When the Buffaloes kick off the 2014 season, they’ll be welcoming back mostly familiar faces on the defensive line. With only one departed starter from a year ago, the Colorado football team hopes to continue to build on their improvement from last season.
Chidera Uzo-Diribe is the only starting defensive lineman from last season that won’t return in 2014. Uzo-Diribe led the team in sacks with four in 2013 and played the most snaps of anyone on the defensive line. He also led the line in total tackles (46), tackles for a loss (7), and forced fumbles (5). His presence will be sorely missed on a Colorado team that desperately needs his playmaking ability and veteran leadership.
However, the Buffaloes will look to fill his vacancy with a group of returning players and a handful of up-and-coming recruits.
The starting defensive line will be comprised of three returning upper classmen and one sophomore redshirt. This bodes extremely well for a Colorado team that has had a negative turnover ratio three out of the last four years. Not only have the Buffaloes failed to force turnovers, but they have also allowed an average of at least 30 points per game each of the last four seasons.
Their improvement on defense starts with the pass rush. In the 4-3 defense that the Buffaloes will run, the projected starters for the upcoming season should be as follows:
Left Defensive End- Juda Parker (6-foot-2, 270-pounds) Senior
Parker, the only senior on the line, will hope to see extended action this season coming off the edge. As a sophomore in 2012, he worked his way into the starting rotation and never looked back. He played in all 12 games that season and developed himself into a capable pass rusher. He became a locked in starter at left end during the 2013 season, recording 28 tackles, a fumble recovery, and a sack. Defensive coordinator Kent Baer has also commented on Parker’s ability to step up as a leader on the defensive line in Uzo-Diribe’s absence. Look for Parker to keep evolving his game as the season progresses.
Defensive Tackle- Josh Tupou (6-foot-3, 315-pounds) Junior
Tupou is the man of steel on the defensive line. As a freshman in 2012, he started seven games before injuring his ankle with a severe ankle sprain. This didn’t stop Tupou, as he played as long as he possible into the year, even reinjuring the ankle, before coaches finally decided to pull the plug on his season. In 2013, he played the second most snaps on the line (598), finishing only behind Uzo-Diribe. He recorded half of a sack, as well as 38 tackles last season. He has played exceptional football this spring and has all but solidified his spot at defensive tackle on opening night.
Defensive Tackle- Justin Solis (6-foot-1, 300-pounds) Junior
Solis will shore up the tackle spot as he returns for his junior season in 2014. Last season, he played all 12 games for the Buffaloes. He recorded 39 tackles, one sack, and five third down stops against opposing offenses. He is one of the more “unknowns” on the line, regardless of the fact that he played in every game just a season ago. Look for Solis to get extended playing time in the defensive line rotation this year. If he can improve his play, he may become an every game starter at tackle.
Right Defensive End- Derek McCartney (6-foot-4, 240-pounds) Freshman (RS)
McCartney has certainly caught the eye of head coach Mike MacIntyre during spring ball. The redshirt freshman will be looked upon to fill the rather large shoes of Chidera Uzo-Diribe at right end. During the spring, McCartney has improved his speed and strength, two qualities that he’s sure to need coming off the edge. It seems as though the former greyshirt and redshirt player has used the extra time to his advantage and is ready to jump into the starting role.
Depending on how the season unfolds, the defensive line could see a few changes. Both tackle positions could see some reshuffling, as Tyler Henington (6-foot-2, 265-pounds) and Samson Kafovalu (6-foot-5, 245-pounds) have proven themselves to be valuable defensive assets in past seasons, as well as this spring.
In terms of recruiting, the Buffaloes have been rather productive this past offseason. The defensive line will welcome incoming California recruit Michael Mathewes. He is considered to be one of the newcomers who should make the biggest impact in 2014. His tremendous size (6-foot-5, 250-pounds) and quickness will make him a handful for opposing tackles. He led his high school team with 12 sacks his senior year and should continue to make an enormous impact in Boulder.