Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
When he was hired as Colorado’s defensive coordinator in January, D.J. Eliot was well aware that the Buffaloes were losing two NFL-caliber cornerbacks.
It didn’t take Eliot long, however, to realize that the Buffs have a pretty darn good corner coming back.
“Isaiah Oliver wasn’t necessarily listed as a starter last year, but he’s a really good player,” Eliot said at the conclusion of spring drills. “He’s very impressive with his coverage skills and his effort and his toughness. I’ve been very pleased with him.”
CU’s third corner last year, Oliver played 48.4 percent of the defensive snaps and racked up 13 pass breakups and one interception. Per snap, Oliver actually had a better rate of passes defended than departed seniors Tedric Thompson (who played safety) and Akhello Witherspoon, who finished 1-2 nationally in that category.
With last year’s starting cornerbacks Witherspoon and Chidobe Awuzie now in the NFL, Oliver takes over as the leader at this position. Also an outstanding decathlete at CU, Oliver appears to have NFL tools, as well. While national pundits have yet to catch on about Oliver, there’s very little doubt at CU that he can be an all-Pac-12 player.
As for the other side of the field, that’s still a mystery. The Buffs will go into the fall with several players competing for a starting role at both corner and nickel.
During the next couple of weeks, BuffZone.com will take a look at each position group for the Buffaloes. In this installment, we take a look at the cornerbacks.
Returnees: Andrew Bergner (Sr., 5-11, 170); Ronnie Blackmon (Fr., 5-10, 180); Uryan Hudson (Fr., 5-9, 150); Anthony Julmisse (So., 6-1, 190); Isaiah Oliver (Jr., 6-1, 190); Trey Udoffia (Fr., 6-0, 185).
Additions: Kevin George (So., 6-3, 175); Chris Miller (Fr., 5-11, 175); Dante Wigley (So., 6-1, 180)
Losses: Chidobe Awuzie (graduated); Ahkello Witherspoon (graduated)
2016 recap: Awuzie and Witherspoon were fantastic throughout the 2016 season. They formed the best cornerback duo at CU since Jalil Brown and Jimmy Smith in 2010. Along with a strong group of safeties, Awuzie and Witherspoon led a CU pass defense that was fifth in the country in opponent QB rating (104.25), fourth in completion percentage (49.8) and 20th in passing yards allowed (193.6). CU’s corners – mainly Awuzie, Witherspoon and Oliver – gave fits to opponents all year and frustrated a lot of quarterbacks. Julmisse, who moved to corner from receiver in fall camp, played the fourth-most snaps at corner, with just 53. Bergner, a walk-on, got a bit of playing time, as well.
2017 outlook: It’s going to be very difficult to fully replace Awuzie and Witherspoon, who were both taken within the first 66 picks of the NFL Draft. Oliver can be as good as any corner in the Pac-12 and it may not take long for teams to realize it’s best to not throw his way. If they do challenge Oliver, he’s got the athleticism to make them pay and produce big plays. Whoever lines up opposite of Oliver will be inexperienced, and that could lead to opponents to testing that side of the field a lot early on. There is no shortage of talent there, however. Julmisse is an exceptional athlete who has big-time potential. He’s got the size and speed to stick with most receivers. If he’s technique-sound and has a strong fall camp, he could be the man to fill the other starting role. Udoffia made great strides during his redshirt year and had a great spring. If he keeps it up, it will be tough to keep him off the field. Blackmon, George and Wigley will also compete for playing time and one of them could wind up at nickel. Miller is a highly regarded freshman who will need to prove he can learn the defense. Once he does, he figures to be a good player.