Overview/Defensive Line -
The first thing to acknowledge when looking at CU's defense this spring is there were far more questions to be answered than on offense. While the Buffs finished among the top 20 defenses in the nation for the first time in many, many years, most of the starters and most of the coaches who helped build that defense are now gone. So this spring was really a fresh start for this defense with lots of questions to be answered. So what did we learn?
For the first time in well over a decade the defensive line was not only a team strength in 2016, it was on par with some of the better defensive lines in the country. When one starter gets drafted and all three at least get a look from the NFL, you know you had a solid defensive line. The downside of that is that all three are gone and have to be replaced. The question is do the Buffs have the guys in the program to replace them? The answer is a somewhat qualified yes.
That somewhat qualified yes begins with the most experienced returnee on the defensive line, and clearly the spring standout of the group, Leo Jackson. He will be a fifth-year senior this fall, and although he was limited to a total of 254 defensive snaps in 2016, Jackson started 10 of 12 games two years ago. The former Junior College transfer has been through the conference slate with the Buffs twice now and has done a decent job. Don't look for Jackson to be as disruptive as Jordan Carrell or Samson Kafovalu were last fall but you can expect him to do a solid job up front in both the run and pass games. It should not come as a surprise if he is able to get four or five sacks in 2017. At the very least, one of CU's three starting spots is in capable hands.
At nose tackle, Javier Edwards will likely replace Josh Tupou. After transferring in from Blinn College, Edwards showed this spring that he could do a very fine job in that role. Edwards is bigger than Tupou to begin with, and that’s both a positive and a negative. It has been clear since he arrived in Boulder north of the 380 mark on the scale that he needed to shed a lot of weight. The good news is that his focus and work ethic in the weight room have been highly touted by all. Edwards will likely be the single biggest benefactor of Drew Wilson’s wizardry as strength and conditioning programs at many Junior Colleges are, to be charitable, lacking in quality.
Edwards is very powerful, and with his size, he is as difficult to move as Tupou was last fall. And believe it or not, it appears that Edwards is somewhat more mobile than Tupou as well. It appears that he has more length than Tupou, which is very important insofar as long arms allow a defensive lineman to engage an offensive lineman from further away, which makes it easier to win the one-on-one battles on the line. Edwards' potential gives Buffs fans hope that two of their three starting spots on the defensive line will be adequately filled.
The third starting spot is much more of a question mark. Going into spring ball, most eyes were on Chris Mulumba, the athletic Junior College transfer that previously spent time in the Army of the Republic of Finland. Mulumba has the size and athleticism to excel in CU's defense, but it was clear he will need more time with Jim Jeffcoat to learn the techniques required to play at the Pac-12 level. While he is raw, if Mulumba puts in the work this summer, he will be very much in the mix come August. His combination of size and athleticism is rare on the defensive line, so keep an eye on him.
Mulumba was not atop the depth chart following his first spring, it was Timothy Coleman establishing that position. The Mullen graduate is going into his fifth-year with the program. At 6-foot-3, and in the 260-pound range, Coleman is not the prototype for a 3-4 defensive end, but he does bring outstanding athleticism and excellent speed to the position. Coleman was on the field for 174 defensive snaps in 12 games last season and he played 75 snaps in seven games the year before, so he has some experience. Coleman is not going to overpower opponents the way Carrell and Kafovalu did at times, but he is quick and he has undoubtedly learned a lot of tricks from Jeffcoat during his time at CU. It remains to be seen whether Coleman will be a starter against Colorado State, but he will play a lot and should be a decent option up-front for the Buffs.
Jase Franke is another defensive lineman in the mix coming out of spring ball. He is also another Buff defensive lineman with less than typical size but he has gained some playing experience during his time in Boulder. Franke is not big enough or quick enough to be a full time starter but he is an important depth piece and can provide a breather to starters at all three defensive line positions.
Underclassmen Frank Umu and Lyle Tuiloma shared the most improved defensive lineman award this spring. At this point they have been more about potential than production but both are going into their third year in the program, both are over 300 pounds, and both have the athleticism and power to make things happen on the defensive line. The Buffs need both of them to step up in order to bolster their depth.
So what have we learned this spring on the defensive line?
- Leo Jackson and Javier Edwards should be solid Pac 12 level starters up front.
- The third starting position is still up for grabs and it remains to be seen if CU has a true Pac-12 level player for that spot.
- CU's defensive line will not be as good as it was last year, which is somewhat to be expected with three fifth year seniors starters all getting a shot in the NFL.
- Recruiting on the defensive line must improve over what we’ve seen the last few years, even including last year. Both immediate help from the Junior College ranks and developing linemen from high school must be found who are at the Pac-12 level. Until the Buffs start filling both lines the way Utah and Washington do, they will be at a disadvantage.
- Terriek Roberts has potential but is still likely a year away from having an impact on the Buffs' defensive line.
- There are still a lot more questions on the defensive line than there are answers.
- Spring MVP on the Defensive Line: Leo Jackson, who demonstrated that he can fill the shoes of at least one of the departed seniors.