Mark Perry began the 2019 season as a redshirt candidate. By the end, he was filling a key role off the Colorado bench.
Now, as a true sophomore, Perry is setting a high bar for himself.
“I have bigger expectations than last year,” the 6-foot, 200-pound defensive back said. “I told myself over the offseason I want to be the best DB in the Pac-12, and I’m still standing by that.”
Where he ranks in the Pac-12 remains to be seen, but there’s no question he will play a significant role for the Buffaloes this season. Perry sits atop the depth chart at strong safety, but he’s also practiced at Star, a safety/outside linebacker hybrid position.
“I’m comfortable everywhere and I expect to be playing everywhere,” he said. “I mean, wherever they need me I can play. I can play Star, I can play corner, I can play safety. Whatever the team needs, that’s where I can play.”
Perry came to CU from Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) High School and didn’t play in the first three games of 2019, as former head coach Mel Tucker planned to redshirt him. Injuries to the Buffs’ secondary changed those plans, though.
Over the last nine games, Perry started once and played 196 snaps. He made the most of those snaps, with 12 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss, three QB pressures and three pass breakups.
“It meant a lot because I know what to expect now,” Perry said. “I’m going to have some experience. Going in this year, I have higher expectations than I did last year. I know what to expect, the game is a lot faster. I know different reads, I know a lot of things that I probably wouldn’t have known if I didn’t get that playing time.”
Perry is one reason CU has confidence in its defense.
Although CU has a new head coach in Karl Dorrell, defensive coordinator Tyson Summers is back for his second season with the Buffs. Also coming back is nine full or part-time defensive starters and 16 players who were on the field for at least 160 snaps.
“It’s helped us a lot, having the same terms and different things like that,” Perry said of Summers coming back. “We didn’t have to go in and learn a whole new defense, so we were able to keep the same kind of terms and just keep on growing with the defense, keep on learning it.
“There’s a lot of guys coming back from last year, and I feel like we understand it a lot more now than we did around this time last year.”
CU’s strength could be in the front seven. All three starting defensive linemen – Mustafa Johnson, Terrance Lang and Jalen Sami – are back, along with all-conference linebacker Nate Landman. Inside linebacker Akil Jones and outside backer Carson Wells are also back.
The key to CU’s success on defense could be the secondary, however. In particular, Perry and junior Chris Miller could be X-factors. Both have the versatility to play safety, corner or Star.
Filling similar roles has led to Miller and Perry becoming close this offseason.
“Our communication on the field has been really good,” Perry said. “He was out there (during Saturday’s scrimmage) making a couple of big plays and we feed off each other. When he makes a play, I turn around and I make a play. We just feed off each other.”
The Buffs had the day off Sunday and will return to practice Monday. … As senior Sam Noyer, junior Tyler Lytle and freshman Brendon Lewis battle for the starting quarterback job, Lang said he’s enjoying seeing them compete. “From a defensive perspective I can definitely see the competition,” he said. “Those three quarterbacks are competing all day, every day.” … The Buffs got to know Dorrell quite well over Zoom meetings the past several months. Now that they’re on the field, Lang said the team sees a different side of the head coach, but said, “I like coach Dorrell’s demeanor and mindset. He wants to get the job done and be professional as we do it. And just play fast.”