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CU Buffs confident in corners

CU cornerbacks coach Demetrice Martin pleased with progress despite losing streak

BOULDER, CO - Colorado cornerbacks Christian Gonzalez, left, and Mekhi Blackmon work on drills during practice on Monday, Aug. 9, 2021.
BOULDER, CO – Colorado cornerbacks Christian Gonzalez, left, and Mekhi Blackmon work on drills during practice on Monday, Aug. 9, 2021.

In the moment, Colorado cornerbacks coach Demetrice Martin felt every bit of the frustration that his players felt in trying to cover Southern California’s Drake London on Oct. 2.

Despite blanket coverage, London kept making exceptional plays in the Trojans’ 37-14 win against the Buffs.

In reviewing the game, though, Martin had to tip his hat to USC.

Colorado cornerbacks coach Demetrice Martin talks to players on the sideline during a scrimmage at Folsom Field in Boulder on Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

“It wasn’t one on one, it was two on one,” Martin said of London and USC quarterback Kedon Slovis. “That quarterback was throwing it on the dimes, throwing into spots and that guy (London), he’s different.”

Despite the disappointment of that day against the Trojans, Martin is pleased with the overall play of CU’s cornerbacks, which will get another challenge against Arizona on Saturday at Folsom Field (1:30 p.m., TV: Pac-12 Network).

After facing the Pac-12’s leading receiver (London), the Buffs will face the Pac-12’s second-leading receiver (Stanley Berryhill III) on Saturday, and Martin is confident that CU’s corners will be up to the challenge.

“I’d be more pleased with more wins obviously but those guys are maturing,” Martin said. “They’re believing in technique. Being that last year was a shortened season we didn’t really get to the nuts and bolts and the nitty gritty of the techniques and stuff like that. Now they’ve been benefiting from doing the technique correctly, so it makes it easier for them to buy in and it’s starting to show in their play.”

In particular, starters Mekhi Blackmon and Christian Gonzalez are playing at a high level for the Buffs (1-4, 0-2 Pac-12).

The veteran of the group, Blackmon is stronger than he was a year ago and it’s showing in his play.

“(He is) a lot better because he’s taken the growth into the leadership role, as far as he’s taking guys under his wing, especially the young guys,” Martin said.

Gonzalez is young, as well, as a second-year freshman, but he’s started all 11 games of his career and has flashed star potential – despite losing some battles to London. Martin has seen tremendous growth in Gonzalez, particularly in his communication and confidence.

“He’s a quiet leader,” Martin said. “He doesn’t really talk much but now that he’s starting to talk he makes everybody else better around him because he’s communicating. He’s a film junkie. He learned how to study and Mekhi helped a lot with that.”

University of Colorado Boulder Cornerback Nigel Bethel (No. 27) during practice on Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

With more experience, Blackmon and Gonzalez now carry a lot of confidence to the field and that’s made an impression on everyone in the room, Martin said.

“You need (confidence) for the position,” Martin said. “If you don’t have it you’re gonna be lost because you’re not going to win every battle. The confidence has to be there to be like, ‘Hey, you’re not gonna beat me next time.’ Those guys have that and it kind of bleeds in the room. … It kind of helps bring the young guys along.”

While Martin has confidence in Blackmon and Gonzalez, it’s the development of the rest of the room that has him excited.

That starts with sophomore Nigel Bethel Jr., a fourth-year player who is getting the most extensive playing time of his career. Bethel has already played a career-high 142 snaps (he played 51 in 2020), has been on the field nearly half of the time and has given the Buffs an exceptional boost as the third corner.

“That’s big-time in the Pac-12,” Martin said of having three quality corners. “You never have enough corners and when you add in special teams and all that kind of good stuff and as much they throw the ball around in our conference, more is still not enough.”

That’s why the Buffs have given opportunities for their three true freshmen – who Martin dubs the “Three Amigos” – a chance to play. Tyrin Taylor has played 42 snaps, while Nikko Reed has played 39 and Kaylin Moore 13.

“They all want to play, they all want to get in there, so it’s easy to put them in spot duty in different packages and things like that and keep them engaged during practice so the development can go faster,” Martin said.

That freshman trio could be the starting crew in the future, but for now, Martin is excited about the progress of the whole group and believes the Buffs are in good hands with Bethel, Blackmon and Gonzalez leading the way.

“With those three men, you feel a lot better going in every game knowing that we can kind of mix and match,” Martin said. “We can match up with different guys with different skill sets and go get it.”