With the 2017 season rapidly approaching, the Colorado Buffaloes football team is hard at work trying to come up with a formula for recreating last year’s unexpected run of success.
Promising sophomore quarterback Steven Montez takes over an offensive unit that looks to continue to improve from 2016. It certainly has the means to do so, thanks to stout blockers up front, endless talent at wide receiver and a stellar running back in senior Phillip Lindsay. The Buffs’ offense aims to win games the good old fashioned, Pac-12 way this year: by lighting up the scoreboard like a Christmas tree.
The defense on the other hand, is expected by many to play less of a pivotal role in the 2017 season. After being the identity (and often the savior) for the Buffs in 2016, the Colorado defense lost eight starters. Most of those players are now on NFL rosters. It also lost a leader in celebrated defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt. The coach departed for conference rival Oregon after the Pac-12 championship.
It seems reasonable then, to assume there could be a drop in performance on the defensive side of the ball. But if you ask some of the upperclassmen leaders on defense, you might hear a different story.
“We definitely have a chip on our shoulders,” said Rick Gamboa, junior linebacker. “We have a lot of guys who’ve played a lot of football here and I think we’re gonna shock people with what we do this season.”
Returning players like Gamboa and junior defensive back Isaiah Oliver admit the offense may be the new face of the team. Despite that, they feel like the defense still has the potential to perform at a very high level.
“It’s something to prove, just like we’ve been doing at this school for a while now,” Oliver said. “We’ve been trying to prove who we are and we were finally able to do that last year as a team. So it’s basically the same thing, just a little part of it, the defensive part. We’re gonna set out to prove that we’re just as good as we were.”
There’s no doubt that taking on the high-power offenses of the Pac-12 will be a challenge for the CU defenders. However, practicing against such a good offense is helping to prepare them for teams like Washington and USC. In particular, Oliver spoke highly of the “Blackout Boyz” receiving corps.
“We believe that we have the best receiving corps in the Pac-12, period,” he said. “So coming to practice everyday and getting to go up against them automatically makes what we’re gonna see on Saturdays easier.”
To truly compete though, they’ll have to adjust to new defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot. Eliot takes over for Leavitt after spending four years as defensive coordinator at Kentucky.
Despite the change in leadership, the players have confidence in Eliot. The only big difference has stemmed from Eliot’s style in play calling. Aside from that, the players feel Eliot is essentially picking up where Leavitt left off.
“As a whole I’d say it’s definitely been a smooth transition,” Oliver said. “Coach Eliot really knows the defense well. He knows what he’s talking about so we’re able to follow behind him.”
Gamboa also knows that a key to success will be fulfilling his new role as an upperclassmen leader.
“It’s a little bit of a different feel, but I definitely take on a leadership role, not just in the linebackers but the defense in general,” Gamboa said. “I think I’ve been doing a pretty good job but I know I still have a lot of work to do with everyone on defense.”
Oliver mentioned the importance of his duty as a mentor as well.
“I thought I learned a lot from [former CU defensive backs Chidobe Awuzie, Ahkello Witherspoon and Tedric Thompson] on how to lead and how to play,” Oliver said. “Now those younger guys can look up to me as I looked up to them over the last two years. It’s been working really well so far.”
The Colorado defense will get its first chance to prove itself when the Buffaloes take on Colorado State in the annual Rocky Mountain Showdown. The game kicks off from Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Friday, Sept. 1, at 6:00 p.m. (MST)
Contact CU Independent Assistant Sports Editor Kyle Rini at email@example.com.