• Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer

    Colorado defensive lineman Josh Tupou, center, returns to the team after being suspended in 2015 for an off-the-field incident.

  • Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer

    Colorado defensive lineman Jordan Carrell, left, played 82.6 percent of the defensive snaps last season



Finding a replacement for a big, powerful, talented defensive lineman isn’t easy, and throughout the 2015 season, the Colorado football team never did fill the gap left by Josh Tupou.

Now, the 6-foot-3, 325-pound Tupou is back, and the Buffaloes are hoping he can be a difference maker in the trenches.

“He … can move and play, and he’ll be a really good nose tackle inside for us and be able to sustain for us on the run and also push the pocket,” Buffs head coach Mike MacIntyre said. “I’m excited about watching Josh out there.”

An off-the-field incident in the spring of 2015 led to Tupou being suspended from school and the team.

Without Tupou, several players, including Jordan Carrell, Leo Jackson III and Samson Kafovalu, got opportunities to play more and get better. All three played well at times throughout the season.

Tupou now joins that group to form what could be a solid defensive front for CU this season. Last year, Carrell was the Buffs’ most consistent lineman, Jackson was steady, and Kafovalu had a knack for making big plays during the second half of the season.

The key, however, is Tupou, who has not only the size, but the talent and strength to be a force in the middle. From 2012-14, he played in 34 games and was in the starting lineup for 31 of those. He earned All-Pac-12 honorable mention in 2014.

After an inconsistent year by the defensive line in 2015, the Buffs need Tupou and company to step up. For the Buffs to be better on defense, they’ll need a more stout performance by the line.

Before the start of preseason camp in August, BuffZone.com will take a look at each position group for the Buffaloes. In this installment, we take a look at the defensive tackles.

Position: Defensive tackles

Returnees: Jordan Carrell (Sr., 6-3, 295); Timothy Coleman (Jr., 6-3, 245); Jase Franke (So., 6-3, 270); Tyler Henington (Sr., 6-2, 240); Leo Jackson III (Jr., 6-3, 275); Samson Kafovalu (Sr., 6-4, 285); Eddy Lopez (So., 6-3, 300); Brett Tonz (Fr., 6-3, 285); Lyle Tuiloma (Fr., 6-3, 305); Frank Umu (Fr., 6-4, 285).

Additions: Josh Tupou (Sr., 6-3, 325); Mo Bandi (Fr., 6-5, 270; walk-on).

Losses: Garrett Gregory (walk-on; left team); Clay Norgard (graduated); Justin Solis (graduated); De’Jon Wilson (graduated; transferred to Syracuse); Bryan Wyman (walk-on; left team)

2015 recap: One of the pleasant surprises for CU last year was the play of Carrell. In his first season of Division I football, he became the anchor of the Buffs’ front line, playing 82.6 percent of the snaps (most by a CU defensive lineman in eight years). He made the most of those snaps, too, with 52 tackles, 11 pressures and a team-high three forced fumbles. Solis had the best year of his career, playing well against the run. Like Carrell, Jackson was a JUCO transfer who emerged as a regular starter. Kafovalu had a slow start, but was one of the Buffs’ best defenders during the second half of the year. Franke played sparingly in reserve, but was productive when on the field. While the Buffs had several players step up individually, it was an inconsistent season for the unit. They were too often pushed around and struggled to get much inside pressure on the quarterback.

2016 outlook: Tupou’s return could be the key to this group having a better season. Tupou has the potential to be one of the top nose tackles in the Pac-12. His presence should take pressure off of Carrell, Jackson, Kafovalu and others. Kafovalu’s return is key, too. He is currently suspended after an off-the-field incident in the spring, but he’s expected to be reinstated in time for fall camp. If healthy, it’s a good bet that Tupou, Carrell, Jackson and Kafovalu play the majority of the snaps. Franke is a good, young player who gives them good depth. Coleman moved inside from defensive end and surprised coaches with how strong he was up front this spring. Lopez could be a factor, too. He had a good fall last year, but was injured most of the season. The redshirt freshman trio of Tonz, Tuiloma and Umu might be a year away, but coaches like the potential in all of them. Henington might actually see time at defensive end, but it’s difficult to predict what he can bring to the table. He hasn’t played since 2013 because injuries have wiped out the last two seasons.

Brian Howell: howellb@dailycamera.com, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.