Last year, the University of Colorado football team saw vast improvements, and the Buffs appear primed for a break-out season in 2014 under second-year coach Mike MacIntyre. Athletic director Rick George has even predicted a bowl appearance. But to make that prediction come true and establish Colorado football as a force to be reckoned with, the Buffs have put emphasis into developing one particular area of the field: the defensive line.
The Buffs ranked last in rush defense and sacks, as well as second-to-last in pass defense efficiency, within the Pac-12 last season. The defensive line suffered a huge blow this offseason with senior Chidera Uzo-Diribe’s decision to leave for the NFL draft.
As a captain last season, Uzo-Diribe led the team in sacks and tackles, recording the most tackles of anyone on the defensive line with 46. Colorado now looks to younger players to fill the void.
Markeis Reed, a redshirt freshman last season, is one player hoping to take on a leadership role. Slated to be a defensive end this year, Reed is ready and prepared after taking last season off.
“I’m more confident in the playbook,” Reed said. “I’m trying to just get the playbook down and prove to [the coaches] that I can run to the ball and be aggressive. I’m just excited and ready for it to be my time.”
As a defensive end, Reed is one of the guys expected to fill the hole left by Uzo-Diribe.
“It’s some big shoes to fill,” Reed said. “He will most likely be in the pros next year, so I’m excited. I know it’s a big role to play in this defense.”
Despite the optimism of growth, relying on youth to re-build a solid defensive line can be a double-edged sword.
“[The young guys] are working hard and getting better,” Jeffcoat said. “They’re trying their best every play, and that’s all we can ask. Their inexperience will be a weakness, but their youth and enthusiasm is going to be a strength.”
The antidote to this inexperience is found in senior defensive lineman Juda Parker, who has played in every game since his sophomore season. Last year, he contributed 28 tackles and two sacks. Coach MacIntyre moved Parker from defensive end to defensive tackle due to a 275 lb. weigh-in after the offseason.
“I’m just helping the young guys learn the defense,” Parker said. “I try to keep everyone accountable and make them realize that they are going to be seniors soon.”
Reed recognized Parker’s assumption of a leadership role.
“Juda is going on his senior year, so he knows the game,” Reed said. “He helps any time I have a question. He leads by example.”
Other than veteran assistance, Jeffcoat helps his young defense by changing defensive schemes, keeping their opponents on their toes.
“We run multiple defenses,” Jeffcoat said. “We give you different looks; we never give you the same look. We want to keep you off balance. You might see us in 4-3; you might see us in 3-4; you might see us with only two defensive linemen.”
Parker has witnessed the effects of these practices firsthand on the defensive line.
“I feel like we’re improving,” Parker said. “Last year we lost a couple key guys, and we have had some questions at defensive end, but the young guys we have on the D-line are progressing. I have a lot of faith in our young guys. It’s spring football, and I like what I am seeing right now.”
The defensive line is also anchored by junior Josh Toupou, Parker’s complement at tackle. Toupou is a rock for the interior of the defense, recording 37 and 38 tackles in his first two seasons, respectively.
The goals of the defensive line are in tune, not only with each other but with their athletic director’s preseason prediction of a bowl appearance.
“[My goal is] to make a bowl game,” Parker said. “I just want to see the team succeed because when the team succeeds, I succeed. I am just excited.”
“I want to go to a bowl game,” Reed said. “I’m not trying to be home during Christmas break, I’m trying to be practicing. We want to turn the program around. I came here to win; I didn’t come here to lose.”
Overall, if the young guys on the defensive line step up, Rick George’s bold estimate of the Buffs’ Pac-12 prowess may prove to be not so bold after all.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Sean Kelly at Sean.firstname.lastname@example.org.