Buffs Position Preview: Young DBs Must Step Up Quickly To Meet Challenge
BOULDER — When it comes to the safety and cornerback spots on the Colorado defense, depth is no problem for the Buffaloes.
They have plenty of bodies angling for playing time.
That's a different story. The Buffs simply don't have a lot of DBs with a wealth of starting experience. Of the veterans on the roster, only strong safety Isaiah Lewis is considered a returning starter (15 career starts, 10 last season).
That means the Buffs will be replacing regulars at both cornerback spots and free safety.
Still, there are plenty of players who have seen game time, and CU coaches have been making sure they get as many reps as possible in fall training camp. The plan is to make sure that by the Sept. 2 opener against TCU at Folsom Field (8 p.m., ESPN), the Buffs have a reliable secondary ready to face the rigors of a difficult schedule.
"I think we have probably the most depth in terms of numbers on the team," CU safeties coach Brett Maxie said last week. "They're all getting quality reps, which is good. Now it gives us a real good chance to evaluate multiple guys. I like our depth right now."
That depth no doubt starts with Lewis, who has been a dependable, productive safety for the last two seasons. Lewis has also assumed a leadership role in the secondary, providing a consistent, veteran voice for the younger players.
As for the others competing for the second safety spot — and as a backup behind Lewis — the field is crowded. Veteran Trevor Woods came on strong at the end of last year, Anthony Lyle has had a solid fall camp and is showing some versatility, and junior Jaylen Striker can play free safety and the nickel spot.
Others in competition for some playing time at safety include sophomore Tyrin Taylor (who also plays nickel), junior college transfer Jeremy Mack, converted QB Jordan Woolverton and true freshman Dylan Dixson, who has had some impressive moments in training camp.
"I'm really impressed with what Dylan Dixson is able to do right now," Maxie said. "He's going to always be around the football and he's going to have some some opportunities because wherever the football goes, that's where he goes."
At the corners, sophomores Nikko Reed and Kaylin Moore are leaning into the starting spots. Both got some steady time last year (Reed played 199 snaps with one start and had a key interception in Colorado's win over Washington while Moore was on the field for 134 defensive snaps) and both received extensive reps in spring ball. They have continued to get quality time in training camp and have performed well, and Reed could be a young star in the making.
Others aiming for some time include true freshmen Joshua Wiggins and Jason Oliver, both of whom made the most of enrolling early and getting spring ball under their belts; and sophomore Toren Pittman.
One area in which the entire secondary must improve this year is takeaways. Colorado finished with just nine interceptions last season, a number that needs to increase significantly in order to provide those potential game-changing moments.
POSITION COACHES — Brett Maxie is the safeties coach and defensive passing game coordinator. An original member of Karl Dorrell's staff at CU, he brings a wealth of experience to the position and has earned a reputation for quickly developing players and getting the most out of their abilities.
Cornerbacks coach Rod Chance is in his first year in Boulder, joining the Buffs last winter after two seasons in a similar position in Oregon. He has developed NFL-caliber corners in his previous stops, and will be a critical element in helping CU's young players adapt quickly and be ready for their starting assignments this fall.
KEY RETURNEES — Tops on the list is safety Isaiah Lewis, a two-year starter who brings savvy experience and a keen understanding of CU's defensive concepts to the field. Others with significant game experience include safeties Trevor Wood and Jaylen Stryker and corners Nikko Reed and Kaylin Moore.
KEY NEWCOMERS — JC transfer Jeremy Mack and true freshmen Dylan Dixson are showing flashes in training camp at safety. At corner, true freshmen Jason Oliver and Joshua Wiggins are inserting themselves into the equation.
IF ALL GOES WELL … Colorado's young players will step up quickly. The Buffs have talent at every spot, but the question will be how those young players react in pressure situations. Defensive back is one of the most unforgiving positions on the field, but if Colorado's youngsters respond to the challenge, CU's secondary will increase its interception total and overall be a pleasant surprise.
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