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Brooks: On D-Line, Buffs Hope Less (Weight) Is More

Aug 24, 2013

(Seventh in a series of position-by-position previews of the 2013 Buffs to be posted on CUBuffs.com during preseason camp. Today: Defensive line)

BOULDER - When Josh Tupou stepped on the scales last spring, the digital figures did a steady tick upward until they stopped at 325. Juda Parker sent the digits climbing to 270. Scroll through the names on Colorado's defensive line and the story was much the same; weights were significantly higher than the new coaching staff wanted.

From a poundage standpoint, coach Mike MacIntyre wanted to see less of his D-line. In a conference that puts a premium on pursuit, packing 15 to 20 extra pounds can turn a sprint to the ball into a waddle -- and waddles don't bring down many Pac-12 running backs or receivers.

Mandates - the bulk of them pointed at the D-line - were issued for lighter August reporting weights. From January through August, there have been bi-weekly (Monday and Friday) weigh-ins. Post-practice work on stationary bikes throughout August camp has been the norm. As a result, most goals have been met or will be when game week arrives.

"We're going to have some surprises at the end of this," defensive line coach Jim Jeffcoat said. "Guys will have changed their bodies, but still have a couple of more pounds to go. It's really good."

Take Tupou, who started five games last season as a 325-pound true freshman for a staff that obviously believed bigger was better. The 6-3 Tupou has shed 11 pounds and vows he'll reach 305, maybe 300, by the Sept. 1 opener against Colorado State.

He's already reduced his body fat and says he's gained speed without sacrificing strength. "Coaches are still pushing us and trying to get us in better shape," he said. "I'm watching what I eat and doing extra stuff for Steve (Englehart) and Kerry (Johnson, sports performance assistants) after practice. I'm weighing in weekly, trying to reach that goal."

Take Parker, a talented junior who suffered a torn labrum in his right shoulder last season in week seven (USC) and missed the rest of the season as well as spring practice. He's lost 20 pounds, settling at 250, and could start at the end opposite senior Chidera Uzo-Diribe.

"Coach told people he wanted them down to a good weight," Parker said. "We run around a lot now; it's different from last year. I wanted to get myself in shape to help this team. I feel fast and light."

But he's playing fast and strong. The 6-2 Parker falls in the category of up-and-comers who despised life on the injured list and promised to do something about it in August. Thus far, he's made good on it.

"Camp's gone really good for me," he said. "After the first few days you figure out what you need to work on. Everyday I'm focusing on one thing to get better at, and I feel like I'm accomplishing those goals. I have to get back to the basics . . . getting in my stance, keying my blocks. After I got those basic fundamentals down I just focused on getting myself in condition and running to the ball."

In the Buffs' new four-man front, Tupou and senior Nate Bonsu - another returnee charged with changing his body - have been lining up on the first defensive unit's interior, with Uzo-Diribe and Parker on the outside. But at least until the opener is in the books, everything personnel-related is fluid for defensive coordinator Kent Baer and Jeffcoat, who wants eight or 10 tackles and ends primed to play every week.

"I like to keep them fresh so they can keep attacking," Jeffcoat said. "I don't like to play them a lot of plays." Identifying 10 players for a regular rotation might be a stretch, but depending on special teams needs, Jeffcoat added, "I know I'll have eight."

Among the front four penciled in with the No. 1 defense, Uzo-Diribe was the only player who didn't spend late spring and early summer on a weight-loss mission. He finished 2012 as a solid 250-pounder and has maintained that weight through an off-season conditioning program he called "one of the hardest I've ever had. There's a big, big emphasis on being in shape now."

Uzo-Diribe submitted some of the rare defensive highlights during last season's 1-11 debacle. He finished with a team-high seven quarterback sacks, putting him at 15 (No. 12 at CU) for his career. He ranked No. 10 in the Pac-12, No. 50 in the NCAA.

It was a productive personal season, but neither he nor his coach wants to repeat it. Jeffcoat said Uzo-Diribe has "played pretty well" in August camp but "still has things to work on . . . we've got to get him to a different level. For us to be successful, he has to be at a different level. He understands that and is working toward it."

