Unlike its counterparts on the offensive side of the ball, the Colorado State defense isn’t so much replacing a single star player as much as a group of talented, seasoned veterans.
Eight of the Rams’ starters from a year ago, including the entire defensive front four, ran out of eligibility after the 2015 season. Along with the defensive-line departures, CSU will be without a starting linebacker and three of its four defensive backs from a year ago, all gone to graduation.
What that means is CSU will have a lot of holes to fill during spring practice with heavy competition at nearly every defensive position. Here’s how those battles look to break down:
Along with the defensive secondary, this is the position group hit hardest by graduation, with SteveO Michel, Joe Kawulok, Martavius Foster and Justin Hansen all gone. CSU will have to replace all four of them, while implementing a 3-4 defensive scheme under new defensive coordinator Marty English.
As the Rams continue with spring ball, look for the likes of Darnell Thompson, Richard King, Johnny Schupp, Colton Foster, Josh Lovingood and Jakob Buys to fill out most of the team’s two-deep depth chart. This group isn’t particularly experienced, and for the time being isn’t particularly deep, but with the switch to the 3-4, CSU likely won’t be running in and out as many players as it was last year. Of that group, none have shown off their pass rushing ability yet, though if King can continue to add weight to his big frame, he may have a chance to work himself in as one of the Rams’ better pass rushers.
Besides the stable of running backs the Rams have, this may be CSU’s deepest position on the team, and on the defense by quite a large margin. Returning from a year ago are starters Kiel Robinson, Kevin Davis and Deonte Clyburn, along with key reserves Tre Thomas and Josh Watson.
Big-bodied Evan Colorito should challenge for a spot, and pass rusher Bryan Ohene-Gyeni could make an impact on third-down situations. As players w
ho have played under English before, the return to a 3-4 scheme is a welcome one for Robinson, Clyburn and Davis. While Robinson started nearly half of the team’s games a year ago, he’ll have to battle with Watson and Thomas for one of the outside backer spots in a position battle that may be the most intense of the spring. Unlike a year ago, when CSU didn’t exactly know what it had in terms of depth at this spot, this should be CSU’s most talented and experienced group, something Mike Bobo and Co. will need with a young front four and an even younger secondary.
It simply won’t seem right not seeing Kevin Pierre-Louis, DeAndre Elliott and Trent Matthews in the CSU secondary, but that’s exactly what the Rams will have to deal with after having three of the most experienced players in school history graduate. Along with them went reserve safety Nick Januska, leaving a lot of questions to be answered this spring and fall.
CSU does have Preston Hodges and Tyree Simmons, two players with starting experience, returning this year, and special teams standout Jake Schlager will have a chance to compete for the starting safety spot, but after that, it’s relatively unknown who will compete in the secondary. Junior college transfers A’Keitheon Whitner and Houston Haynes will provide depth along with wide receiver Jordon Vaden, who has switched sides of the ball temporarily. Reserves Justin Sweet and Kevin Nutt Jr. will also be in the mix, but outside of Hodges, Simmons and Schlager, CSU’s staff is uncertain on exactly what kind of talent and depth it will have in the secondary.
Collegian Senior Sports Reporter Keegan Pope can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @ByKeeganPope.