CU football: Leavitt’s defense aims to take another leap forward

Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt liked what he saw of the CU defense this spring but said the Buffs have work to do before fall camp begins.

During Colorado’s spring game on April 9, Jim Leavitt got a unique perspective of his defense.

For the first time ever, he said, he watched the game from the press box instead of the field.

“It was good to go up there and see it,” he said. “You can see more, but I’ve just been on the sidelines my whole life.”

Chances are, Leavitt will be on the sidelines during games this fall, because that’s where he’s comfortable, and it’s where he’s gotten good results so far with the Buffaloes.

Regardless of his point of view, though, Leavitt likes what he sees from the CU defense as they wrapped up their spring.

“We did a good job (in spring),” Leavitt said. “Probably a little bit more (than expected).”

Entering his second season with the Buffs, Leavitt came into the spring with 22 objectives for the defense and “we worked each one of them pretty good and we stayed on point and I got done what I wanted to. I know where I need to go and what I need to do.”

Senior safety Tedric Thompson said he felt the Buffs picked up where they left off last season, when they made tremendous strides under Leavitt’s tutelage. The spring was solid coming off that season.

“(Leavitt) wrote a lot of things he wanted to accomplish,” Thompson said. “And I think we accomplished most of them, or all of them.”

The CU defense certainly isn’t perfect, but after so many years of struggling, it improved last season. With several returning players, the Buffs believe their potential is much greater this season.

“It’s a lot of fun because now we’re kind of delivering the beating instead of receiving it like I was my freshman year,” Thompson said. “It’s just a lot more fun. Because we’re having so much fun, we’re allowed to compete more.”

Hired just before the start of spring ball last year, Leavitt spent his 2015 spring getting to know his players and said only about 10 percent of the scheme was implemented. This spring was a dramatic difference.

“This spring, the first seven practices, everything was in, and they handled it all – every bit of it,” he said.

Well, at least the first-teamers did. Leavitt said the Buffs won’t be deep. If healthy, “we’ll have 15-16 guys that will play,” he said. That top group is a good one, though.

“We have a chance to do OK,” Leavitt said.

Always realistic and honest about his defense, Leavitt knows the defense is still a work in progress, especially up front. The Buffs want to get better at rushing the passer without having to rely on blitzes.

“We were better but not good enough yet,” Leavitt said. “We know we’re going to have to bring some people (on blitzes).”

Senior Jimmie Gilbert is hoping he and fellow outside linebackers NJ Falo and Derek McCartney can work on that between now and September.

“When all three of us are healthy and going full speed along with our inside presence, we’re trying to be tough to handle,” Gilbert said. “If we can stop people with just us four or us five (up front), then we don’t have to rely on our linebackers and our secondary to come in and try to save the day.”

Leavitt was impressed with Tim Coleman’s ability to get pressure from a defensive tackle spot, saying the smaller Coleman “played large” throughout spring. Leavitt also said inside linebacker Rick Gamboa had a “tremendous spring” before a concussion limited him late.

Leavitt also pointed out defensive back Afolabi Laguda, who has a chance to fill the all-purpose role that Chidobe Awuzie had last year. Awuzie is expected to line up at corner this year.

If players continue to meet Leavitt’s expectations, the Buffs could have a nice year on defense.

“We’re not good enough yet, but my expectations of where I want to be today were met,” Leavitt said. “This is going to be a very big summer. If these guys this summer kill it, we have a shot. If they plateau, we probably won’t win.”

Brian Howell:, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.