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DC Summers Excited About Development Of Young Buffs Defenders

Sep 16, 2020

BOULDER — As Colorado Buffaloes coach Karl Dorrell and his staff continue to put together their 2021 recruiting class — Dorrell's first in Boulder — it is also well worth remembering another very important point:

Dorrell has actually already completed his first recruiting job with the Buffs, and it was a crucial effort.

We're talking about the 2020 Buffs class, one that was signed before Dorrell was named as CU's head coach in late February, and one Dorrell had to make sure didn't defect after the coaching change.

That's nothing to be taken for granted. When a change is made so late in the process, new players opting to look elsewhere is not unexpected. But Dorrell and the small group of holdovers from the previous staff — defensive coordinator Tyson Summers, offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini, running backs coach Darian Hagan and outside linebackers coach Brian Michalowski — did an excellent job in keeping virtually the entire class intact.

It was a critical juncture. The 2020 class not only included a number of highly rated players, it filled some immediate needs on both sides of the ball. In the long run, it is a class that  could very well prove to be the program's foundation for years to come and the CU staff's ability to keep them in the program was pivotal.

Dorrell earned the newcomers' trust and kept them in black and gold.

"Coach Dorrell's recruiting job as soon as he got here was outstanding," Summers said recently. "He and the holdovers did a great job in keeping this group from jumping ship."

Summers no doubt had a personal stake in keeping the class intact. After rebuilding a defense in 2019 that improved significantly down the stretch, he will need a number of the new players to keep that momentum going.

Now, with the Pac-12 on hold as far as the schedule is concerned — current plans call for a spring season, although that could change — the Buffs' coaching staff is using every opportunity possible to get young players and newcomers up to speed and ready to play when the time for opening kickoff finally does arrive.

The Buffs are currently working under NCAA rules that allow 12 hours of football-related activity per week. That includes classroom time, strength and conditioning and several hours of on-field activity in helmets and light pads if desired.

 "It's been great — it really has," Summers said. "Just being able to take some of these guys that we have and get some work in. You can see they are excited to be out there."

Summers' defense, which finished with two of its best games of the year in the final month last season, does have some solid returning veteran starters. That includes seniors Mustafa Johnson (defensive line), Nate Landman and Akil Jones (inside linebacker), and Derrion Rakestraw (safety). Other returnees with significant experience include juniors Terrance Lang (defensive line) and Carson Wells (outside linebacker).

Also returning is sophomore defensive lineman Jalen Sami, who is seen as a seasoned "veteran" despite having just one year on the field.

"That's kind of where we are," Summers said with a chuckle. "There are times when we're talking about our 'older guys' and we're talking about someone like Jalen Sami."

What it means is that the Buffs have plenty of work to do this fall in getting newcomers and younger players up to speed in a hurry.

"We signed a really good signing class to complement all the freshmen we had last year — K.J. Trujillo, Tarik Luckett, Marvin Ham II, Jamar Montgomery," Summers said. "Then we had all those young D-linemen that wound up having to play as freshmen. They're young guys, but they're our veterans."

There may be no place that description fits better than CU's secondary.

Last year, the Buffs had to come up with some patchwork fixes at nearly every spot in the defensive backfield as injuries took a toll. It meant some true freshmen, such as Luckett and Trujillo, saw substantial time at corner, as well as true freshman Mark Perry getting critical snaps at the star position.

Now, with an influx of talented youngsters from the 2020 recruiting class, the secondary has plenty of potential but not a ton of experience.

"The guys in the secondary have really stood out," Summers said of the early workouts. "Right now we're trying to get those guys a jump start on the season and get them ready to play."

While it's too early to judge any of the position battles, it's not hard to tell where the competition will be fierce.

Along with Luckett and Trujillo at corner, CU coaches also like what they are seeing from true freshman Christian Gonzalez, a highly rated player who is showing a knack for adjusting quickly. The competition group also includes Mekhi Blackmon (a part-time starter last year before being sidelined by an injury), Nigel Bethel (a transfer from Miami) and true freshman Jaylen Striker.

"We're top-loaded at corner," Summers said. "There's not a lot of experience there, but we have some talented kids."

On the back end, Rakestraw — who started the last nine games at strong safety — is the only Buff with any real experience. CU coaches will also take a look at Perry at free safety, as well as sophomore Chris Miller. Perry has the range and speed to play safety while Miller has the "suddenness" and physicality required to play the star spot.

"Those two are going to be really good for us," Summers said.

Also getting a good look at safety will be true freshmen Toren Pittman and Will Anglen, two newcomers who bring some skill and talent to the table.

Up front, the Buffs do have plenty of experience, beginning with Johnson, Lang and Sami, who combined to make 31 starts last year. They also have a host of youngsters who were thrust into the lineup at different junctures in 2019, including Na'im Rodman (314 defensive snaps), Janaz Jordan (217), Austin Williams (190) and Lloyd Murray Jr.

"Those guys that played as freshmen — they're veterans now," Summers said.

The Buffs do have a returning starter at OLB in Wells. The other spot could be filled by junior Jamar Montgomery, who did get some snaps at the spot last year and is expected to take his game up a notch this year after a solid strength and conditioning offseason.

At inside linebacker, Landman will anchor one spot while Jones, Jonathan Van Diest, Ham and several others will vie for time.

Maybe the best news for the defense is that the Buffs won't be learning yet another new scheme. Continuity counts, and Colorado's defenders already have a good understanding of what's expected of them.

"I think there's a huge comfort level for the guys that are back," Summers said. "I think you see them moving faster, catching onto things faster, communicating better. The real challenge for us is not necessarily the scheme. What's important for us is playing together as a team and knowing what our responsibilities are. The last time we practiced was in November, now we're in September. It's been nine and a half, 10 months when we haven't done anything together."

One other interesting angle could be the lack of contact in practice. Under current guidelines, the Buffs aren't allowed to have 11-on-11 or 7-on-7 drills, and no contact is allowed.

That, of course, means no tackling — the most important fundamental of any defense. But Summers believes the Buffs can keep their skills sharp with good reps in practice.

"What you have to have on defense is guys really running to the ball, taking good angles and working with each other the way they need to," he said. "We can do those things right now. We can work on those leverage points and fundamentals."

Then, when the time comes to tackle someone, Summers believes his defense will be ready.

"When we get our opportunities to tackle, we should be ahead of where you normally might be when you go, 'OK, it's Day 3, here's shoulder pads, go tackle,'" he said. "We will have done so many extra days and extra reps, movement, body positions, leverage point drills, then they should be able to just go out and play fast."