Gerald Chatman is still going through the unpacking stage after moving to Boulder last month.
Colorado’s new defensive line coach hasn’t wasted any time in getting to know his players and immersing himself into the job, however.
CU has completed eight of 15 practices this spring and Chatman, hired in March, is impressed with the group he has and the progress being made.
“I’m excited about the guys,” he said. “(They are) just working on the details and technique. I think the guys needed that, just really honing in on their craft, but they’re tough and I believe that. I saw that day one, just coming out to practice. But … the attention to detail and just a sense of urgency about how they work, those are the things that I feel that they needed the most. But, they’re tough and they enjoy football and that’s a good thing.”
CU head coach Karl Dorrell originally hired Vic So’oto as the defensive line coach in December. In late February, So’oto decided to leave the Buffs and take a job at California. Chatman was just a few weeks into his job as the defensive line coach at Tulane when CU called. His top priority was to get to know his group off the field.
“It shouldn’t take a year to connect with them,” he said. “I think you’ve just got to dive into that right away. Before I started talking football with those guys, I just started talking to them and acknowledging the situation. We’ve had some turnover here at (defensive line coach) and so I wanted to acknowledge that. It’s not a secret. I just talked to them about life and who I am and try to get to learn to understand who they are. I’m still doing that every day. It doesn’t stop. Now that I’m here and I’m their coach, I’m still diving in.”
Every other area of the defense is dealing with inexperienced players and several spots are dealing with a lack of depth. The defensive line, meanwhile, is loaded with experience, with some young talent mixed in.
CU lost Mustafa Johnson and his 35 career starts, but returns four important veterans. Terrance Lang (40 games, 27 starts), Jalen Sami (28 games, 24 starts), Na’im Rodman (30 games, nine starts) and Janaz Jordan (27 games, six starts) have all been key rotational players the past two years or more.
Redshirt freshmen Allan Baugh and Ryan Williams lead a talented group of youngsters.
Chatman said his basic approach is the same with all of them.
“I coach to maximize their potential,” he said. “That’s the first thing I tell them. It doesn’t matter if it’s a younger guy, older guy; I want to maximize their potential.
“I think all the guys get recruited because they have a ceiling and I think it’s the coach’s job to get them to reach that ceiling and be there and play at a high level and work at a high level and even off the field work at a high level and do that all the time. … I think with those older guys, it’s just about taking what they do well and trying to get those guys to be consistent at doing that and then giving them new tools to work on and that type of thing.”
In the past, CU has had a 3-4 base defense but has shifted to a 4-3. That better suits the Buffs’ personnel, but the defense will utilize different alignments and packages quite a bit, so Chatman said he will preach versatility.
“I always try to coach them to be flexible, have some position flex, especially if it’s a guy like Terrance who has aspirations to go play at the next level,” Chatman said. “I try to teach the guys basic fundamentals: hands, hips, footwork, playing with their eyes and that type of thing, so that they’ll have the ability to be able to play in any scheme.”
As Chatman goes through his first spring with the Buffs, he also has coordinator Chris Wilson as a resource. A long-time defensive line coach, including the past two years at CU, Wilson is now coaching the outside linebackers and has put his trust in Chatman.
“He lets me work,” Chatman said. “He has his guys, I have my guys and I appreciate that because that shows that he trusts that I can get the job done. Especially with him being a D-line coach by trade, that says a lot about where we are as a staff. We communicate about things obviously with him working with the front end and being the defensive coordinator, but he’s been letting me turn it loose and do what I do.”