BOULDER — James Garee will never line up within 20 feet of a receiver this year, and Vaka Manupuna can’t backpedal to save his life.
Regardless, the two senior Colorado Buffaloes defensive linemen say they are largely responsible for the number of wide-open receivers who ran through the CU secondary last season, causing the team to allow more than 260 yards per game through the air.
So, even though the Buffs begin this season with what they believe is an improved defensive
secondary, the big men up front have vowed to make the defensive backs’ life easier by making life tougher on opposing quarterbacks.
“Our biggest focus this season is to get to the quarterback,” Manupuna said.
“We’re trying to take all that pressure the DBs felt last season and put it on us.”
CU’s defense recorded 29 regular-season sacks in 2004, which tied for second in the conference. However, the Buffs front men recorded only 38 hurries, and consistently gave opposing pass plays too much time to develop.
When fall camp began early this month, head coach Gary Barnett said improving the pass rush was the team’s No. 1 priority. The task is the immediate responsibility of first-year defensive line coach Bill Inge.
“I have never seen a great football team or a great defense that didn’t have a consistent defensive line,” Inge said. “If the ball is ever run, who does it have to go past? If the ball is ever thrown, whose head does it have to go over?
“They are very simple questions, but it lets us know the kind of pressure we have to apply to our opponents and the expectations we have to set for ourselves in the defensive line.”
Senior tackles Manupuna and Garee have based their leadership on those expectations. Manupuna is coming off his first full year at nose tackle, and was named the team’s most improved defensive player after spring drills.
Garee, an end last season, is making the move to tackle this season — a shift to which he is still adjusting. He will replace departed tackle Matt McChesney, who led the team with seven sacks last season.
The line features three serviceable defensive ends in juniors Abraham Wright and Alex Ligon and sophomore Alonzo Barrett. True freshman George Hypolite will also see playing time this season after impressing the coaches during camp.
Although the line’s primary duty will always be to stop the run, all recognize the importance of pressure in order to protect the defensive backs.
“The secondary is coming along great. They’re leaps and bounds ahead of where they were,” Garee said. “But they’re still probably the youngest part of our defense, so we have to pick up the slack.
“We have to have faith that if we don’t get to the quarterback, then they’re going to get us in coverage and they have to have faith that we’re going to get to the quarterback as fast as we can.”
In position: The Buffs released their first updated depth chart in two weeks Tuesday, a list that won’t likely change much before the Sept. 3 opener against Colorado State.
Other than putting an official end to the running backs battle — Hugh Charles is No. 1 behind Byron Ellis, as expected — the list provided little new information.
There were some notable changes, however:
Quarterback Bernard Jackson, partly because he’s been hampered by a minor knee injury, dropped to No. 4 behind the big-armed Brian White. Niwot High School grad Paul Creighton appeared as the No. 3 tight end, but fell to No. 3 at fullback behind senior Brendan Schaub.
Freshman linebacker Marcus Burton moved up a spot to No. 2 behind starter Thad Washington, freshman Gardner McKay moved to No. 2 behind cornerback Lorenzo Sims and junior J.J. Billingsley moved to the starting safety spot, beating out senior Tom Hubbard. Due to injuries to Dominique Brooks and Ryan Walters, junior Tyrone Henderson will start at the other safety position.
Speedy cornerback-turned-receiver Vance Washington, who is still hampered by a pulled hamstring, is penciled in as the team’s No. 5 receiver despite very few reps at his new position.
Long odds: Twelve to 15 new walk-ons reported to CU practice Tuesday in an attempt to impress coaches and earn a spot on the team. Early indications were grim, however.
“I just saw one guy run, and I’ll tell you what, he ain’t gonna make it,” Barnett said.