NCF Nation: Kanavis McGhee

Want to see many of the names that will be featured on Colorado's defensive depth chart next fall?

Go here.

The Buffaloes are going to be young next fall on both sides of the ball, but particularly on defense. Lots of freshmen will play -- guaranteed. And that is by design. Defensive coordinator Greg Brown and head coach Jon Embree made something clear during spring practices to the returning players: "Impress us now, or get replaced by incoming freshmen."

[+] EnlargeGreg Brown
Chris Williams/Icon SMIDefensive coordinator Greg Brown will be working with a lot of freshmen this fall, including eight on the defensive line.
There's a reason for the likely youth movement: The Buffs were lousy on defense in 2011, ranking last in the Pac-12 in scoring (36.5 points per game) and 10th in total defense (439.3 yards per game). Further, Pac-12 quarterbacks feasted on the secondary, which yielded not only the most touchdown passes (34) -- six more than anyone else -- but also grabbed the fewest interceptions (seven) in the conference.

If Colorado is going to move up in the South Division pecking order during the program's second year in the conference, those numbers need to improve.

Colorado finished spring drills last weekend, so it seemed like a good time to check in with Brown to look back and look ahead to the fall.

First off, last year your official depth chart was a 3-4 scheme. This spring, you guys started out with a 4-3. Can you give me a Cliffs Notes version of your base scheme?

Greg Brown: It's really still the same. We're like last year but like most teams can play either, kind of multiple up front.

When you went over film from last year, what stood out to you as issues with the defense?

GB: Too many big plays were given up. Too many points were scored. We had a laundry list of a lot of things. Too many injuries. The roster was thin. It was one of those years we'd like to see not repeated.

The Big 12 is hardly an offense-poor conference. You've coached there and the Pac-12. Were there any adjustments for your players moving from the Big 12 to Pac-12?

GB: Absolutely. Not to take anything away from the Big 12. That's a terrific league that stands on its own merits, that's for sure. But you just have some unique offensive minds in the Pac-12, different styles of attack that we had not seen in the Big 12. There's nobody in the Big 12 that plays the same style as Oregon. Nobody plays the same style as Stanford or Washington. They are all unique and were tough styles to contend with. We've got a lot of offensive-minded head coaches and very innovated offensive coordinators.

You guys were heavy on D-linemen in the recruiting class. How many first-year players do you anticipate playing next fall?

GB: We brought eight (defensive linemen) in. We're thinking at least half that amount, probably higher. Between the defensive line, which is eight-slash-nine because we've got a guy who could go either way, and we've got five cornerbacks, and the great majority of those guys are going to play. They won't redshirt. We're not counting on anybody redshirting. We'll see if they can't do it yet, then they'll have to. But other than that, we have no numbers. Spring ball was a feat to get accomplished. Because of our lack of numbers, we ended up doing so much seven-on-seven because we didn't have the D-line to do it [full scrimmage]. We really didn't have the secondary to do much seven-on-seven,either. It was largely a battle of walk-ons this spring at Colorado. We're welcoming with open arms all the incoming troops because they are going to play.

Give me a couple of names of standouts this spring? Who impressed you?

[+] EnlargeChidera Uzo-Diribe
Dustin Bradford/Icon SMI Defensive end Chidera Uzo-Diribe has made an impression on coaches this spring.
GB: [Defensive end] Chidera Uzo-Diribe, he had a very good spring. He's got skill. He's got speed. He's got size. And he's tenacious. He's a good player. He played last year for us and was fine but he stepped up this spring and filled a void -- we had two defensive ends graduate. He stepped up and really became a guy. He would be the top dog in the D-line. If there is one other defensive lineman who can play, it's Will Pericak. He's a good player -- steady, consistent. He's been around the block. Has size. He's played for a long time here. Good player. You've got those two up front. After that, there's really nobody to write about [on the defensive line]. We're just waiting on the young kids to get here.

How about linebacker?

GB: Linebacker-wise, our best player is Doug Rippy. He's our captain, a team leader. He ended up missing, from the Washington game on last year, missing the season. He tore his ACL in that game and he was held out of spring ball and can't do anything yet. But we're looking to get him back. Jon Major is another 'backer who is back, has a lot of experience. He's a jack of all trades for us, can do a lot of things. Smart, can rush the passer, cover. He makes plays. He's good. Linebacker is where the most numbers are back. After that, you've got some guys who have played. Derrick Webb has played. He can run and hit. Then there's a smattering of younger kids who have some ability. They just haven't proven anything yet. They're up and coming.

And then the secondary?

