Spring countdown: Safeties

The back end of the defense should be a strength for Colorado in 2011. With Greg Brown returning as defensive coordinator and secondary coach, safety could be one of the strongest areas of the team as long this group can recover from past injuries and surgeries and avoid the injury bug in the future. Get inside for more.

"Between Ray Polk and Anthony Perkins they have a compilation of a proven number of starts," Brown said. "So at safety, we feel we have some experience and guys are going to be able to get lined up and do the right thing."

The only player to take more snaps on defense for Colorado than Polk in 2010 was Jalil Brown. Polk finished second in tackles with 72, but he can be criticized for not making more big plays.

Polk had no tackles for loss, no forced fumbles or fumble recoveries and no interceptions. Making the big play is definitely an area for improvement.

By contrast, Perkins had a knack for the big play and a nose for the ball. He only played in 41/2 games before suffering a season-ending knee injury but still finished 10th in tackles and notched a fumble recovery and an interception.

Perkins is questionable for spring ball as is fellow safety Vince Ewing, a fourth-year junior who is very familiar with the way Brown likes to do things in the secondary.

Both Perkins and Ewing are coming off torn ACL injuries and will be limited at best in the spring. But because both are veterans, they should be able to step right in and compete for playing time in the fall when they should be close to completely recovered.

Brown always has been one to move players around in the secondary and see how they respond at different positions. This spring won't be any different, and with injuries being a factor from the outset, don't be surprised to see players such as Paul Vigo, Deji Olatoye and Makiri Pugh get a look at safety as well as cornerback.

If there is a player who is most likely to challenge Perkins and Polk for playing time, it might be sophomore Terrel Smith, No. 41.

Smith was a tackling machine during the second half of last season. Injuries forced him out of his redshirt at the midway point last fall and he responded by becoming a playmaker as a true freshman.

Smith played in only six games and averaged 10 tackles per game. He finished fourth on the team in tackles and the three players who finished ahead of him all played in every game for the Buffs in 2010.

Smith is undersized and might be a better fit as a nickleback in the end. Regardless of where he plays, he is a nice asset to have.

Another player who will definitely be in the mix this spring and next fall is Travis Sandersfeld. There might not be a player on the entire roster who is more dependable no matter where coaches decide to use him. He has played safety and nickleback in his career and always seems to be a big contributor on special teams. The same is true of fellow senior Arthur Jaffee, who could be a factor at safety or cornerback. Both of those players are nice to have because they do things right and are mentors to younger players looking to learn the system.

"Travis Sandersfeld has done nothing but come on and be a steady guy from years past and worked his way up," Brown said.

Walk-On Jordan Marquez will be a redshirt freshman in the fall and will have a real opportunity this spring to show what he can do.

CU signed four defensive backs in the 2011 recruiting class. Will Harlos, a 6-4, 200-pound product of Somerset, Texas, seems destined to play safety in Boulder. It's possible others in the class could end up there if things don't work out at cornerback.

"That's the thing about recruiting," Brown said. "No one ever, ever knows. As a high school player, you could have him pegged as the savior and then the guy gets here and he can't play and vice versa. A guy could be the most unheralded guy in the world and then he gets here, and he's the guy right away.

"We've seen that up close and personal ourselves at CU here in the past. Right now, there are no preconceived notions about what is going to happen."

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