Chris Wilson insisted he hasn’t been doing a lot of yelling during the first five days of Colorado’s preseason football camp, but the first-year defensive coordinator didn’t have much of a voice left after Monday’s session.
“Excuse my voice,” he said. “I’ve been talking loud. I haven’t been yelling. This group has been great. It’s been fun to coach them. They want to be coached, so I don’t have to do a lot of yelling. I talk often because of the position I’m in but it’s been a great camp so far.”
Entering his second season as CU’s defensive line coach, Wilson was promoted to coordinator in the winter as head coach Karl Dorrell wants to see that side of the ball reach a higher level.
CU ranked eighth in the Pac-12 in points allowed (31.7 per game) and seventh in yards allowed (420.3 per game) in 2020. Both numbers were improvements from 2019, but need to get even better.
On the plus side, the Buffs were 13th nationally on third-down defense, seventh in tackles for loss per game and saw a significant improvement in their red zone defense.
“There were a lot of good things that happened a year ago, so I believe we’re going in the right direction,” Wilson said.
To continue that progress, Wilson is bringing a simplified approach to the defense, which he hopes will make it easier for the talent on the Buffs’ roster to shine.
“Nobody comes to watch me coach,” he said. “I learned as a young coach that you simplify things so your players can play fast. You do that by giving them things that they can process consistently, and that happens with clean reps every day.”
Senior linebacker Nate Landman said the simplified defense is more player-friendly, which will benefit many of his teammates.
“Past defenses, it has not been a problem for me because I study the game so much and I’m so familiar with the game that I love those intricate defense,” Landman said, “but I think the simple defense will help other players play faster just because we’re sticking to our base and not trying to do too much.
“In the past with (former coordinator Tyson) Summers, we would implement a couple of new defenses that week for that special team. We’re not going to be doing that as much. We’ll still have game plans each week, but instead of having a couple of calls we only called once a year, it’s not gonna be as much of that. The call sheet will be less and we’ll be playing more football, rather than chess.”
Simplified or not, the key to CU’s success is preparation, and that starts with Wilson. This is his first time as a coordinator since 2010-12 at Mississippi State, but his nearly three decades of coaching experience helped him get ready for this season.
“I’ve had a lot of years of experience preparing for this opportunity,” he said. “I don’t believe in the term ‘ready.’ My daughter was ready to drive at 10; she just wasn’t prepared. I really believe in preparation. I really worked hard preparing, and I think the biggest thing to be prepared is being a great listener and being able to help people, and that’s what we’re doing.
“I’m just helping our guys, putting them in the right position and facilitating some leadership with our coaches.”
Having confidence in the coaches around him allows Wilson to focus much of his time on the defensive line. Together, the defensive staff is preparing a defensive group that could be better than expected.
Up front, the Buffs have a line led by three experienced veterans (Janaz Jordan, Terrance Lang and Jalen Sami) and a big group of talented youngsters.
At linebacker, Landman and Carson Wells are All-American candidates, while there’s plenty of potential among a group that includes Robert Barnes, Joshka Gustav, Jack Lamb, Jamar Montgomery, Quinn Perry, Guy Thomas and Jonathan Van Diest.
The secondary is loaded with potential, too. Mekhi Blackmon and Christian Gonzalez return as starting cornerbacks. Isaiah Lewis, Chris Miller and Mark Perry return to lead the group at safety.
Fitting the pieces together on game day will be the challenge.
“Every year in college football the dynamics change so much and we’re custom tailors,” he said. “So all we’re trying to do is tailor the things that are for our best players.”
It’s a group that hasn’t caused Wilson to yell at much, but he’s enjoying the process of preparing them for the season.
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