GB: We've got one returning guy. That's Ray Polk; he's a safety. Good player. Big kid who can run and hit. Been starting here a long time. Good future in front of him. Ray's issue was he could only do non-contact stuff during spring. He had surgery on a torn ligament in his wrist. So he did seven-on-seven and that was probably it. The next one to talk about back there would be [cornerback] Greg Henderson. He came in as a true freshman and won a starting job. He took advantage of the opportunity and won a job and he kept it all year. He continually progressed every week. This spring, he got better as you'd expect. They come in as freshmen and just look to survive, which he did more than ably. But we're looking for improvement this year and looking for him to be a guy. He's athletic. He can run, he's smart. And he's tough. And as much as anything, he stayed healthy. After him, a guy who is a good player for us, is Parker Orms. He plays nickel, safety and corner. He plays all three. Good athlete, tough kid. He missed quite a bit of the year. He only played five games for us. And he got hurt this spring, which is unfortunate. He tore his hamstring. He played three days of spring then tore that thing. In the five games he played for us last year, we either won or had a chance to win because he allowed us to do things on defense we could not do when he was not in there.

So the freshmen will be in the mix pretty quickly in the secondary, too?

GB: Oh, no question. We told all the kids on defense this spring, particularly on the D-line and in the secondary, "OK, all you guys, here is your chance. This is your chance. We don't want to hear anything in the fall about, 'Hey, I'm not getting any reps.' Here is your chance now! Because believe it or not, in the fall with those kids coming in, they are going to get all those reps. We'll see what you guys can do now.' And here come the new kids. We know who has helped us in the past. For the rest of the spots? Hey, we're plugging in brand new kids and let's go.

How much can this defense improve in 2012?

GB: You can. All these 15 defensive players who are coming in that we're looking to help us, you wish you could snap your fingers and be two years in the future, matured and bigger, strong, faster, eating on the training table, learning how to play. That would be nice. But the reality of it is there are going to be growing pains. These guys have some talent, but they also are going to be true freshmen and will make their share of mistakes. But, sure, we can improve. We have to manage what we're doing. We have an outstanding coaching staff on that side of the ball with Kanavis McGhee and Mike Tuiasosopo. They are great tacticians. As is linebackers coach Brian Cabral. We're looking for improvement.

Embree is Colorado to the core

February, 18, 2011
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Jon EmbreeAP Photo/Jack DempseyNew Colorado coach Jon Embree is hoping to return the program to the prominence he remembers.
When you talk to new Colorado coach Jon Embree, two things stand out. First, as a former player and coach, his connection to the Buffaloes runs deep. Second, not unlike Colorado fans who feel a powerful affinity for the program -- those who remember the glory years under Bill McCartney -- the malaise of recent seasons eats at him on a visceral level.

Embree didn't negotiate the tricky coaching ladder just to become a head coach. He climbed it to become Colorado's head coach. As a competitor, he's always wanted to win, of course, whether he was at UCLA or the Kansas City Chiefs or the Washington Redskins. But Buffs fans should know this: Winning at Colorado is personal for Embree. Whatever he lacks in head-coaching experience, he may well make up for with a singular commitment to restoring football in Boulder.

"The plan was always to be back here," he said. "That was always the plan. This is the only job I've ever wanted."

There also may be an additional edge to Embree's drive to rebuild Colorado. Consider his résumé.

As a touted local recruit in 1983, he bought into what McCartney was selling and became an impact player as a true freshman tight end. In his final season, 1986, the Buffaloes overcame a 0-4 start to finish 6-6. Then it was off to a brief NFL career.

In 1991, he joined McCartney's staff as a volunteer assistant. In 1993, after a year as a high school assistant, he came back to Boulder with a full-time job, coaching tight ends, and he remained with the Buffaloes until 2002, sticking around to work for both Rick Neuheisel (1995-98) and Gary Barnett (1999-2002).

OK. This is boring. What's the point? Ah, glad you asked. Embree was in Boulder for 15 years as a player and coach from 1983-2002. What key years are missing? Correct: 1989 and 1990, when the Buffs won back-to-back Big Eight championships, went 22-2-1 and split the 1990 national title with Georgia Tech.

Embree signed with Colorado in 1983 because "I believed in the vision that Bill McCartney had for the program and where this place could go and how it could be special. It was really all Bill McCartney." And he experienced the highs and lows of a rebuilding program, including a 1-10 finish in 1984. But he wasn't there when Colorado reached the pinnacle, as a player or coach. Perhaps that's an itch that he'd like to scratch.

"I felt like we were always close," he said. "We were always right there. We were close. But we just couldn't get over the hump."

