Colorado defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt is pleased with the progress the Buffaloes made on that side of the ball last season.
There’s an ugly number he wants to change, though. The Buffs ranked 99th in the country, allowing 198.7 yards per game on the ground. Opponents averaged 5.0 yards per rush.
“Our run defense wasn’t very good and we’ve got to improve there,” Leavitt said as he enters his second season in Boulder. “They made some pretty good strides for a first year going in (to a new system). The most important step for me is the points and that was good, but to make a real big move, you have to shore up the run defense.”
The Buffs believe they have the players to do that this fall, and it starts up front.
The return of nose tackle Josh Tupou from a one-year suspension has bolstered the Buffs up front. The 6-foot-3, 325-pounder has 31 starts in his career and gives the Buffs a big run stuffer in the middle.
“It’s definitely a different case when you have Josh Tupou in front of the center,” defensive tackle Samson Kafovalu said. “The intimidation part, the mass part, just the whole part of having Tupou there is a great deal and I feel like it’s going to benefit us in a great way.”
Leavitt sees great potential in Tupou, but isn’t getting overexcited about Tupou’s return at this point.
“He’s not there yet,” Leavitt said. “He hasn’t played football for a year and he’s got a ways to go, but he’s been great. His attitude is great, he works very hard and he’s got a lot of ability, but you have to remember he hasn’t been in pads in a while.
“We don’t want to crown him almighty right now, but I think if he keeps working and realizes he’s got a ways to go, I think he’ll help us.”
Aside from Tupou, tackles Jordan Carrell and Kafovalu have become bigger and stronger this offseason. They were two of the Buffs’ best defenders last year and hope to be even better.
While the Buffs haven’t been perfect up front, Kafovalu said, “I feel like we have a force on the defense right now.”
The potential is certainly there. Outside of the top three, the Buffs are confident in their depth, which includes juniors Timothy Coleman and Leo Jackson III, sophomores Jase Franke and Eddy Lopez and redshirt freshmen Brett Tonz, Lyle Tuiloma and Frank Umu.
“We have more depth, we have more guys we trust in there and that’s going to be critical,” Leavitt said. “I’ve been happy with how they’re playing. They’re playing with more confidence.”
Better play from the linebackers will help in stopping the run, and the Buffs are confident in that group, too. Senior Kenneth Olugbode, junior Addison Gillam, sophomore Rick Gamboa and sophomore transfer Drew Lewis are all fighting for playing time at inside linebacker.
More depth and strength up front should be huge for a CU defense that already boasts one of the top secondaries in the Pac-12.
Loaded with talent and experience, the Buffs are expecting to take the next step by complementing their good secondary with a solid effort against the run. Whether or not that jump is made depends on how hard the Buffs continue to work, Leavitt said.
“They have more experience in the system and that helps,” he said. “They’re more knowledgeable in what to do in the formations and the keys and all of that. I’ve seen more leadership this year than last year.
“We have a chance to be decent, but they have to understand they have to stay on the edge, they have to get a lot better and that’s really true. If we flatten out the rest of the camp going into our first game, then we’ll probably be a pretty average group. If they keep building, they have a chance to do something.”
Brian Howell: firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.