Jeffcoat's two-plus decades as a defensive lineman and coach in the NFL give him instant credibility among his players. Said Tupou: "He's a real good coach, a very intense guy . . . it's a good experience learning from him because of his background and the things he's done. I've learned a lot more just in this camp and in spring ball than I did last year."

Tupou, Parker and Uzo-Diribe described Jeffcoat as a demanding technician, particularly in run defense. He's looking for across-the-board improvement in "fundamental things . . . using their hands in the techniques we use when we teach our defense. Theyn++n++n++re working hard on that and improving their footwork. They've tried to improve each day and that's all I ask of them. They're making some positive strides and they've got to continue to do that."

From defensive front to front, Jeffcoat said footwork can be different: "It's not standard. You have different fronts . . . 4-3, 3-4, under fronts, over fronts. Everybody teaches it a little bit different. In a 3-4 you might be a two-gapper. Some guys teach placing the hand and running up field. We don't teach that; we control gaps, we make sure we're in our gaps and controlling the nose."

An added instructional bonus for Parker is playing the same position as Uzo-Diribe and being able to compare notes. Parker's biggest takeaway from Uzo-Diribe: "He's been able to teach me to be consistent. Through the years that's what he's been - consistent. He's always been a hard worker, gone to the ball and given a lot of effort. That's something I learned from him."

Uzo-Diribe has shown he can be disruptive for an offense, and Jeffcoat believes he's got a handful of other players who have the same capabilities. "They're all working at that, not just the first four," he said. "I've got a couple of other guys after that (first four) who could be disruptive. They could rotate in and I expect them to make plays."

The Buffs GÇÿD' wasn't the stuff of nightmares for any Pac-12 offensive coordinators last season. CU finished No. 117 out of 120 teams in total defense (488.5 yards a game) and No. 120 in scoring defense (46 points).

From the outside, not much improvement is expected for 2013; CU is projected to finish last in the Pac-12 South. From the inside, there's a much different view.

"I believe we're better than that," Tupou said. "I do think we'll surprise some people in the nation . . . but we've still got to go out and play."

Added Parker: "Reading the papers and seeing what everybody is saying about us . . . we didn't get the results we wanted (in 2012) so that always puts in a motivating factor for the new season. If everyone is sleeping on us, get ready."

THE INSIDE LOOK AT . . .

Defensive line

Coach: Jim Jeffcoat, first season on CU staff

Returning starters: DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe, Sr.; DT Josh Tupou, So.

Returnees: DT Nate Bonsu, Sr.; DE Juda Parker, Jr.; DE/T Samson Kafovalu, So.; DE Kirk Poston, Jr.; DE De'Jon Wilson, Fr-RS; DT Tyler Hennington, So.; DT Justin Solis, So.; DT John Tuso, So.; DE Andre Nichols, Jr.

Newcomers: DE Derek McCartney, Fr.; DL Timothy Coleman, Jr., Fr.; DE Jimmie Gilbert, Fr.; DE Marquis Reed, Fr.

Key losses: DE Will Pericak

Stat line: While not a total indictment of the D-line, the Buffs were last in the Pac-12 last season in rushing defense and No. 115 in the FBS, allowing 226.0 yards a game.

Bottom line: The new coaching staff's goal for the D-line is to be lighter and quicker, ostensibly playing faster and more effectively in the Pac-12. Several players were mandated to lose up to 20 pounds each before the opener, and midway through training camp they were well on way to reaching their goals. Uzo-Diribe led the team in sacks last season (7-66 yards) and should be among the Pac-12's premier pass rushers this season. He'll draw double-teams this season, so help from his teammates up front will be critical. Parker has had a good camp at the end opposite Uzo-Diribe, and Jeffcoat is counting on Tupou and Bonsu - both carrying less weight - being effecting inside in the new 4-3 scheme. Jeffcoat is a fan of frequent rotation and keeping players fresh up front; he hopes to have eight to 10 guys ready every week. He'll have a capable group to choose from in Solis, Poston, Henington, Kafovalu, Tuso and Gilbert and Reed - the only true freshmen in the group.

Next: Special teams

Contact: BG.Brooks@Colorado.EDU