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One of the reasons the Colorado Buffaloes enjoyed so much success last season was their electric defensive line.
The Buffs' front unit, which was anchored by recently graduated seniors Jordan Carrell, Jimmie Gilbert, Samson Kafovalu and Josh Tupou, was ranked third in the talent heavy PAC 12 and allowed a mere four yards per carry. By comparison, the Buffs ranked dead last in this category in 2014, allowing an astronomical 5.6 yards per carry.
Perhaps the most part impressive of last season’s performance from the defensive line was how they performed against top tier talent.
Heading into their showdown against the Stanford Cardinals, the Buffs were 5-2 and in the hunt for a playoff spot. Running back sensation and heisman trophy candidate, Christian McCaffrey was two weeks removed from a outstanding performance against UCLA and another monumental showing against USC the week before that.
Against the Buffs defense, McCaffrey was only able to churn out 92 yards on 21 carries, and for the most part, was unable to break away from that outstanding defensive line, as they penetrated the gaps and threw him around like a rag doll. After the game, which the Buffs won in a 10-5 defensive battle, it just felt like they were back.
With all four starters from last year graduated, defensive line coach Jim Jeffcoat has a tall task ahead of him if he wants to replicate last year's performance, especially considering the backend of the defense lost three talented starters as well. Jeffcoat will rely on two transfers in senior Leo Jackson and junior Javier Edwards as well as seniors Timothy Coleman and Derek McCartney to fill the shoes of his departed players.
There are some major question marks surrounding this unit going into this season, especially concerning their experience.
Coleman has two starts in his college career. Jackson, while extremely impressive as a workhorse rotational player, spent his first season at Foothill Community College and only had one start last year. Edwards is fresh out of Blinn Junior College, and McCartney missed most of last season with a torn ACL - an injury many players struggle to recover from.
In addition, this unit has not had the benefit of building chemistry the past few years, something the past group was able to do very well. It’s not the if that’s being into question this season, as this unit definitely has the talent to duplicate last year’s performance, it’s their ability to actually go out there and do it that people are wondering about.
Although there are question marks surrounding all four starters, each has something slightly different and unique to bring to the table.
Jackson is a Mike Daniels-type hybrid in the sense that he can play on the edge as a defensive end or battle it out in the trenches at tackle. In a day in age where the defensive end/outside linebacker position is more valued than ever, many people tend to overlook the fact that you need the big bodied tackles in the middle to stop the run on first and second down, so the big time guys like Von Miller can dial up the pressure on third down - this is why Jackson’s durability is so valuable.
Edwards provides that big bodied, gritty, presence up front that Tupou provided the past few seasons. He also has the ability, strength, and quickness to penetrate either the A or B gap and do the necessary dirty work to stop the run. McCartney, who has proven to be a solid player in the past, has a quick first step, and the Sean Lee like ability to be both an explosive force either on the edge or in the middle, as well as cover the tight end.
Coleman has made leaps and bounds in his development since rupturing his achilles during his redshirt season, and has the ability to be a athletic, strong force off the edge.
If the Buffs are to improve on or even replicate last season’s overall team performance, they will need to get a similar level of production from this front unit, which has large shoes to fill in a short amount of time. Needless to say, the Buffs are facing steep competition on the offensive side of the ball in their conference, meaning they’ll need their defensive line to perform up to par if they want any shot of taking down their rivals, or competing this year.