay) Johnson is going to help me out with that a lot, with the footwork drills we're doing," he said. "Me narrowing my base a little bit so I can stay a little bit more balanced. Defensive recognition is just film. Whenever you can, whenever you have free time, just go watch it and do it."

Johnson is CU's third quarterbacks coach in three seasons and Montez said he's eager to learn from him and get better.

"I was telling (walk-on quarterback) Josh Goldin, 'You have to come in and be a sponge every day,'" Montez said. "You have to come in and soak up all the information they can give you and put it all in your notes and keep it; keep it in your mind and think about it when you're sitting down at class, sitting at home, eating dinner or whatever."


Johnson gave his first impression of new defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh: "He's intense. He has a lot of knowledge." ... The Buffs were off on Tuesday, but will return to the field for their second practice of spring on Wednesday morning. All practices are closed to the public until the spring game on April 27.

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