CU Buffs position overview: Defensive backs
As true freshmen last fall, Tarik Luckett, Mark Perry and KJ Trujillo went into Colorado’s football season preparing to redshirt.
Luckett, in fact, was expected to not only redshirt, but to spend his days at practice running routes as a receiver.
All three wound up becoming important pieces to the Buffaloes’ secondary.
The spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 has created stay-at-home orders around the country and uncertainty about the 2020 football season, but CU continues to prepare and BuffZone is previewing each position group for the Buffs. In this installment, we look at the defensive backs.
Season-ending injuries to cornerbacks Mekhi Blackmon and Chris Miller and the mid-season departure of safety Aaron Maddox forced the true freshmen into action last season. They went through growing pains, but also had plenty of good moments.
“I think that will benefit us a lot, just being able to get early experience and we’ve still got plenty of time here at Colorado,” Trujillo said after last season. “So through our next few years, we’ll definitely be prepared.”
Trujillo started seven games at corner last season, while Luckett made two starts late in the year. Perry played as a reserve in the nickel/Star role and made his impact felt during the second half of the season.
When the Buffs return to the field, they’ll have not only the experienced youngsters, who are now sophomores, but the return of their veterans, as Blackmon and Miller should be healthy.
“With Chris and Mekhi coming back, I think we’re going to have a good secondary,” Trujillo said. “They help us out a lot. So we’re going to have a strong, solid secondary, I believe.”
How the secondary puzzle comes together is a mystery, however.
At cornerback, the Buffs have Blackmon and Miller as experienced veterans, as well as Trujillo as a returning starter. Trujillo, who didn’t play the first three games last season, is now the Buffs’ most experienced corner and he got better as the season went along.
Miller has shown great potential during his three years at CU, but injuries have limited him to four starts and only 308 snaps played in his career. If healthy, he could be the Buffs’ best corner.
Blackmon, a junior college transfer in 2018, has started five games over the last two years and has played well as a nickel corner.
Luckett and Dylan Thomas, who both came to CU as receivers, moved to corner last year and should compete for playing time.
Nigel Bethel will also join the mix. After transferring from Miami last year, he was able to practice, but not play. Now, he’s eligible and gives the Buffs another quality option at corner.
DJ Oats, who redshirted last year, will hope to compete, as well, and true freshman Christian Gonzalez was a four-star recruit who could start out at corner.
At safety, the Buffs return starter Derrion Rakestraw. The lone senior in the secondary group, Rakestraw has been a receiver and corner at CU, but has settled in at safety and seized the starting role last year and racked up 38 tackles and three interceptions.
Aside from Rakestraw, however, Perry (196 snaps last season) and junior Isaiah Lewis (29 career snaps) are the only safeties with experience at CU.
Perry is sure to be on the field if healthy. He figures to be a front-runner for the Star role (a safety/linebacker hybrid), but he can play safety, as well.
Lewis has experience in the program and that will help his quest for a starting job, but he’ll have competition. Junior college transfer Jaylen Striker was listed as a cornerback when he signed, but at 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, he could find himself playing safety. The 6-foot-3 Luckett and 6-foot-2 Thomas could wind up at safety, too, as could Gonzalez.
True freshman Toren Pittman is projected as a safety and, while he could need some time to develop, last year proved that he might need to be ready for action.
As the Buffs look ahead to next season, they have more overall depth in the secondary than a year ago and several talented players fighting for spots on the depth chart. Fiuring out the best combination of players will be one of defensive coordinator Tyson Summers’ main tasks.
Here’s an initial look at the projected defensive backs for the 2020 season:
Position: Defensive backs
Seniors (2019 statistics): Derrion Rakestraw, 6-foot-2, 200 pounds (9 starts; 601 snaps played, 38 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 3 interceptions, 5 pass breakups).
Juniors: Mekhi Blackmon, 6-0, 165 (2 starts, 199 snaps, 9 tackles, 1 sack); Isaiah Lewis, 6-2, 200 (22 snaps, 4 tackles); Chris Miller, 6-0, 190 (2 starts, 168 snaps, 10 tackles, 1 interception); Curtis Appleton, 6-1, 180 (walk-on; 4 games played on special teams).
Sophomores: Nigel Bethel Jr., 6-0, 170 (sat out 2019 season after transfer); Tarik Luckett, 6-3, 190 (2 starts, 161 snaps, 8 tackles); Mark Perry, 6-0, 200 (1 start, 196 snaps, 12 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss, 3 pass breakups); Jaylen Striker, 6-3, 195 (junior college transfer); Dylan Thomas, 6-2, 185 (7 snaps, 1 tackle); KJ Trujillo, 6-0, 165 (7 starts, 438 snaps, 21 tackles, 6 pass breakups, 1 interception); Dustin Johnson, 6-1, 185 (walk-on; injured in 2019); Anthony Lyle, 6-1, 185 (walk-on); Ryan Travis, 6-0, 200 (walk-on).
Redshirt freshmen: DJ Oats, 5-10, 180.
True freshmen: Christian Gonzalez, 6-1, 195; Toren Pittman, 6-4, 190.
Players lost: Delrick Abrams Jr., 6-3, 185 (graduated; 11 starts, 722 snaps, 54 tackles, 7 pass breakups); Lucas Cooper, 5-10, 185 (graduated; 1 start, 52 snaps, 8 tackles); Uryan Hudson, 5-9, 160 (graduated; walk-on); Aaron Maddox, 6-1, 205 (transferred; 3 starts, 210 snaps, 23 tackles); Mikial Onu, 5-11, 205 (11 starts, 706 snaps, 67 tackles, 5 pass breakups, 4 interceptions); Trey Udoffia, 6-0, 200 (transferred; 7 games played on special teams).