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Buffs Defense Finishes With Strong Spring Showcase

Apr 23, 2022

BOULDER — Colorado's defense capped the Buffaloes' spring practice session with a strong showing Saturday in CU's annual Spring Showcase at Folsom Field.

The offense did produce some big moments, including a 20-yard touchdown run from Deion Smith in red zone drills and 55 yards rushing from walkon Charlie Offerdahl. Quarterback Brendon Lewis finished with 81 yards passing and a touchdown and wide receiver R.J. Sneed had four catches for 29 yards. Also having a good day in the passing game was walkon wideout Jack Hestera, who had three catches for 50 yards, including the longest play of the day, a 34-yard reception off a trick play throw from fellow WR Montana Lemonious-Craig.

But overall, the Buffs defense — particularly the No. 1 unit — emerged with the edge. The No. 1s kept their offensive counterparts out of the end zone until late in the scrimmage, when the No. 1 group finally tallied a pair of scores in red zone drills.

"I'm encouraged with where our defense is," head coach Karl Dorrell said. "We have good depth and good experience, some young talent that's really going to help us play at a high level and sustain a high level throughout games." 

Indeed, while the Buffs must replace a number of quality starters from a year ago, the defense appears ready to be a better overall unit next fall. Players producing consistent contributions on Saturday included safeties Anthony Lyle and Trevor Woods; edge rushers Alvin Williams, Guy Thomas and Jamar Montgomery; linebackers Robert Barnes, Quinn Perry and Mister Williams; and corners Kaylin Moore, Joshua Wiggins and Nikko Reed.

Woods had three tackles, including one for loss Saturday, and has clearly made the step from a key reserve last year to a starting spot for 2022.

"He looks confident," Dorrell said. "He's making plays, making good decisions. There's no question he's about what we need him to be right now."

Saturday's only interception came by safety Jordan Woolverton, a converted quarterback who came up with a big pick in the end zone in red zone drills.

This is the Buffs' second year in coordinator Chris Wilson's scheme. While CU did make some tweaks to the system this year, the overall approach is the same, and Colorado defenders are playing a little faster and with more confidence as they become more and more comfortable and familiar with the system.

"I think it's also the addition of having more depth up front," Dorrell said.

No doubt, Colorado has improved overall on the edges — a point of priority this spring. The Buffs had the fewest quarterback sacks in the Pac-12 last season, but a host of players had standout spring sessions at the position and should help CU move up the ladder in that category next fall. 

"Devin Grant, Chance Main, Alvin Williams, Jamar Montgomery, Guy Thomas — that's more names than we had a year ago and a lot of guys pretty close in talent," Dorrell said. "I feel good about them."

While the Buffs technically did not have a sack (quarterbacks were off limits for contact), they did produce seven quarterback "hurries" from Grant (two), Barnes, Marvin Ham II, Na'im Rodman, Alvin Williams and Mister Williams.

Offensively, the Buffs were hampered by a shortage of offensive linemen. With transfer Tommy Brown sitting the scrimmage out, it left the Buffs with basically eight linemen to take all of Saturday's snaps.

But the offense did come up with some solid moments. Smith's 20-yard burst for a score over the left side came via a big hole created by Jake Wiley, Austin Johnson and Noah Fenske, while Lewis was an efficient 12-for-18 for 81 yards and a touchdown.

"I thought he managed the offense pretty good," Dorrell said. "He had a  couple plays early where I thought he could have run and he tried to force a couple throws, but he's doing a pretty good job. He's seeing the field better."

Lewis did miss one pass to a wide open Jayle Stacks over the middle that would have almost certainly produced a big gain, but overall, Dorrell said, "His body of work from where he was to where he is now is completely different."

The longest play of the day was a pass play, but it involved two wide receivers. Lemonious-Craig took a handoff from Lewis, rolled to his left and tossed a 34-yard completion to Hestera.

"Jack Hestera, here's a guy that's had a great spring," Dorrell said. "It goes back to those younger guys who are getting all those reps. He's come down with a bunch of plays, his confidence level is tremendous. He's a great example of how he's going to be a factor for us this fall because of his confidence and how much he's grown."

SCRIMMAGE NOTES: Walkon safety Ben Finneseth — a converted wide receiver — led all defenders with six tackles … The defense finished with six tackles for loss … Defensive lineman Na'im Rodman had two tackles for loss … Placekicker Cole Becker was perfect on two field goal attempts (37 and 40 yards) and two PATs … WR Michael Harrison had three catches, including a touchdown catch from Brendon Lewis … Offerdahl had two touchdown runs.