Colorado doesn’t have a lot of numbers on the defensive line this spring, but those who are participating are making an impression.
“They’re getting a ton of reps, they’re getting better and they’re seeing it, too,” CU head coach Karl Dorrell said. “We’re only playing with about four to five defensive linemen right now and thank goodness we have outside backers to be edge players, but we’re not real deep right now. But, I do like where these guys have grown and where they’ve improved.”
CU is projected to have 13 defensive linemen on scholarship in the fall, but four are freshmen who won’t enroll until the summer. This spring, Jeremiah Doss and Terrance Lang have been dealing with injuries, while Janaz Jordan has been slowed by the flu.
The lack of depth has allowed players such as junior Justin Jackson, sophomores Na’im Rodman, Jalen Sami and Austin Williams and redshirt freshmen Lloyd Murray Jr. and Jayden Simon to develop more.
“Na’im Rodman has really had a solid spring to this point,” Dorrell said. “I’m really encouraged but what Na’im is doing and Justin Jackson making some positive improvement; Austin Williams is getting in better shape. … All of those guys are getting so much better.”
Jordan started four games last year and has played well this spring when healthy.
“You can tell once he gets in shape, he’s gonna be so much better, too,” Dorrell said.
During the Buffs’ scrimmage on Friday, Murray, Rodman and Sami had sacks.
Secondary stepping up
CU’s defense has enjoyed a good spring, and Dorrell is particularly pleased with the secondary.
“We talk about playing the defense top-down, and the reason why we want to play a top-down is that tips and overthrows, they will not land to the ground,” Dorrell said. “Lately, our secondary, our safeties have done a great job with those tips and overthrows, where they’re falling in their hands and they’ve got great vision on where the quarterback is looking and throwing. They’re actually starting to pursue and take the right angles at the receivers and when the ball is not quite on the money, the ball gets tipped.”
Under the direction of new coordinator Chris Wilson, the Buffs are enjoying a more player-friendly defense. Safety Ray Robinson said communication on the field has also been important.
“When we get close to the end zone, we just have to communicate well between the corners and safeties and the nickels,” he said. “As long as we’re on the same page, I think we’re all solid enough in our technique and our fundamentals that we’re pretty confident that we’re not going to let them into the end zone.”
In the Buffs’ latest scrimmage, the quarterbacks unofficially completed 20 passes, with eight of them going to the running backs. Alex Fontenot had four catches, while Joe Davis had two and Ashaad Clayton and Jayle Stacks each had one.
“That’s one area I think a lot of teams maybe use as the second or third thought in a passing progression; there’s nothing there, check it down to the back,” Dorrell said. “Well, we do have some featured plays for the back where he’s the first read. We feel good about our backs in space.
“Those are the things that these guys can do; in space, it’s hard to bring these backs down.”
Davis, in particular, has flashed his receiving skills.
“Joe is getting really solid on doing all those types of things, really from the start,”
Dorrell said. “He’s one of those guys, he’s kind of an unsung hero. He doesn’t draw a lot of attention, but when you recognize him, and you see that when Joe’s on the field, he’s usually a very productive kid, he’s a dependable kid, and he plays that role for us really, really well.”