In part two of the Collegian’s spring football preview, we break down Colorado State’s position battles on the defensive side of the ball, where it returns eight starters, as well as a host of other players who logged significant time on the field last season. Outside of linebackers Aaron Davis and Max Morgan, who led the team in tackles last season, its next six top tacklers and eight of the top 12 are back. Here are the position battles to watch in the upcoming weeks and into the fall:
Three starters return from a group that produced 19 sacks last season in Joe Kawoluk, Justin Hansen and Terry Jackson. Reserves Johnny Schupp (13 games played), Josh Lovingood (12) and Martavius Foster are also back to anchor the middle of CSU’s front. Junior college transfer Darnell Thompson should also make his way into the rotation during the fall, providing defensive coordinator Tyson Summers the flexibility to mix and match fronts against opponents.
Likely CSU’s biggest losses on defense are the aforementioned Davis and Morgan. Each ranked in the top 10 in tackles in school history, and combined to make 23 percent of the team’s tackles over the past season. However, there is plenty of talent and experience behind them to fill the void. Kevin Davis, when healthy, is a tackling machine. Hybrid linebackers SteveO Michel and Cory James are two of the best pass-rushers in the league, and Deonte Clyburn, Kiel Robinson, Evan Colorito and Tre Thomas should provide much-needed depth inside. Also, look for junior college transfer Deshon Mayes to push for playing time when he arrives in the fall.
Though the loss of Bernard Blake as an on-field leader will hurt, CSU’s secondary will likely be one of the most experienced units in the country. Projected starters Trent Matthews, Kevin Pierre-Louis, DeAndre Elliott and Preston Hodges have combined for 93 starts in their careers, and bring a wealth of veteran leadership to an otherwise young defensive unit. Also expect to see a heated competition for second-team reps between Kevin Nutt Jr., Shun Johnson, Davon Riddick, Tyree Simmons, Justin Sweet and Demontrie Taylor. A group that led the country in touchdowns allowed two years ago should be one of the best in the Mountain West barring any major injuries.
Maybe the biggest question mark facing this team is who will replace “Kicker,” a.k.a. Jared Roberts. He cemented himself as one of the best kickers in school history over the past three years, and will leave big shoes to fill for Berto Garcia. The sophomore-to-be has earned the nickname “The Basalt Bomber,” but will surely receive competition from a handful of walk-ons. Returning will be punter Hayden Hunt and long snapper Trent Sieg, along with a talented return man in Deionte Gaines.
For the preview of CSU’s offense, click here.
Collegian Sports Editor Keegan Pope can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @ByKeeganPope.