A look at the Colorado secondary during spring football
Chidobe Awuzie, 6-0, 205, Sr.: One of the top defensive players in the Pac-12, he started at nickel back last year but is now working strictly at corner. He had 90 tackles, four sacks, two interceptions and 10 pass breakups last season.
Isaiah Oliver, 6-1, 185, So.: As a true freshman, he played 216 defensive snaps over nine games, getting most of his time late in the season. Has tremendous upside.
Ahkello Witherspoon, 6-3, 190, Sr.: Became a full-time starter at corner last season, recording 41 tackles, two interceptions and four pass breakups.
Nick Fisher, 6-0, 190, So.: Currently working as the top nickel back, Fisher can also play safety and corner. He played just 57 snaps last year on defense.
Afolabi Laguda, 6-1, 200, Jr.: Versatile athlete who can play nickel or safety, Laguda was a key reserve last year with 22 tackles.
Ryan Moeller, 6-1, 210, Jr.: Earned a starting role and recorded 47 tackles through seven games. Missed the last six after an off-field injury, but looks to regain his starting spot.
Jaisen Sanchez, 6-1, 195, So.: Mostly a special teams contributor, he played just seven snaps on defense last year. He’s hoping for a big offseason to earn more time.
Tedric Thompson, 6-0, 205, Sr.: Along with Awuzie, Thompson is one of the top players on the team. Full-time starter had 80 tackles, three interceptions and nine pass breakups last year.
(The Buffs also have walk-on cornerbacks Andrew Bergner and Lucas Cooper, and walk-on safeties Cameron Beemster and Daniel Talley on board this spring).
The blueprint for how to excel at nickel back was set up for Nick Fisher last year.
Chidobe Awuzie earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors for the way he played the position for Colorado.
Now, it’s Fisher’s turn to try to fill that role.
“I got to play behind Chido and you see how successful he was last year,” said Fisher, a true sophomore. “I learned a lot from him. I was playing right behind him and he was basically teaching me everything he knows.”
With cornerback Ken Crawley graduating, the Buffs had to figure out to fill that void. To do so, Awuzie is now filling Crawley’s spot at corner, opening up the nickel spot for someone else.
As arguably CU’s best defensive player — maybe its best player, period — Awuzie is excited for the change.
“It gives me an opportunity to really try to perfect the position and not really worry about blitzing and covering at the same time,” he said. “It’s been pretty fun so far.”
Moving Awuzie is possible because the Buffs like Fisher’s potential to excel at nickel.
“I like his aggression and I like his speed and his quickness and toughness,” cornerbacks coach Charles Clark said. “We tried to roll him into that role last year a little bit, but with Chido out there at nickel, he didn’t get as much playing time as we wanted him to get.
“He got some time, but the key to it all was him being able to practice every single day and getting reps and just getting him ready for this year.”
Awuzie said he spent a lot of last year working with Fisher and he’s impressed with Fisher’s football instincts.
“You have to accompany it with knowledge,” Awuzie said. “Once he gets the knowledge part, the mental impact and is expecting things from the offense, I feel like it’ll become intuition for him. I feel like he has great potential.”
While he didn’t get a lot of playing time last year, Fisher said it was enough to figure out how fast the game moves.
“Everything slows down in practice now, because everything is a lot faster in the game,” he said.
Now 6-foot, 190 pounds, Fisher has added close to 10 pounds since arriving at CU, and he said he’s getting much stronger while working with new strength coach Drew Wilson. He recently benched 305 pounds and is squatting in the high 300s.
“I’m lifting stuff I’ve never lifted before,” he said.
In the fall, he’s expecting to do some even heavier lifting as he looks to take over the starting spot at nickel.
“I think I’m well-equipped now,” he said. “If I can get in, I’m going to ball out to the best of my ability and try to help the team. I do think I can be able to get in and make an impact for this team.”
During spring ball, the Buffs are short-handed in the secondary, with just eight scholarship players available. It’s a group that is loaded with experience, however. Over the summer, the Buffs will add four new recruits to the secondary.
“I think it’s a good group,” Clark said. “We can put together a good rotation right now and then when the young guys get here in the fall, we’ll get them in the mix and see how they do and how they adjust.”
On Wednesday, the Buffs were mostly non-contact, but did spend about 30 minutes scrimmaging. “It went well and we got after it,” head coach Mike MacIntyre said. “I saw good things on both sides.” … Receiver Shay Fields had a hip flexor earlier in the week, but MacIntyre said Fields is “doing well” and practiced Wednesday. … Tight end Chris Hill and walk-on J.T. Bale are working at long-snapper, while defensive tackle Jordan Carrell is a “backup, third guy,” MacIntyre said.
Brian Howell: email@example.com, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.