Spring has sprung, and so has the 2013 football season in Fort Collins, CO.
Through six practices and one scrimmage, it’s easy to see CSU has improved over the last five months. The offense has been crisper, with everyone having a better grasp on the plays, special teams has shown a few better than average returns and solid kicking while the defense seems to have improved the most.
Last year, people were a bit shocked that the Rams defense came along quicker than did the offense, with head coach Jim McElwain now the man in charge. McElwain, of course, was most recently the offensive coordinator for the Alabama Crimson Tide during two National Championships.
Still, CSU’s D continues to push the O in practice and in last Saturday’s scrimmage.
While the first team offense scored on their first two possessions, the defense tightened up afterward. They brought big hits, showing off a better tackling technique of wrapping up ball-carriers and taking them to the ground. They also made many big plays, including 10 sacks and four forced turnovers.
On one play, senior linebacker Shaq Barrett ripped the ball away from running back Tommey Morris, taking it 14 yards before being tackled. Two plays later, Barrett – who will be a key piece to the Rams’ front seven – came up with a sack on third string quarterback C.J. Leonard, and he came up with another forced fumble for the unit as well.
Near the end of the day, when it was the ones v. ones, Chris Nwoke was stripped by junior college transfer Terry Jackson – who had a great scrimmage with two tackles for a loss, a sack and the forced fumble – and cornerback Kevin Pierre-Lewis returned the ball 32 yards for a touchdown. A couple plays later, likely starter Garrett Grayson was picked off by Shaq Bell when Bell jumped the route.
But the man that had the best day was linebacker Aaron Davis. Davis was demonstrative in his play; he blew up Nwoke on a screen pass that looked promising, forcing the back to drop the ball. He also had 3.5 tackles for a loss and three sacks, leading the team with seven total stops on Saturday.
What’s encouraging is the fact that players from all three levels of the defense made impact plays, showing the growth of the unit overall. Defensive line depth and a lack of playmakers has been the most glaring weakness for Colorado State in recent years; that’s changing. Jackson, a 6’1” 260-pounder, is quick on his feet, showing an ability to get around offensive linemen and into the backfield. At 6’5” and 315 pounds, redshirt freshman Justin Hansen gives the Rams’ front a huge body to plug holes, as does 330 pound Calvin Tonga, who McElwain was impressed with Saturday. Each of them had a sack in the scrimmage and there was pressure applied to quarterbacks all day long. At linebacker, CSU has many very good players, with Barrett, Davis, Max Morgan and Cory James all making big hits and flying to the ball. Where the Rams are deepest on defense is in the backfield, with Bell and Bernard Blake the probable starting corners and Trent Matthews a first team safety.
“I was excited when they came in this morning,” McElwain said of his team after the scrimmage. “The focus, the attention to detail in the meetings today. They’ve come so far, we’ve just got to keep moving forward. Our guys are getting it.”
Now Colorado State must continue to focus on improving. They have closed practices Monday and Wednesday before their open practice Friday night at 5:45 PM Mountain at Infinity Park in Glendale, CO.