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Buffs Make Pass Rush, Takeaways Top Priority

Apr 6, 2022

BOULDER — Colorado coach Karl Dorrell saw his defense produce a pair of interceptions in Wednesday's practice, something he considered a solid step forward.

Producing takeaways has been a focus for the defense this spring, along with creating more pressure on the quarterback — and for good reason.

When the Buffs were proficient in those areas last season, they were a competitive football team. 

In 2021, Colorado's defense produced just 13 takeaways — nine interceptions and four fumble recoveries. That's the fewest in a full season since the 2014 Buffs had just 11 takeaways.

Still, when the Buffaloes won the turnover battle last year, they were a respectable 4-2 — meaning they did not win a game when they didn't force more turnovers than they committed. 

It was a similar story when it came to the pass rush. The Buffs finished with just 15 quarterback sacks for the season — the lowest total by any CU team in a full season since the 1980 Buffs had only 11.

But again, when the Buffs did get to the quarterback with anything resembling regularity, they usually produced a successful outcome. Last season, when Colorado recorded at least two sacks in a game, the Buffs were 3-1. In games when they had one or no sacks, they were 1-7.

"Defensively, our pass rush is really improving from where it was a year ago," Dorrell said after Wednesday's workout, CU's second in full pads this spring. "We have a few guys that are part of that. Justin Jackson has been a guy that has been flashing since we started spring practice, really getting in the backfield and creating a lot of pressure on the quarterback."

Also showing a knack for coming off the edge have been Devin Grant, Terrance Lang, Jamar Montgomery, Alvin Williams and Guy Thomas.

"One thing we didn't do on defense (last season) that is a point of emphasis is creating more turnovers," Dorrell said. "We didn't have a lot last year. We didn't give up a lot (the Buffs gave the ball away just seven times), but that's something we want our defense to be better at, is generating more turnovers and getting more pressure on the quarterback. Those are two high priorities for us this spring and I think we're making good progress there."

The Buffs will conduct their first scrimmage of the spring Saturday at Folsom Field. The workout, set to begin at 11:15 a.m., is open to the public.

Dorrell has some simple goals for his team.

"I want to see the quarterback under pressure," he said. "I want to see those guys in the backfield creating some havoc. I'd like to see some plays on the football in the back end with creating some turnovers and making some plays. I would like to see those two things really start to show up for us. Those are glaring things that didn't show up a year ago."

BACKUP QB RACE: Backup quarterback Drew Carter and newcomer Maddox Kopp (a transfer from Houston) are both getting their share of reps this spring. Incumbent starter Brendon Lewis is clearly in the driver's seat, with his main competition, J.T. Shrout, limited to non-contact work as he continues to come back from a knee injury.

The competition between Carter and Kopp is spirited, Dorrell said. Coaches have also added a little pressure to the competition — make a glaring mistake, and you're out.

"That's a humbling experience when you know it's your reps but you just gave them up," Dorrell said.

SCHEDULE: The Buffs won't be on the field Thursday. They will practice again Friday, then hit Folsom Field on Saturday for their first scrimmage of camp. The workout is open to the public and admission is free.