What type of progress have you seen your defense make since the end of the 2015 season?
Coach Jim Leavitt: “We can look really good at times but we're still working it pretty hard. We're not there right now but we're getting closer. A lot of guys have a good understanding of the defense, which helps. They have an understanding of me and how to deal with me, which helps. And I have a good understanding of them, what they can do and what they can't do. I try to play to their strengths if I can. We didn't play great defense last year but I guess they played better than they had. But it is not what we want to be. For us to win in this league, you better be spot-on in most everything you do. We're getting closer.”
Do you take some solace in the fact your defense improved 46 spots nationally in terms of scoring defense during your first year with them?
“Yeah, you can. I didn't know we would improve that much because we weren't where we needed to be. They didn't really learn to play hard until the seventh or eighth game. You have to be willing to strain when things get tough. But there is a maturity developing and they are getting an idea, but I wouldn't say we're there. It is a process and you don't just change overnight. When we took over that defense at Kansas State, we were 107th. The next year we were 96, the next year 58, then 26, then fifth, then first. It is a process. We have better leadership now and a better understanding of how important the little things are. It is also important for them to drive themselves, and I feel I have had to holler at them less. They police themselves more than they did last year so that is an encouraging sign.”
Did you have to hold back a lot scheme wise in year one?
“I did. I did have to have some tools to go to as a playcaller, but we're still not working this whole package by any means. There is a lot that I still haven't given them that I don't think we're ready for yet. We'll add a little bit more every year. We added some stuff this spring, but there is a whole lot more to it than what we're doing right now.”
You talked about needing tools as a playmaker... Chidobe Awuzie is a good tool to have. His versatility and consistency makes him a pretty unique player. Have you coached many other players like him?
“Yeah, I have. He just needs to stay focused. He has got to really stay on edge. The thing I worry about more with guys like Chido is seniors that don't stay on edge. They get patted on the back so many times that they are all this and all that, and then they end up not being very good. As long as Chido keeps humility, understands those dangers, then he'll do well.”
Coach Mike MacIntyre talked about how Addison Gillam would be treated like an NFL veteran during the preseason. How have you gone about getting him ready for the season, while trying to make sure he stays healthy for the first game?
“I don't know if I think of him like an NFL vet, but I am just giving him what he can handle right now physically. He has done well. He scrimmaged the other night and came out of it well. We understand that he had a knee injury and we don't want to go out there and just crush him all the time. We want to push it sometimes, but we also want to be smart about what we do with him.”
Last year during the preseason, your players talked about creating takeaways being the main point of emphasis. This preseason, they are talking about the need to be better tacklers...
“Well, we didn't tackle real well last year and if we don't tackle well this year, we won't be that good. But we better still get takeaways. You can still win without getting takeaways, but it is so much harder. Usually if you don't get the takeaways, you are probably not going to have a lot of success. So we are hammering takeaways again, believe me.”
What are your impressions of Colorado State?
“They are pretty good. They went to a bowl game. They are very well coached. I like how they play hard. I enjoy going against teams like that because you aren't going to beat somebody like that unless you rise to the occasion. They have a good football team. [Mike] Bobo is a good coach. I have known him for a long time.”
Is there always an element of surprise you have to deal with as a coordinator in the season opener?
“That is always going to happen. There are going to be things they are going to do that we won't have practiced, same for them with us. That first game you are always going to have some things that are going to happen that you have to adjust to.”
Do you feel settled in now here at Colorado?
“I felt settled the first day I got here. It is an honor to be here, to live in Colorado. It is a beautiful state and the people have been unbelievable. My wife and I bought a house right away and we're very fortunate to be in Boulder. We're real excited about it. I knew all about it or I wouldn't have come if I didn't desire to be here.”