In front of every good defense is a stout defensive line.
Whether or not the Colorado Buffaloes will be strong up front this year remains to be seen, but defensive coordinator/line coach Chris Wilson likes the path the group is on this summer.
“Obviously, we’ve got a lot of work ahead,” Wilson said. “That always sounds cliché, but really, there’s no end in this deal. You’re always trying to find ways to become a better teacher, a better communicator, to try to make sure that you’ve got a great progression for your guys, at every position, where these guys can come in and learn and learn quickly. And the biggest challenge nowadays is really identifying how your student-athletes learn and then tailor it towards their learning style.”
Leading up to fall camp, which starts Aug. 5, BuffZone.com is previewing each position group for the Buffs. In this installment, we look at the defensive line.
The Buffs’ line is a group that must replace its best player – Mustafa Johnson, who declared for the NFL Draft – but has good, young talent.
“I know they’re preparing well,” Wilson said. “Ready is really difficult to measure. I just stick to the preparation part and the things that we can measure on a day-to-day basis. When we get on the scales, we just say, ‘Hey, this is where we’re at right now. Based off of where we’re at right now, on the scale, these guys are making significant gains.”
CU’s line is led by junior end Terrance Lang, who enters his fifth year with the program and has shown improvement every year. He had six sacks in 2019 and one in a COVID-19 pandemic-shortened 2020 when he played in just five games. He had five tackles for loss last season.
Around Lang, the Buffs have a mix and youth and veterans.
Junior Janaz Jordan and sophomore Jalen Sami have split time at nose tackle, but Wilson is expecting them to be more versatile in where they can play this year.
“The one thing that I’ve really, really been excited about is the addition of (strength and conditioning coach) Shannon Turley and working with these guys to have more versatility, and you see it in their day-to-day,” Wilson said. “I think these guys are feeling more and more comfortable with their bodies, and the changes that we’re making there in the offseason and in the weight room with coach Turley.”
Beyond that trio, the Buffs don’t have a lot of game experience in the group, but Wilson is eager to see what they do as they progress.
Senior Jeremiah Doss and junior Justin Jackson played only 70 snaps between them last year, but they are both older players with potentially bigger roles this fall.
“I see their development and their ability to really start processing information at a high level,” Wilson said. “The thing that you see between a young guy and an older guy not often is it ability; everybody’s talented. It’s their ability to digest the information at such a rapid rate. … That’s really the thing that we’re trying to get everybody to catch up to. That’s what I like about these guys who have played a lot of football and now it’s just time to get out on the football field and display it to the rest of the country.
Sophomore Na’im Rodman had a great spring, while redshirt freshman Lloyd Murray Jr. and Jayden Simon are both aiming for bigger roles.
“This is year two in our system, but year three for these young men in college,” Wilson said of that trio. “Typically for big guys, that’s when they start being able to understand the physicality of this position because again, so much of it isn’t just intellect, it’s having a physical ability to take a pounding up front. That’s what it comes down to. I’ve seen the growth there.”
In addition to the returners, the Buffs have seven newcomers, including three walk-ons. The group includes Blayne Toll, a transfer from Arkansas.
“The biggest thing is that they look the part,” Wilson said of the newcomers. “The thing that I like most about it is these guys come from really, really good winning programs and traditions … so, you’ve got guys who have a standard.
“I’m excited to watch how these guys compete and get prepared for the season because it’s all hands on deck.”
Position: Defensive line
Returners (2020 statistics)
- Jeremiah Doss, Sr., 6-4, 265 (6 games, 58 snaps played, 2 tackle)
- Justin Jackson, Jr., 6-2, 280 (1 game, 12 snaps)
- Janaz Jordan, Jr., 6-4, 305 (5 games, 4 starts, 137 snaps; 10 tackles, 1 TFL)
- Terrance Lang, Jr., 6-7, 285 (5 games, 4 starts, 317 snaps; 14 tackles, 5 TFL, 1 sack)
- Jalen Sami, So., 6-6, 325 (5 games, 2 starts, 175 snaps; 3 tackles)
- Na’im Rodman, So., 6-2, 300 (6 games, 1 start, 89 snaps; 4 tackles)
- Lloyd Murray Jr., R-Fr., 6-2, 300 (1 game, 8 snaps; 0 tackles)
- Jayden Simon, R-Fr., 6-3, 290
- Allan Baugh, Fr., 6-3, 265
- Tyas Martin, Fr., 6-4, 320
- Blayne Toll, Fr., 6-5, 235 (Transfer from Arkansas)
- Ryan Williams, Fr., 6-5, 260
- Kanaan Turnbull, So., 6-4, 225 (walk-on; transfer from Independence C.C.)
- Mason Maddox, Fr., 6-3, 245 (walk-on)
- Blake Weiher, Fr., 6-4, 245 (walk-on)
- Antonio Alfano, 6-5, 285 (transferred to Independence C.C.)
- Mustafa Johnson, 6-2, 290 (Declared for NFL Draft; 6 starts, 374 snaps, 24 tackles, 7 TFL, 3 sacks)
- Austin Williams, 6-5, 315 (entered transfer portal; 5 games)
2021 outlook: Despite losing Johnson, the Buffs believe they are building a solid and deep unit on the defensive line. “It’s creating competition across the board,” defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said. “We’re creating a little bit more continuity up front.” Wilson has coached in 4-3 and 3-4 schemes, but said the Buffs will be multiple up front, adding that coaches “become custom tailors” to find ways to get the best players on the field. Lang is the top returner, while Jordan and Sami have started games at tackle. Na’im Rodman had a great spring and should have a key role. There will be plenty of competition for playing time among the rest of the group, with Doss and Jackson being veterans ready to take a jump forward.