Colorado football: Previewing the secondary

For Colorado football to continue their turnaround from a season ago, the secondary will have to be among the most improved on the defensive side of the ball. After only losing one starter from last year, the Buffaloes’ defensive backs are poised to grow from their mistakes and build on their success.

Last season, the 106th ranked Buffaloes defense struggled to stop opposing offenses. They were 98th in the country against opposing signal callers and barely better against the run. If this young team wants to continue to progress, they’ll have to drastically improve these numbers.

Projected Starting Lineup:

Cornerback-Greg Henderson (5-foot-11, 185 pounds, Senior)

Henderson, rated the 25th best corner in the country, is the most valuable member of the secondary. He started 12 of 13 games as a true freshman in 2011 and has developed into nothing short of a capable cornerback since then. Last season, he played 897 snaps, good for the most on the team. He added 14 third and fourth down stops, while also breaking up 10 passes along the way. The 32-game starter may well get a chance to play on Sundays if he can build upon his breakout season from a year ago.

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Henderson will be relied upon heavily this season as the #1 cornerback.

His constant improvement throughout his tenure in Boulder is something that has caught the eye of pro scouts. He’s a bulky defensive back with great football awareness. His speed and acceleration are essential parts of his game. Look for him to go up against the best receivers in the conference on a weekly basis.

The senior recorded an interception in each of the first four games and single handedly had two of the biggest plays on the defensive side of the ball last year. In the season opener against Colorado State, he returned a fumble 53 yards for a touchdown to cement the win against the in-state rival Rams. One week later, he returned an interception for a 46-yard pick-six in Central Arkansas. Look for Henderson and Jered Bell to spearhead the secondary in 2014.

Free Safety-Jered Bell (6-foot-1, 200-pounds, Senior)

Bell enters his senior year as a lock to start at free safety. Like Henderson, he had two of the biggest highlights of last season. Against Central Arkansas, he returned a 79-yard interception for a touchdown to put the game away. Later in the season against Southern California, he returned a fumble 31 yards for a touchdown.

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Jered Bell (#21) must step up his game at the free safety position this season.

In 2013, he saw significant action in all 12 games, finishing the season having played 752 snaps. He was second on the team with three interceptions and a fumble recovery. Bell impressed with 67 tackles, six pass break-ups, and two forced fumbles. He’ll have his work cut out for him this season, as he’ll be going head-to-head with some of the most potent passing attacks in the country.

Strong Safety-Terrel Smith (5-foot-9, 190-pounds, Senior) OR Tedric Thompson (6-foot-0, 200-pounds, Sophomore)

The position of strong safety is an interesting one for the Buffaloes. There are really only two options here. It’ll either be senior Terrel Smith or sophomore Tedric Thompson. It depends solely on whether or not Smith can rehab an injured shoulder in time for the start of the season. In 2012, he played in 12 games, seeing the field for 557 snaps and snagging two fumble recoveries. Smith, a team captain this season, should see action in the nickel back set, as well. Thompson will start if Smith can’t get healthy in time. He saw the field in only nine games last season, recording just 32 tackles and three pass break ups.

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Cornerback-Ahkello Witherspoon (6-foot-3, 185-pounds, Sophomore) OR Kenneth Crawley (6-foot-1, 170-pounds, Junior)

This is the most intriguing position battle in the secondary. Crawley is the favorite to start the season at corner. That’s not to say that he’s outright won the competition though, as junior college transfer Ahkello Witherspoon has made his mark during spring ball.

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Crawley (#2) will look to beat out Ahkello Witherspoon for the other cornerback spot.

Witherspoon showed flashes of brilliance in the spring game. He grabbed an interception and then broke up three consecutive passes on the final four plays of the game. If he continues that type of play, look for him to see his fair share of work this year.

Crawley played in 11 of 12 games last season, but put up impressive marks. He played the second most snaps of any defensive back, recording 50 tackles, and nine touchdowns saved. The junior had eight third and fourth down stops, including five pass break ups. He has become a household name for the Buffaloes and should see plenty of action this season.

Nickel Back-Chidobe Awuzie (6-foot-0, 190-pounds, Sophomore)

Awuzie will see a large portion of his duties coming in the nickel back formation. He will also make his way through the secondary rotation at points throughout the season. Awuzie is the only member of the Colorado secondary who recorded a sack last season. He also forced two fumbles, recovering one in the process. Only a sophomore, he has a high ceiling and may develop into an every game starter by the time it’s all said and done.

[Colorado Buffaloes Team Page]