December 1, 2009

Tracking the progress of the defensive youth

With the 2009 season wrapping up on Friday, the Colorado State football team looks towards the future. Last week tracked down Colorado State Defensive Coordinator Larry Kerr to ask him about the future of the Ram defense.

Before talking about the future of his defense, the Rams' defensive chief said he wanted to offer an assessment of the offensive scout team players.

"I go against the offensive scouts every day and there are about four or five that really stand out to me," Kerr said. "Our young offensive linemen, we like very much. Weston Richburg(6-foot-4, 265 pounds),Jared Biard (6-foot-7, 290 pounds) and Brandon Haynes (6-foot-3, 290 pounds) - all three of those young guys are tough and have a good worth ethic to them and a good mentality. There is obviously a good worth ethic and a good future."

Before moving on to the defensive newcomers, Kerr said freshman Chris Nwoke is a very tough runner who finishes runs very well. He also lifted up the name of Oklahoma defensive back-turned-wideout Vernon Scott.

"Vernon Scott has great speed and is developing route-running ability, but has great potential," Kerr said.

Kerr went on to say that the Ram coaching staff nearly pulled the redshirt off several freshmen this year after injuries got the better of the defense. He said the concern was whether or not the Rams would benefit enough in the near-term to justify the player losing a year of development.

"There are a few that we considered pulling the redshirt, but at the same time, we felt like for their development and their future, we'd be better not to," Kerr said. "You hit a certainly point in the season and you have to see what is best for the individual as well as the team.

This season the Rams had 20 players who started their first game of their careers, with the majority of those coming on the defensive side of the ball. The results were a defense which gave up 29 points per game, and 235 yards rushing each contest. While Kerr said the Rams suffered for it this year, playing so much youth may have benefits in the future.

You are looking at some guys who are playing before they are ready, but they have grown and gotten better," Kerr said. "All those guys are probably playing a little sooner than they should, but in the long run that will make them more experienced and ready in the future. You can't teach experience and we are suffering through that. Hopefully that will be the benefit down the field."

" Living, breathing examples of players who were asked to play before their time were Davis Burl, CJ Skelton and Christian James. Burl ended the year as a starter and had 15 stops before being hurt against Wyoming. Skelton managed 42 tackles and an interception, while James ended his freshman campaign with 16 tackles and two sacks.

"I think when you look at a guy like Davis he has tremendous athleticism, he is big, he is physical, he can run," Kerr said. "It is a matter of learning a system and letting him get comfortable playing down after down. It will be a matter of time before everyone thinks he is a talented guy. You could say the same thing about CJ James. He is a true freshman. He is fighting through a turf toe and still learning to execute the defense at a higher level and hopefully he will gain the experience. You see the flashes, you see the athlete, but he is still growing."

Colorado State Offensive Line Coach Pat Meyer echoed Kerr's statements on James.

"CJ has played as a freshman," Meyer said. "He will only get better and he needs to get into the weight room and grow. He may end up a four-year player for us."

The Colorado State defensive line allowed 152 yards rushing per game and was one area that may have benefited from a redshirt or two being pulled. Kerr said injuries came later in the year kept CSU from wanting to burn the redshirt, but added there are some promising prospects developing along the defensive front.

"With Curtis Wilson, the only thing he is lacking is weight (6-foot-4, 240 pounds) and he has gained some this fall. He'll gain more this winter," said Kerr. "We happened to see him in some All-Star game practices and tapes with Te'Jay Brown and he has lived up to expectations."

Kerr added the Brown is also showing the Rams some athletic ability, a knack for being quick off the ball, using his hands well and getting off blocks. Brown currently checks in a 6-foot-2 and 260 pounds.

Meyer added he has been impressed with Wilson and Brown as well, both of whom he recruited to CSU and now goes against each day in practice.

"Curtis Wilson, I think, will be a really good player inside," Meyer said. "He has a knack for getting off on a snap, working an edge on a guy and moving his hips. The biggest thing is he is going to have to get bigger. You can tell he will be a very, very good player in the future.

"Te'Jay is in that same category. he flashes a lot too as being a guy who is explosive and has a good knowledge of how to use his hands. Both of those guys need to have a good off-season. They are going to take their lumps and whacked around a little bit, but they will be all right."

The defensive secondary also saw losses in the form of injuries to Klint Kubiak, among others. Chicago-area Ezra Thompson turned some heads amongst the defensive staff as well.

"We think he is going to be an outstanding player based on fall camp," Kerr said. "Ezra has a great frame, he is smart, he is tough, he was on the verge of playing this year and if all these injuries would have occurred earlier, we would have pulled his redshirt.

"We like the way he competes. He is in our young guys' scrimmages he shows a good knack for covering, but also a knack for tackling. He is another young guy that needs to develop more physically."

Colorado State's recruiting has also brought a little different player, which Kerr said he is hoping will be on the field soon and offer a more athletic look on defense.

"I think we haver recruited some athletic kids and some guys have been asked to play early," Kerr said... "You look at a recruit versus how does he compare to what we have. You are always trying to upgrade and do better. We think we have gotten better in some areas athletically."

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