On the first official play of Colorado’s scrimmage on Saturday – after a pair of procedure penalties – sophomore cornerback Nikko Reed reached his hand around receiver Montana Lemonious-Craig and batted the ball to the ground.
It was the type of play CU is hoping to see a lot from Reed this year, and it proved to be somewhat of a tone-setter for the Buffaloes’ practice at Folsom Field.
In the first practice of spring open to the public and media, there were highlights on both sides of the ball, but CU’s young defensive backs stood out.
“A lot of people, since our starters left, they don’t think there’s any corners still in the room,” Reed said. “So we all come in with like a chip on our shoulder because we have to prove something.”
Last year’s starters, Mekhi Blackmon and Christian Gonzalez, are now playing for Pac-12 rivals Southern California and Oregon, respectively. That has left with the Buffs with two major holes to fill.
Junior Nigel Bethel Jr. has been limited in practice this spring as he recovers from an injury, so the opportunity is there for Reed and other young corners to shine. On Saturday, they did.
“It was just next man up,” Reed said of Blackmon and Gonzalez leaving, “so I was ready for it.”
Last year, Reed played 199 snaps, recording eight tackles and two pass breakups.
“Fall camp I was like kind of questioning my ability,” he said. “But as the season came by, I took the coaching and I got better. This year, I feel like I’m more confident in my ability. I’m still working, so I’m good. I’m still getting better, so I’m better with my technique.”
By the end of last season, Reed looked like a key player in CU’s future and has kept it up this spring.
“He was making that jump even a year ago,” Buffs head coach Karl Dorell said. “The things that you saw today he was doing a year ago, and saw him in games. … He’s on track, I’ll tell you that. He’s on track to doing the things that we expect him to do.”
CU coaches praised Wiggins’ confidence on signing day in December, and it was evident Saturday as he made several plays in the secondary.
“He reminds me a lot like this year’s version of what Nikko was for us a year ago,” Dorrell said. “When Nikko came here last year in the summer, it really was with the same confidence and attitude that, ‘I can play. I’ll show you’ and he was able to back those things up. I think Josh is kind of very similar. He has the same attitude about coming here and trying to make an impact and it was good to see that he made a play or two today.”
The young group also includes sophomore Kaylin Moore and true freshman Jason Oliver, who was in a non-contact jersey on Saturday.
It starts, however, with Reed, who’s confidence and big-play ability could be huge for the Buffs. He did give up a deep pass, but looked sharp most of the day.
“I just feel like every time I play football on a team, I’ve kind of been one of those, like, good players,” he said. “I haven’t been like the weakest link on the team or anything like that. I feel like I’ve been better than a lot of people, so the confidence comes from the amount of work I’ve put in.”
Saturday’s scrimmage wasn’t a perfect measuring stick for next season, as at least 18 scholarship players aren’t on campus yet. Several others did not participate in the scrimmage.
For the Buffs, however, it was a positive sign to see the young cornerbacks make plays and display their confidence.