FORT COLLINS -- One of the biggest improvements Colorado State feels it has made in the early part of the season has been the play of the defensive line.
Then again, it was also the position group with the most improvement needed.
"No doubt, and yet they still need to get a ton better," CSU coach Jim McElwain said. "We've got some bodies there. We've got some choices. I think you see how we're kind of running guys through and trying to keep them fresh. If they're not controlled in their gap, these guys have some backs that can not only hit it but finish it. So we've got to be able to be gap-disciplined and wrap up in tackling."
Defensive line coach Greg Lupfer said the facts are the Rams are still only playing about five and half players along the front this year, with Joe Kawulok and Terry Jackson seeing ample reps as backups, while LaRyan King and Austin Berk are getting some occasional action.
Those still aren't the ideal numbers the Rams are seeking, but Lupfer feels King will eventually get to 20-25 plays a game. They will need fresh legs this week against an Alabama front that averages 6-foot-5, 307 pounds across the board.
"Coach Mac came to me (Monday) in practice and said he's going to need us, every one of us," Edwards said. "That's our mentality the whole way through is to compete. It's not every day or every week you get to see this kind of competition, so I guess it's really good for us to compare ourselves to the best. I think that's what we're going to go out there and prove to the world is that Colorado State is here to compete."
With Jackson (concussion symptoms) likely to sit out this game, that moves true freshman Josh Lovingood into the equation, and more will be asked of Berk, also a true freshman.
"This will be his opportunity," McElwain said of Lovingood, a 6-foot-4, 250-pounder out of Fresno, Calif. "What a way to break in your college career."
The way Lupfer is approaching the game with his group is no different than any other week, he said. Technique is technique, and it's vital no matter the size of the guys in front of you. It's just that this week, a lack of it will be exposed even faster than before.
"I don't know if you can truly get them out of synch," Lupfer said. "I think it's more just doing your job. One of their main things they do from a schematic standpoint up front is they like double teams. Their inside three guys are close to 300 pounds, every single one of them, and you're two tackles at obviously 6-6, 300. They want to try to move the line of scrimmage as much as possible. We just have to make sure we do a good job with technique and holding up the line of scrimmage the best we possibly can with them."
The key numbers associated with the defensive line have been better. After giving up more than 200 yards a game rushing in 2012, the Rams have it down to 175.7. Not great yet, but progress.
The sack numbers are still low, but that's team wide. The Rams have just three on the season, one from a lineman belonging to Kawulok.
The truth is, the group isn't relied upon for sacks; that job falls to linebackers Shaquil Barrett and Cory James, who Lupfer called "glorified defensive ends." Knowing stopping the run was job one, Lupfer said the entire spring was spent on that task.
"We didn't work on one pass-rush move in spring ball," Lupfer said. "I just flat told them we're not going to worry about the pass game until we stop the run game. I just told them in the pass game be active and keep on gaining ground to the quarterback. Obviously we've worked more pass rush stuff since the season started, but the whole spring time was flat out run game, and that was it."
For Lupfer, the defensive line has done what's been asked, and that's to get better each week. The numbers against Cal Poly (203 rushing) were pretty good considering the triple-option attack and they limited Colorado to just 109.
For those along the line, the gains made in the numbers of players has amped up the competition each week, leading to better production.
"We're seeing things that we needed to work on better, things we did poorly in games, and then we're making a focus on that in practice the next week, so we're getting better," Kawulok said. "Sometimes it depends on how the game goes, but in the game of football, there's always things you can work on and get better at."