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  • Colorado defensive lineman Josh Tupou is still working on getting...

    Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer

    Colorado defensive lineman Josh Tupou is still working on getting himself into football shape after missing all of last season.

  • Linebacker Kenneth Olugbode, right, is congratulated by defensive coordinator Jim...

    Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer

    Linebacker Kenneth Olugbode, right, is congratulated by defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt during the Buffs' scrimmage on Aug. 13.



Snapshot: CU defense

Assistant coaches

Jim Leavitt (2nd season), defensive coordinator/LBs

Charles Clark (4th season), secondary/cornerbacks

Jim Jeffcoat (4th season), defensive line

Joe Tumpkin (2nd season), secondary/safeties

5 key players

CB Chidobe Awuzie, Sr.

ILB Addison Gillam, Jr.

OLB Derek McCartney, Jr.

S Tedric Thompson, Sr.

NT Josh Tupou, Sr.

2015 defense rankings

Scoring: 27.5 ppg (Pac-12: 6; National: 70)

Total defense: 419.9 ypg (Pac-12: 7; National: 85)

Rushing: 198.7 ypg (Pac-12: 10; National: 99)

Passing: 218.2 ypg (Pac-12: 2; National: 59)

Pass efficiency: 123.8 rating (Pac-12: 4; National: 56)

Sacks: 27 (Pac-12: T-10; National: 67)

3rd-down conversions: 42.2% (Pac-12: 8; National: 94)

Red zone scoring: 87.0% (Pac-12: 6; National: 92)

Numbers to know

3 – Players on the current roster who have led the Buffs in tackles: Addison Gillam in 2013, Kenneth Olugbode in 2014 and Rick Gamboa in 2015.

5 – Consecutive years in which the Buffs had allowed at least 30 points per game until yielding just 27.5 per game last season.

6 – Number of players on CU’s defense that come into the season with at least 20 career starts (Chidobe Awuzie, Gillam, Derek McCartney, Olugbode, Tedric Thompson, Josh Tupou).

11.5 – Difference in average points allowed by the Buffs in 2015 compared to 2014 (39.0).

22 – Turnovers generated by the defense last year (14 interceptions, eight fumbles), twice as many as the 11 they had in 2014.

From 2012 to 2014, Colorado fans grew accustomed to watching Josh Tupou as a dominant force on the defensive line.

After a year away from the game, Tupou is back, and there’s hope that he’ll once again be a beast in the trenches. Tupou has discovered, however, that shaking off the rust is a challenge.

“It’s a little harder than I thought,” said Tupou, who missed the 2015 season after being suspended from school and the team. “I thought I could get in a groove a little bit, but taking off a year, it’s a lot. You miss out on a lot.”

Listed at 325 pounds, the 6-foot-3 Tupou has declined to tell the media his actual weight, but with about 10 days to go before the opener, he said he’s got work to do.

“I’m still working on getting lighter,” he said. “It’ll help me run around and be a lot quicker.”

Tupou, who returned to the team in May, said the biggest adjustment has been regaining his football shape.

“As a D-lineman you have to hit another 300-pounder and then throw them off or shed them and sprint to the ball, and then you have to run right back and get lined up and do it again,” Tupou said. “You do that over and over all day.

“I knew it wasn’t going to come natural from Day 1 because I was gone for a while and I put on a little extra weight. I knew it would take time to work on it.”

Tupou is confident he’ll get into a groove at some point, and said having veteran teammates around him has helped. Fellow linemen Jordan Carrell, Samson Kafovalu, Leo Jackson III, Jase Franke and Timothy Coleman all played in defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt’s scheme a year ago.

“I feel good for the most part playing in this defense, especially with the guys that returned from last year,” Tupou said. “They have a good grasp on it, so it’s a lot easier just to focus on what I have to do and get that right.”

When Tupou does get it right, there is a belief that CU could be vastly improved on its defensive line. The returnees from last year, especially Carrell and Kafovalu, gained valuable experience and are better than they were a year ago. Adding Tupou to the mix could make the entire group tough to deal with.

