Depth at cornerback was a concern for the Colorado Buffaloes going into the season, and that was with everyone healthy.
Now, the Buffaloes have lost two of their most experienced corners for the season.
On Wednesday, CU confirmed to BuffZone.com that junior Mekhi Blackmon will miss the remainder of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery on Tuesday. On Saturday, the Buffs announced sophomore Chris Miller will miss the rest of the year with a torn ACL in his knee.
Blackmon, who started the first two games, missed the Air Force game on Sept. 14 because of the injury and was limited to 10 snaps at nickel back in Saturday’s 35-30 loss to Arizona. Blackmon has played in only four games and can use this as a redshirt year and have two more seasons to play.
With injuries depleting an already thin group of cornerbacks, true freshman KJ Trujillo has gone from a possible redshirt candidate to a starter in short order.
Trujillo is slated to get his second start when the Buffs (3-2, 1-1 Pac-12) visit No. 13 Oregon (4-1, 2-0) on Friday (8:05 p.m.; TV: FS-1).
After not even playing the first three games, Trujillo is suddenly second only to senior Delrick Abrams Jr. in college experience at the position.
“Definitely getting more reps has built my confidence,” said Trujillo, who made his collegiate debut with two snaps against Arizona State on Sept. 21 before playing all 67 snaps against Arizona. “I came in confident. I’ve been playing football since I was four, so there’s nothing new to me, but definitely getting more reps is building my confidence at the collegiate level.”
Against Arizona, Trujillo started in place of Miller and recorded five tackles.
Trujillo, who is 6-feet, 165 pounds, enrolled early in January, but missed spring practices because he had surgery on a torn labrum before Christmas. He told Buffzone.com last winter that he wanted to redshirt this season so he could have time to fully heal and bulk up.
He no longer has that luxury, but has made a good impression on head coach Mel Tucker.
“He’s very coachable,” Tucker said. “He’s very serious about going about his business. He’s not afraid to ask a question and he gets better with repetitions and with coaching.”
Trujillo has been working not only with cornerbacks coach Travares Tillman, but also Tucker, who has been a long-time secondary coach, and defensive coordinator/safeties coach Tyson Summers.
“I think it’s an advantage to us to have coach Tuck with us, coach Tillman with us, coach Summers with us,” he said. “We have three DB coaches, really, so it’s an advantage for us.”
Those coaches have their work cut out for them the rest of this season.
Aside from Abrams, who has 13 career starts, the Buffs have four freshmen and two walk-ons at cornerback. Two of the freshmen – Dylan Thomas and Tarik Luckett – were moved from receiver during August camp to provide depth at the position and D.J. Oats had never played corner before coming to CU this summer. None of them have played yet this season.
Based on the depth chart provided this week, Luckett is likely to be the third corner against Oregon.
Williams gaining comfort
Trujillo isn’t the only true freshman being thrust into action on defense. On the defensive line, Na’im Rodman and Austin Williams have been valuable backups all season and are becoming more important, as well.
With junior Mustafa Johnson going down early in the ASU game with an ankle injury, the Buffs have essentially played the last two games without their best defensive lineman. He’s day-to-day and it’s unclear if he’ll play this week.
Starting nose tackle Jalen Sami was injured last week against Arizona and his status for this week is unknown, as well.
Rodman (145 snaps) and Williams (101) have been two of the top backups this season. Williams, who had not played defensive until coming to CU this summer, was on the field for a season-high 38 snaps last week at nose tackle because of Sami’s injury.
“I’m actually very comfortable, just because the coaching we have is second to none,” Williams said. “Some of the best coaches I’ve ever been around, so I’m able to go in and I know exactly what to do. If I don’t, I’m able to go to the sideline or if coach is busy, I talk to Mustafa or Sami and they know everything. So I’m pretty comfortable with what I’m doing.”
Williams referred to Johnson as “a second coach to me.”
With growing confidence, Williams said he’s eager to go against Oregon’s highly touted offensive line.
“Definitely going to be the most physical and best offensive line we ever played,” he said. “That’s where I know where I stand and what I need to improve and work on for the next game.”
Quarterback Steven Montez, punter Alex Kinney and Abrams have been named CU’s captains for this week. … Montez has been named as one of 20 finalists for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award. He is one of four on the list from the Pac-12, including Oregon’s Justin Herbert, Washington’s Jacob Eason and Utah’s Tyler Huntley.