LOS ANGELES – Before the University of Colorado launched the 2013 football season, Mike MacIntyre issued an off-season mandate to his top defensive linemen to collectively shed 100 pounds.
That goal was reached, but last winter found MacIntyre chasing another one. The quest for leaner, faster bodies along CU’s defensive interior simply turned to a hunt for more bodies.
And that turned MacIntyre and the Buffaloes’ defensive staff toward Juda Parker, who was approached about shifting from end to tackle. Weight-wise, the position shift sent Parker, a senior from Honolulu, in the opposite direction from what CU’s other defensive tackles had encountered in the previous off-season.
The 6-2 Parker, who played defensive end/outside linebacker in his previous three seasons for the Buffs, was charged with putting on weight – not taking it off. He complied, going from 250 to the 270 range for spring practice and taking a significant step toward providing the quickness, the improved inside pass rush and the overall depth that MacIntyre has been seeking on the D-line.
“Our thought with Juda was he played well at defensive end (but) his abilities would translate better inside,” MacIntyre said on Thursday before he, Parker and receiver Nelson Spruce took their respective turns fielding questions at the Pac-12 Conference’s annual media gathering.
Explained Parker: “During winter workouts the coaches saw I was lifting hard, making strides. The coaches saw where my strengths are and said to help you and get you more active and make more plays, you’d be more effective as a defensive tackle.”
Parker didn’t balk.
“I’m the type of person where if coach tells me something to do I’ll do it; I’m very coachable,” he said. “As for the move, at first I was a little hesitant because I didn’t know what to expect. Whenever a change comes everyone is a little hesitant – that’s human nature. But I trusted in the coaches. In spring practice I felt a lot more comfortable being in that position. I feel that my quickness lends itself to defeating a lot of blocks . . . I like the move.”
MACINTYRE HOPES THE MOVE helps beef up the Buffs’ inside quarterback pressure. “We were looking for a pass rush push inside and that’s why I think he’ll be able to help us tremendously,” MacIntyre said. “In our league, the ball’s being thrown quick; he can get his hands up and I think he can pressure the quarterback. We’ll have a tackle when we run stunts and stuff (and) we’ll have a guy that can run down a quarterback too. That’s where I think he’ll be a big benefit for us.”
CU’s 2013 sack total reflects the increased inside QB pressure that MacIntyre wants in 2014. Of the Buffs’ 18 sacks last season, only 31/2 came from players who exclusively played in the interior. Samson Kafovalu made three sacks but split time between tackle and end. Graduated end Chidera Uzo-Diribe’s four sacks was CU’s season high, with inside linebacker Addison Gillam contributing three.
The shift inside suits Parker, who started nine games last season at end and recorded 28 tackles (18 solo), with one sack, two QB pressures and one tackle for a loss. Shoulder surgery made full spring participation spotty in 2013, but prior to the surgery he won the Iron Buffalo Award at his position for weight room conditioning work – a sign that underscored the defensive staff’s notion that Parker could hold his own inside against 300-plus pound guards and tackles.
Parker believed he confirmed that during drills this spring.
“It was my first time playing (inside) and I felt it wasn’t too difficult to play at that weight,” he said. “I felt I held up well.”
Of course, he would like to add more pounds, but he wants “to put on the right weight in the right way – lean muscle mass and getting stronger in the weight room,” he said.
MacIntyre prefers rangy defensive ends – those of the 6-3, 6-4, 6-5 variety – but has nothing against shorter models as long as they have strength and speed.
“I like to have them rangy – Jimmie Gilbert (6-4, 230) and Derek McCartney (6-3, 240) are two examples of that – but we’ve got a couple of guys in the 6-2 range and they have great pass rushing instincts and great power,” MacIntyre said, alluding mainly to ends Tyler Hennington and De’Jon Wilson, both 6-2, 245-pounders. “In our league there’s so many quick passes and so many things happen so fast, they also have to be able to run and tackle in space more than they used to.”
Quick enough at 250 pounds, Parker had the ability to do all that at his old position. But now he faces technical and fundamental changes at his new position. Such as: “You have to stay on your blocks a lot longer and be more patient because things are going to come to you when it’s a run, the cut backs and all that stuff. You’re not really running as much (as at end), but you’re being a lot more physical. You’re taking on two blocks every single time and getting hit every single play.”
Parker and his teammates officially report for preseason camp on Friday, Aug. 1, with the first practice scheduled the next morning. The Buffs have three weeks of camp preceding game week and the Aug. 29 opener in Denver against Colorado State.
It’s as big a game this season – maybe bigger – as it ever is and the significance isn’t lost on either Parker or Spruce, who called it “huge. We had a good season last year but I think if we’re going to build on what we did we need a good game against CSU. It’s our rival and we want to put it on them and get going for what we hope is a big year for us.”
Added Parker: “The first game sets the tone for the rest of the season. Somebody told me teams that lose their first games have a 70 percent chance of having a losing record. So it’s very important to set that tempo in the first game. Our first game is our in-state rival; people have to know that’s always a competitive game and we always want to get up for it. We should be ready.”
CU WON LAST SEASON’S opener against CSU 41-27 en route to a 4-8 finish (1-8 Pac-12). The game marked MacIntyre’s debut. Parker believes there have been changes – some subtle, some not – in CU’s program since last September. He said the team’s levels of comfort and compatibility with MacIntyre and his staff have increased “because we have more of a sense of accountability to each other as far as knowing what to do, being in the right spot and being in the best shape of your life. Guys have more accountability because we know we’ve put in the work and worked harder than we’ve done the past couple of seasons.
“Guys want to win and guys want to win now. That’s the reason you’re here, why you play college football and why you’re a student-athlete. The urgency as a senior – I’ve got five months remaining and the other seniors have the same urgency. We’re communicating that throughout what we do every single day. It’s the common mantra that lends itself to wanting to win in a really bad way. All the guys at Colorado get that message.”
Another message coming through on every frequency is the “sense of family” that Parker says has permeated the program as the season approaches. There has been a cultural change, he said, that is apparent from athletic director Rick George, to MacIntyre and his assistants, to the players.
“Coming together as a family is the way the Buffaloes know how to do it,” Parker said. “That lends itself to winning more games. I noticed that the first year in our slowly coming together. Getting four wins was a step in the right direction. Now that we’re closer and working harder, I think we’re going to hit that benchmark of six wins and do everything we set out to do.”
None of the Buffs are gazing past the CSU game, but Parker has the Senior Day contest against Utah on Nov. 29 earmarked as special. His parents will make their first trip from Hawaii to Colorado and see him play collegiately for the first time.
“When I get some free time to hang out with them, I will,” Parker said. “But I have to keep in mind that the game’s the most important thing. Getting that win would be really special.”
By then, Juda Parker plans on knowing his new position inside-out. Or vice versa.