Nowhere has Colorado's lack of spring depth been more apparent than in the defensive line, which means that nowhere on the roster will there be a more massive infusion of youth when August camp opens.
The Buffaloes signed a school-record nine defensive linemen (one, Derek McCartney, is scheduled to be a January 2013 enrollee) to finalize their 2012 recruiting cycle. Of the eight who arrive this summer, four are ends, which will nearly double the number of players defensive ends coach Kanavis McGhee basically has been working with since spring drills opened in mid-March.
McGhee's spring roster has consisted of six players - junior Chidera Uzo-Diribe, sophomore Juda Parker and four walk-ons. (Sophomore Cordary Allen, a defensive end who switched from offense, has been out with a shoulder injury.) The four walk-ons, McGhee says earnestly, "give what they can and you can most definitely see the progress from day one to where we are now, which lets me know they've got the temperament we're looking for. But it ain't easy."
And it has been equally difficult for Mike Tuiasosopo, who coaches the defensive tackles. His daily spring body count has held steady at four, so the incoming four interior players will double "Tui's" total. Senior Will Pericak has seen his spring participation limited for reasons of fall preservation, while junior Nate Bonsu was held out because of off-season shoulder surgery.
Add the outside-inside numbers at McGhee's and Tuiasosopo's positions, factor in the lack of returning experience at both, and you can safely assume that preseason camp competition along CU's D-line will run miles beyond interesting.
In short, the Buffs need their incoming D-linemen to be their "Elite Eight," and Tuiasosopo promises all have been briefed on the possibilities that await them: "They've been told early if you want to play, then come and get you some. So, we'll see."
The only two proven returning players on the defensive front are Pericak and Uzo-Diribe. Tuiasosopo calls Pericak "a guy we can win with," while defensive coordinator Greg Brown said earlier this spring that Uzo-Diribe consistently had proven to be the one player who was the most difficult to block.
But beyond that pair, the experience level drops sharply and alarmingly. Parker played end as a true freshman, so he has at least that much game experience. There's still room for vast improvement, but Parker has had a productive spring, said McGhee: "It's amazing how six months makes a difference . . . you can kind of see that he was someone who understands what his role is; believe it or not, those two (Uzo-Diribe, Parker) are the veterans (at end). It's hard to say that about somebody in the spring of his freshman year, but it's a reality. The other guys who will be playing at that position won't have his experience. What I really like about him is that he's embraced that role and understands that it's a 'right now' kind of approach to the spring. He's shown it."
Parker entered spring drills with a list of improvements to make. "One was having a better football IQ, just learning formations and being a student of the game from film study and being with the coaches," he said. "And having a lot of 'reps' helped me increase that IQ."
His goals for August camp are to build on that, continue to play faster and have his technical skills "become second nature to me and become really fluid in my play."
Although his 2011 experience was somewhat limited (109 plays in nine games), Parker says even that has given him "an insight into the speed of the game" and will help him help the incoming freshmen. "That's what the coaches want - helping those guys out and getting them up to speed. We (he and Uzo-Diribe) will be young veterans."
The veterans along Tuiasosopo's interior will be Pericak and . . . Pericak. Tuiasosopo was hoping for a spring breakthrough from some returning players, but with only Saturday's spring game (5 p.m., Folsom Field) remaining, the wait is over. Former offensive lineman Eric Richter will enter August camp battling to find playing time as his senior season approaches. Sophomore Kirk Poston's size (6-1, 255) makes him "physically not where we need him to be," Tuiasosopo said. And of Bonsu, he added, "He's a guy who has to step up. He's on scholarship and he's gonna need to step up."
So McGhee and Tuiasosopo will amply stock the welcome wagon and sweep off the red carpet for these eight incoming D-linemen: Tyler Hennington (6-3, 275, Mullen); Kory Rasmussen (6-4, 260, Ewa Beach, Hawaii); Kisima Jagne (6-5, 235, Phoenix); De'Jon Wilson (6-3, 250, Washington, D.C.); Josh Tupou (6-3, 305, Long Beach, Calif.); Johnny Stuart (6-4, 250, Westlake Village, Calif.); Justin Solis (6-3, 300, Thousand Oaks, Calif.); and Samson Kofovalu (6-3, 250, Riverside, Calif.).
Tuiasosopo, who coached three defensive ends who became NFL draftees at his previous stop (Arizona), said he's never been in a situation of having to count on so many incoming freshmen to play such prominent roles in a D-line. And, he added, "I'd be curious to find one BCS school that signed nine defensive linemen."
Still, that group, he said, "gives us so much hope. They were kids we were on early and we got just about everyone we were after . . . (but) it takes a special freshman to play and even more of a special freshman, in my mind, to play in the interior of the D-line.
"Think about it: when you were a freshman in high school going against a senior, you know what I'm saying? A kid has to have the temperament, the toughness, the skills . . . but I think it's all a part of the reason we got in on those kids. We could say if you want a job, come and get your job. There's going to be jobs here."
Added McGhee, who was Butkus Award winner Alfred Williams' opposite bookend on the Buffs' 1990 national championship team: "When we look at what we have coming back, there's not any depth there . . . when we were talking to those guys about what Colorado had to offer, a lot of them realized we were looking for guys who had the ability to come in and compete and give us something right away. We're hoping they're taking care of what they're supposed to take care of before they get here this summer so they'll have themselves physically in a position to compete for some playing time here. We're just thin all across the board . . . it's important for all of them to be ready to go.
"We just hope the maturity factor is there and they understand that they can't be like the normal freshmen because the team is depending on them. We hope the mental aspect is there and we can help them take care of the physical part - playing the game and getting them the speed and size they need."
SPRING DEPTH CHART: With only Saturday's spring game remaining, coaches have released what amounts to a post-spring depth chart - and in many positions it reflects how heavily the Buffs will rely on the incoming freshman class as well as the return of players who missed spring drills due to injury.
Nick Kasa's continued progress at tight end earned him the No. 1 spot there ahead of Kyle Slavin. The position will be reinforced in August by the addition of three freshmen.
Elsewhere on offense, Ryan Dannewitz is penciled in as a backup at right guard and right tackle, while a strong spring showing elevated D.D. Goodson into a backup role behind No. 1 tailback Tony Jones.
On defense, Brady Daigh is listed as the No. 1 Mike (inside) linebacker in the absence of Doug Rippy, who missed spring work while rehabilitating from knee surgery. Rippy is expected to be cleared to begin full conditioning work by early June.
The No. 1 cornerbacks are Greg Henderson (left) and Josh Moten (right), while Ray Polk (free) and Parker Orms were listed as the No. 1 safeties. Orms missed most of spring practice with a hamstring injury.
Both the kick and punt returning positions are on hold until August camp and the arrival of the 2012 freshman class. And with eight defensive linemen due to check in, change also is expected in that area.
SEE LINK ABOVE FOR COMPLETE DEPTH CHART