“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,” head coach Mike MacIntyre said of Tupou. “I’m excited about watching Josh out there.”

While the process of getting back into shape hasn’t been easy, Tupou is excited, too. He hasn’t played a game since Nov. 29, 2014, and he’s itching to get back on the field.

“I’ll be ready and everybody on the defense, we’ll be ready,” he said. Our team will be ready.

“I’m pretty excited. It’s been way over a year since I’ve actually been on the field, so it’ll be fun to be back in action.”

A quick look at each position on the CU defense:

Defensive line: One of the most experienced groups, on the field, the Buffs are likely to start three seniors — Carrell, Kafovalu and Tupou — with a combined 51 career starts. Of those, 31 belong to Tupou. Carrell played 82.6 percent of the snaps last year (most by a CU lineman since 2007), and Kafovalu was one of the Buffs’ best defenders the second half of the season. There’s good talent behind this trio, too.

Outside linebackers: Senior Jimmie Gilbert and Derek McCartney form a solid 1-2 punch that combined for 11 sacks last year. The Buffs would like to see them try to double that number, and they’re capable of doing it. There isn’t a lot of experience behind them, but the Buffs like the ability of sophomores N.J. Falo and Terran Hasselbach, as well as senior Aaron Howard, junior Christian Shaver and freshman Sam Bennion. Michael Mathewes will help either here or on the line.

Inside linebackers: Rick Gamboa, Addison Gillam and Kenneth Olugbode bring a great deal of talent and experience to the top of the group. Just two will start, but all three will see significant playing time. Transfer Drew Lewis is expected to make an impact, too, while seniors Ryan Severson and Travis Talianko provide depth.

Cornerbacks: One of the most talented groups on the team, the Buffs are led by senior Chidobe Awuzie, who is one of the best corners in the country. Senior Ahkello Witherspoon and sophomore Isaiah Oliver both have All-Pac-12 potential, as well. The Buffs expect true freshmen Ronnie Blackmon, Tony Julmisse and Trey Udoffia to be good at some point, too, but hope they don’t need to rely on them too much this fall.

Safeties: Senior Tedric Thompson is one of the best players on the team and leads a talented crew. Junior Ryan Moeller is projected to start, as well, and he has a nose for the ball. Junior Afolabi Laguda and sophomore Nick Fisher could see time at either safety or nickel back. Fisher could also play some corner. Transfer Kyle Trego has turned heads, too, and could be a contributor on defense if needed.

Projected depth chart


DL – Jordan Carrell, Sr., 6-3, 295

NT – Josh Tupou, Sr., 6-3, 325

DL – Samson Kafovalu, Sr., 6-4, 285

OLB – Derek McCartney, Jr., 6-3, 250

ILB – Addison Gillam, Jr., 6-3, 230

ILB – Kenneth Olugbode, Sr., 6-1, 215

OLB – Jimmie Gilbert, Sr., 6-5, 235

NB – Chidobe Awuzie, Sr., 6-0, 205

CB – Isaiah Oliver, So., 6-1, 185

CB – Ahkello Witherspoon, Sr., 6-3, 190

S – Ryan Moeller, Jr., 6-1, 210

S – Tedric Thompson, Sr., 6-0, 200

Second team

DL – Timothy Coleman, Jr., 6-3, 245

NT – Jase Franke, So., 6-3, 270

DL – Leo Jackson III, Jr., 6-3, 275

OLB – N.J. Falo, So., 6-2, 225

ILB – Rick Gamboa, So., 6-0, 230

ILB – Drew Lewis, So., 6-2, 225

OLB – Terran Hasselbach, So., 6-1, 240

NB – Afolabi Laguda, Jr., 6-1, 200

CB – Trey Udoffia, Fr., 6-1, 175

CB – Nick Fisher, So., 6-0, 185

S – Afolabi Laguda, Jr., 6-1, 200

S – Kyle Trego, So., 5-11, 190

Brian Howell:, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.