Buffs Defense Continues Adjusting To Leavitt?s Scheme
BOULDER - A Colorado defense that has struggled in recent years will stand at the center of the attention this fall. A unit that has ranked at or near the bottom in total defense every year since the team joined the Pac-12 in 2011 now comes under the responsibility of newly hired defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt.
Through the first five spring practices, Leavitt's defense is trying to adjust on the fly to his schemes, but head coach Mike MacIntyre expects a long learning process before any assessment can be made of just how much better the unit can be in 2015.
"They're learning. It's a matter of terminology and just learning the new system," MacIntyre said Monday at the conclusion of practice No. 5. "We weren't ready to run red-zone defense on Saturday, but it's something we're working on for the next scrimmage to simulate real game situations."
Although nothing could become very clear until late August, a closed scrimmage on Wednesday is expected to serve as an early litmus test as the defense will get a chance to show how much of Leavitt's scheme it has absorbed.
"Wednesday should be pretty interesting," said MacIntyre. "We haven't gotten a chance to really see them in full-on action yet and as a staff we're looking forward to that."
One of the players expected to help that defense make the big leap will be starting middle linebacker Addison Gillam, the team's leading tackler as a freshman in 2013. After a record-setting first season on campus, Gillam's sophomore season was plagued by myriad injuries that frequently derailed the tackling machine last fall.
The same concussion and elbow issues that disrupted most of his 2014 campaign are now reason for caution during the spring as the coaching staff looks to limit the amount of hitting their defensive captain will do until August camp opens. As a result, Gillam hasn't taken part in any of the tackling and physical play during the team's first two practices in pads of the spring.
"He got dinged up a lot last year and I just didn't want to get him hurt on the first few days of hitting," said MacIntyre. "I'm sure he will hit at some point but I'm not sure when."
Returning stalwarts like Gillam will definitely play big roles in turning the unit around this fall but some of that burden will also fall to a number of the new faces expected to see significant and immediate playing time. Chief among those newcomers may be junior college transfer Afolabi Laguda, who made a name for himself at Butler Community College (Kansas). In the absence of graduating senior and top cornerback Greg Henderson, Laguda is expected to be one of the top candidates to start opposite senior Kenneth Crawley.
"He's good," MacIntyre said of Laguda. "He's been as good as advertised so far. He really looks like he can be a strong player and we're very excited."