While the players on offense will have to wear "Hello…my name is" nametags, the defense enters the 2003 season with eight starters returning. Head Coach Gary Barnett is looking for the D to lead the young Buffs. " I think the defense comes in with the highest degree of consistency, with the most experience returning, and therefore is going to have to carry the burden of this football team early," Barnett said. I also think that defensively scheme-wise, we'll take a step forward. Last year, in the infant stages of us being in that scheme, we were pretty simple. I think we learned a lot this past year. We've had a chance to talk to some other programs that were running it and I think that we'll be able to take the next logical step with our defense, in its evolution this year."
After running a 4-3 base defense since 1995, CU changed to a 4-2-5 scheme last season. Not an easy task for 19-year old kids. The new scheme basically adds a third safety instead of an outside linebacker and helps the defense deal with faster offenses that like to throw as much as they like to run.
Five seniors will be asked to anchor the defense, while one junior, two sophomores and three freshmen could make up the Buffs starting line-up.
Three Starters Return Up Front:
Returning starters Gabe Nyenhuis, Sam Wilder and Marques Harris lead the Buffalo stampede up front in what could be the strongest defensive line the Buffs have had in years. Harris has started 27 consecutive games and chalked up 68 tackles (48 solo), 11 quarterback pressures and four sacks last season, while Nyenhuis posted 34 tackles (27 solo), 4 quarterback sacks and won the Dan Stavely award as the outstanding defensive lineman for spring ball. Wilder got into the CU starting lineup against UCLA and finished with 38 tackles (26 solo) and five QB sacks.
Add in Senior DeAndre Fluellen and juniors Matt McChesney and Brandon Dabdoub and Colorado has some much-needed depth and experience, as all three have had multiple starts in their careers. At 290 pounds, Fluellen is one of the strongest players on the team and can bench press 475. He finished with 17 tackles and was in for 301 snaps last year.
With defensive leader Tyler Brayton gone to the NFL's Oakland Raiders, Colorado will need the experienced players to help the young buffs mature. Red shirt freshmen Marcus Jones and Alex Ligon and Sophomores Vaka Manupuna and James Garee all could see playing time, especially if the Buffs are hit with the injury bug late in the season. Two junior college transfers, Jon Guydon and McKenzie Tilmon will fit in very quickly.
New Scheme Calls For Fewer Linebackers:
While the outside linebacker position is basically replaced by an additional safety, the two inside linebackers will have plenty of action to keep them busy. Although injuries limited his playing time last season, senior Sean Tuffs has the ability to be Colorado's next great linebacker. After recording 57 tackles as a sophomore, Tuffs had 34 last season but only played in six games. He had nine tackles against Nebraska and eight against CSU. The player opposite of Tuffs is still up in the air. At first, it looked as if red shirt freshman Thaddaeus Washington would get the nod, but a violation of team rules led to his suspension. Sophomore Chris Hollis or red shirt freshman Jason Ackermann saw playing time in spring ball and will fight it out for the starting spot in the fall.
CAPTAIN LEADS THE SECONDARY
Senior Medford Moorer not only makes the calls on defense, but he makes most of the tackles and interceptions as well. The Buffs defensive captain led the team in interceptions with four and was second in tackles with 107, 75 of them solo. This could be a huge year for Moorer, who developed into one of the nation's top safeties last season. Known as the fiercest hitter on the team, he scored two touchdowns during the season, a 71-yard fumble return against Iowa State and a 51-yard interception return against Texas Tech. He will have a young gun to pass along his knowledge to in sophomore J.J. Billingsley. Making six starts last season in the Buffs dime package, Billingsley earned first-team Freshman All-American honors. He set a CU record by recording 67 tackles by a true freshman and in his first start record 15 tackles against San Diego State.
Sophomores Brian Iwuh and Akarika Dawn are penciled in at the weak and strong safety position respectively, while Senior's Clyde Surrell and Omar Stewart are coming back from injuries but should be 100% by the time fall practice starts.
Last season, cornerback Donald Strickland led the Buffs with 109 tackles, this season the Buffs will need to find someone to replace him. Leading the way at right corner is Senior Phil Jackson, who is coming off shoulder surgery and did not practice in the spring. Jackson sustained the injury in the Big 12 championship game against Oklahoma but still managed to play in the Alamo Bowl against Wisconsin. He registered 51 tackles (43 solo), three interceptions and nine pass-deflections in 2002. Listed behind him on the depth chart are Junior Allen Mackey and Senior Marcus Moore.
On the left side, spring ball was good to red shirt freshman Sammy Joseph, brother of former CU star Vance Joseph, who impressed coaches enough to list him as the starter. Sophomore Vance Washington will have a shot come fall, but did not participate in the spring drills after suffering a shoulder injury in a car accident.
CAN THE BUFFS THREE-PEAT?
With so many questions surrounding the Colorado football team heading into the fall, it is impossible to predict how the Buffs will do in 2003. If anyone tells you differently, you may want to ask them for the winning lotto numbers as well. But one thing is for sure, just when the "experts" write off the Buffs, they seem to regroup and surprise everyone. The Buffs have been ranked in the top 15 of the Associated Press preseason poll in 11 of the past 14 years and although that may be a reach, CU should get in the top 25. The buffalo stampede for a third straight Big 12 North Division championship begins August 30th and should be another great ride.