Leo Jackson ready to step back into defensive spotlight for CU Buffs

Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado defensive end Leo Jackson, left, played in all 14 games last season,

Leo Jackson understands why there are questions.

Last year, Colorado’s defense was a big reason behind the Buffaloes’ unexpected run to the Pac-12 Conference South Division title. The bulk of those starters are gone, though. So is the defensive coordinator.

Jackson, a senior defensive end, can appreciate the reasons there may be doubts about the Buffs’ defense in 2017. He just has one request before any rush to judgment.

“My response would be to just sit back and watch the show,” Jackson said. “There’s no need for me to throw out any statistics. Just come to the games or turn on your TV. Just watch the show. You’ve got to leave a legacy. That’s the biggest standard.

“We’re a totally different D-line from what we were last year, so we have to come with a different dynamic. We have to find our own groove. We’ve got to leave our own legacy. We’ve got to find ourselves and we have to get after it.”

One of the most experienced players on a unit that will boast an almost entirely new look in 2017, Jackson is hopeful the ups and downs he weathered during his first two seasons with the Buffs leads to an insightful approach as a senior leader this year.

Jackson arrived in Boulder in 2015 from the junior college ranks (Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, Calif.) and made an immediate impact, playing in 12 games (10 starts) after quickly adding 25 pounds to his 6-foot-3 frame. Jackson’s 586 snaps was the second-most recorded by any CU interior lineman, and he finished with 33 tackles and two sacks.

Last year, though, Jackson was forced to accept a downsized role, as Jordan Carrell and Samson Kafovalu took over the starting roles at defensive end. Jackson certainly played a part in CU’s run to the Pac-12 title game — he played in all 14 games and started at USC—but Jackson still saw his overall playing time cut by more than half (254 snaps).

If there was any personal disappointment, it was dulled by the Buffs’ first 10-win season in 15 years and a berth in the Alamo Bowl. Although he already had been a regular starter for the Buffs, the experience opened Jackson’s eyes about what it takes to consistently perform at a high level.

“I have to come with the same attitude every day,” Jackson said. “I was a bit wishy-washy with my energy and my focus in different things. In order to be the starter and be that guy you have to same energy, the same focus, every day. That’s one thing it took for me to realize.”

Defensive line coach Jim Jeffcoat has never noted any ebb and flow to Jackson’s practice habits — “Regardless if he’s a starter or a role player, he practiced the same way. He got better each day,” Jeffcoat said — and Jackson will be relied upon heavily to help replace the 20 sacks left behind by graduated front-line defenders Carrell, Kafovalu, Jimmie Gilbert, and Josh Tupou.

“He’s gained about eight pounds,” Jeffcoat said. “He’s always been a great athlete. He understands the defense. And he’s really helping me teach the defense to the younger guys. That’s what I appreciate about him. The things he’s done to this point, he’s done really well and he’s going to help us a lot this year.”

Pat Rooney: or