March 31, 2011

Spring Analysis: Colorado State defense

Defense was supposed to be the strength of last year's Colorado State squad, but in the end, the Rams came up short. In 2011, CSU brings back a mixture of experience along with a lot of speed and some coaching changes.

Below I break down how I feel each position has looked early on in spring football and highlight the players who have stood out.

Defensive line

The defensive line should be one of the Rams' biggest strengths in 2011, despite what some may think. Though it's composed of a lot of younger and less experienced players, this group has the talent to rack up a lot of sacks with athletic pass rushers such as C.J. James, Nordly Capi, Crockett Gillmore, Davis Burl and Broderick Sargent.

The real question with this group is who will stonewall the ground game up the middle?

So far I've really liked what I've seen from Nuku Latu at nose tackle and appears to be worthy to replace Guy Miller in that spot.

Also note that it has been pretty much a cut-and-dry 4-3 defense CSU has run so far with a few nickel looks. Not sure if that 3-4 we were promised is ever going to become a regular deal.

Linebackers

No Ricky Brewer, no problem - at least in terms of leadership. Mychal Sisson has really stepped up as a leader on the CSU defense, serving as a player/coach for many of the younger guys and is always on top of his teammates if they miss an assignment.

Sisson, Charles Favors and Mike Orakpo have looked good early on, but Favors may have to step up even more with the recent injury to Michael Kawulok likely to keep him out for quite some time. I also like what I've seen from James Skelton - watching former walk-ons like that step up has to get fans excited, because they usually want to prove themselves just that much more.

Cornerbacks

The group of corners CSU has for its 2011 season looks to be the best in recent memory, especially with Elijah-Blu Smith moving over from free safety. Though Smith is wearing a red jersey for precautionary reasons, he has looked solid so far, including some soft hands that are reminiscent of the way Blu played as a redshirt sophomore in 2009.

Smith and fellow senior Momo Thomas appear to be the anchors at the opposite corner spots, as they should be with plenty of starting experience under their belts. Thomas is coming back from an injury that kept him out most of the 2010 season, but brings plenty of speed to the table.

As far as the younger players go, Shaq Bell has looked extremely good so far, picked up right where he left off so far. Him and Dominique Vinson should be battling for the No. 3 cornerback / starting nickelback spot.

Also keep an eye on Najee James, who has put on some muscle, but he's taking most of his reps back with the safeties.

Safeties

I know it shouldn't be anything new that the safety position is the biggest question mark in the defensive backfield, as the Rams tend to go through lots of injured players in this spot, but in 2011, it's due to inexperience.

Ivory Herd seems to have locked down the strong safety spot from his performance as a starter last year and Larry Kerr seems to really like Austin Gray at the free position, and I see why. The redshirt freshman has great size at 6-foot-3, 209 pounds and is learning what it takes to be a starter at a rapid pace.

In 2011, I was a little disappointed in Ezra Thompson because I felt that he wasn't being aggressive enough and letting the play come to him. So far, I haven't seen too much change, but he's definitely a very skilled player who just needs to put it all together.



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