Colorado’s defense had some good moments in Karl Dorrell’s first season as head coach.
To take the next step forward, however, Dorrell felt a change was needed.
Last week, Dorrell promoted defensive line coach Chris Wilson to defensive coordinator, replacing Tyson Summers, who was fired last month after two years of leading the Buffs on that side of the ball. Wilson will continue to coach the defensive linemen.
“Our defense did improve in a number of ways this past fall, and we’re going to continue to make those steps forward and being better going into this year,” Dorrell said. “Obviously, (Wilson) is a very well seasoned coach on both the college and professional level, so we’re really excited about making the next steps of progress defensively.”
CU (4-2, 3-1 Pac-12) ranked 77th nationally in scoring defense (31.7 points per game) and 76th in yards allowed (420.3) this season. Those numbers took a major hit in the Buffs’ 55-23 loss to Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl, when CU was missing several players because of injuries and COVID-19 protocols.
During the five-game regular season, the Buffs allowed 27.0 points and 376.8 yards per game.
Even with the bowl game, the Buffs improved their rankings from 2019, when they were 95th in points allowed (31.8) and 104th in yards allowed (441.9).
Under Summers, the Buffs ran a base, 3-4 defense, but often threw different looks at the offense and brought pressure from a variety of spots.
Dorrell didn’t get into specifics about what a Wilson-led defense would look like, but said, “There will be some subtle changes in what we’ve done defensively. … Right now we’re going through our big evaluation phase with our program. We’re having meetings, first of all, as a staff on both sides of the ball.
“We went through the season and had done our end of season studies in things that we’ve done and things that we can improve on from a scheme perspective. Also, we’ve done an extensive player evaluation with our personnel on both sides of the ball about making sure when we’re meeting with our players … giving them an agenda of things that they can improve on.”
Wilson, 52, has been a coordinator once before at a Power 5 school. He was co-coordinator at Mississippi State in 2010 before being sole coordinator for the Bulldogs from 2011-12. During those three seasons, MSU gave up 19.8, 19.7 and 23.3 points per game, ranking top-35 nationally each year. He was also the defensive coordinator at Northeastern (Okla.) A&M in 1996.
During Wilson’s career, he has also coached in the NFL, helping the Philadelphia Eagles win Super Bowl LII in 2017. He has coached defensive linemen at Southern California, Georgia, Oklahoma, Army and CU. He was with the Buffs from 2000-04.
“Chris has been in a number of systems professionally,” Dorrell said. “Obviously he was part of our defense last year. We’re going to fortify our defense and maximize our talent in the ways that I think will allow for the guys that we’re using on defense to utilize their skill set properly. I think the biggest thing that you’ll see is that we want to put guys in position to do the things that they’re capable of doing. I think that’s the most important thing.”
CU loses three regular starters from last season. Defensive lineman Mustafa Johnson declared for the NFL Draft, while linebacker Akil Jones and safety Derrion Rakestraw entered their names in the NCAA transfer portal. Rakestraw has since transferred to Tulane.
The Buffs are slated to return 48 of 66 starts (73%) from last year and they’ve added safety/linebacker Robert Barnes, who had 10 career starts at Oklahoma. Dorrell is confident CU has a defensive staff that can help the group improve.
In addition to Wilson, the Buffs are retaining Brett Maxie (safeties), Demetrice Martin (cornerbacks) and Brian Michalowski (outside linebackers). Although CU hasn’t announced it yet, Mark Smith, formerly of Arkansas, has been hired to coach inside linebackers, according to BuffZone.com sources.
“We’re going to be able to kind of sit back and try to start to tailor things that fit our personnel,” Dorrell said.
Walk-on outside linebacker Luke Horne has put his name in the transfer portal. A true freshman from Cedar Park, Texas, Horne joined CU as a preferred walk-on last summer and did not appear in any games.