Leading up to fall camp, which starts Aug. 1, BuffZone.com is previewing each position group for the Buffs. In this installment, the focus is on the cornerbacks.
At times, the 2018 season was a tough one for Colorado’s inexperienced cornerbacks.
CU has sent several corners to the National Football League in recent years, but last year, the Buffaloes leaned on newcomers and those still developing.
This offseason was even tougher, as four corners transferred after spring ball.
Nevertheless, the corners that remain on the roster are talented and, under the direction of new coaches, the Buffs believe if they can stay healthy, they should be fine.
“I feel like we’ll be able to get the job done with the guys that we have,” head coach Mel Tucker said.
A long-time defensive backs coach, Tucker will be hands-on with this group, as well as with cornerbacks coach Traveras Tillman, who spent the past three years working with Tucker at Georgia.
Tillman, an all-ACC player at Georgia Tech and eight-year NFL veteran, was a graduate assistant at Georgia for two years before working in quality control last year. He is now in his first full-time college coaching job.
Tucker, Tillman and defensive coordinator Tyson Summers are in their first seasons at CU, and the offseason has been consumed by installing a new defense. Tillman came out of spring pleased with the progress of the group.
“We’re getting there,” he said. “They’re coming out every day and working hard and they’re trying to pick up the different techniques that they haven’t really been used to. They’re getting better.
“They haven’t been in this system, so they’re learning. Everything is new to them and they’re picking it up and they’re doing a good job.”
While the Buffs did lose a quartet of corners after spring – including Dante Wigley, who started 15 games in his two seasons at CU – they didn’t lose any of their top players at the position. Despite Wigley’s starting experience, he was likely to go into this year as a backup had he stayed.
Senior Delrick Abrams Jr., and junior Mekhi Blackmon came out of spring atop the depth chart.
Abrams impressed Tillman with his work ethic this offseason.
“I think sometimes he gets down on himself because he has good days and he has bad days, so we’re just trying to look for consistency out of him,” Tillman said. “He’s showing it more on the field. He’s not a real vocal guy, but just by the way he carries himself on the field, he’s leading by example.”
Blackmon played out of necessity last year and has emerged as a candidate to start this season. He had a pair of interceptions in the spring game.
Perhaps CU’s best corner is sophomore Chris Miller. He was on the verge of breaking out last year and then got injured. Two different injuries limited him to only five games in 2018 and he missed spring drills with a shoulder injury.
Tillman can’t wait to get a healthy Miller into the fold next month.
“I’ve heard good things,” Tillman said of Miller. “I’m hoping everything I’ve heard measures up to it. When he gets back, he’ll go to work just like everybody else and hopefully we can build him into a good football player. He’s got potential to be good, but until I see it with my own eyes, you never know. He’s more mature now, so I’m anxious to see what he can do.”
True freshmen D.J. Oats and K.J. Trujillo will also compete for playing time, as will walk-on Uryan Hudson.
Tillman is hoping all of them can become game ready and develop the all-important cornerback trait of having a short memory.
“Sometimes you may be in perfect coverage and just a good ball is thrown that way,” Tillman said. “You have to shake it off, line up and play the next play; you have to have that mentality every time.”
Returners (2018 statistics)
Delrick Abrams Jr., Sr., 6-3, 185 (44 tackles, 8 PBU)
Mekhi Blackmon, Jr., 6-0, 165 (9 tackles, 3 PBU)
Chris Miller, So., 6-0, 190 (10 tackles, 1 PBU)
Uryan Hudson, Jr., 5-9, 160 (walk-on; played 1 snap on defense)
D.J. Oats, Fr., 5-10, 180 (true freshman)
K.J. Trujillo, Fr., 6-0, 165 (true freshman)
Ronnie Blackmon (transferred; 5 tackles, 1 PBU)
Kevin George (transferred; played 10 games on special teams)
L.J. Wallace (transferred; redshirted, played in 1 game on special teams)
Dante Wigley (transferred; 36 tackles, 4 PBU, 1 INT)
2019 outlook: The battle for starting positions will be intriguing, but Abrams, Blackmon and Miller are expected to be the leaders for those spots. Abrams and Blackmon both played well in spring, while Miller sat out with a shoulder injury. If Miller picks up where he left off a year ago when he was injured, he could take a starting spot. Regardless of who starts, all three will be on the field a lot if healthy, and the Buffs will lean on them to play well. Last year, the Buffs had six different corners play at least 95 snaps, in part because of injury, so they are likely to need some depth this year. That will require Oats and Trujillo to mature quickly, and it could lead to Hudson – the nephew of former CU all-American and Thorpe Award winner Chris Hudson – getting an opportunity. It’s possible that true freshman receiver Tarik Luckett could move to cornerback if the Buffs need more depth.