(Read full post)

Big 12 weekend roundup

December, 20, 2010
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A few thoughts on the weekend's happenings:

Roy Finch has arguably been Oklahoma's most electrifying ballcarrier this season, but they'll be without him in the Fiesta Bowl after the freshman running back suffered a stress fracture in a non-contact drill during practice last week. Finch will be missed most in Oklahoma's "diamond" formation that featured three running backs surrounding quarterback Landry Jones, and he'll finish the year with 398 yards and a pair of touchdowns, just missing my Big 12 All-Freshman team.

Senior Mossis Madu will fill Finch's void, so it's not a pressing concern for the Fiesta Bowl's heavy favorites.You'll remember, he missed the first five games of the season after fracturing his left ankle on the same foot that suffered this most recent injury. The Sooners can take some comfort in the injury taking place in the same foot, and Finch will take 6-7 weeks to heal before returning for spring practice.

But moving forward, one more injury, especially one that's unrelated to the 5-foot-8, 180-pound speedster's left foot, is going to cause some legitimate concerns about Finch's durability. He's unquestionably emerged in 2010 as the future of Oklahoma's running game, beating out guys like Jermie Calhoun, Brennan Clay and Jonathan Miller, but he can't do any good on the sidelines. Moving through spring and fall camps, Oklahoma fans and coaches will be able to sleep a lot better if he can stay healthy through next August.

And consider also: For all the flack that DeMarco Murray gets for being "injury-prone," he got a high volume of carries in all four seasons as a Sooner.

Through just one season, Finch has already missed the same number of games (6) as Murray did throughout his entire career.


New Colorado coach Jon Embree officially finalized his staff, and it's clear what his priorities were. Outside of defensive line coach Mike Tuiasosopo, every hire had ties to Colorado, either the state or program. You definitely foster a very specific attitude in doing so, but we'll see if that results in wins after a move to the Pac-12 next year. He sacrificed experience for ties to the program in a couple of these hires, but no one will care if the wins come with them. If they don't, however, that fact will definitely be brought up as a criticism very quickly.

Here's Embree's latest staff hires, with more on the entire staff here:

Greg Brown - defensive coordinator/defensive backs

J.D. Brookhart - special teams coordinator/offensive passing game coordinator/tight ends

Kanavis McGhee/Mike Tuiasosopo - defensive line

Steve Marshall - offensive line

Former Colorado running back Eric Bieniemy, who also interviewed for the head coaching job and was hired at the same time as Embree, will serve as Embree's offensive coordinator.


Nebraska linebackers coach Mike Ekeler is headed to Indiana to take over as the Hoosiers defensive coordinator under new coach Kevin Wilson. Most notably, he'll be the first assistant under Bo Pelini to leave for a different job during Pelini's three seasons in Lincoln.

Wilson worked with Ekeler at Oklahoma when Ekeler was a graduate assistant in 2003-04 and Wilson coached the offensive line. Ekeler must have made an impression on Wilson during those years and again in the Big 12 Championship game. First-year linebacker Lavonte David also leads the Big 12 in tackles, including 17 in the Big 12 title game.

Indiana and Nebraska aren't scheduled to meet in Big 12 play until the 2013 season.


I DVR'd the Teas Class 5A Division II state championship and got my first good, long look at a couple possible future Big 12 stars headed to the conference in 2011.

Texas running back commit Malcolm Brown and Oklahoma State quarterback and cornerback commits J.W. Walsh and Josh Stewart faced off in Cowboys Stadium. Brown's Cibolo (Steele) team took down Walsh and Stewart's Denton (Guyer) squad, 24-21.

It's tough to tell a lot definitively in one look at a pressure-filled game, but all three had their moments. Brown doesn't have a ton of straight-line speed, but he's a smart, powerful runner with a good sense of holes and looked pretty skilled at reading his blocks. The physical talent is obvious, but if he carries that to Austin next fall, my guess is it's something that sets him apart from his competition. He's not one to shy away from contact, and he showed up every time Steele needed a big run. He finished with 107 yards on 28 carries and the game-winning touchdown.

Though Walsh's release is quick and his accuracy is good, he's still got plenty of room for improvement as a decision-maker. That said, he's a dangerous dual-threat guy that, if he ends up becoming the heir apparent to Brandon Weeden, would be pretty fun to watch in Oklahoma State's spread system, a la Zac Robinson.

He finished with 123 yards rushing and 9-of-17 passing for 91 yards with a pair of picks -- including one late that sealed the game. He had just four interceptions in Guyer's first 15 games, and averaged more than 200 yards passing.

His one touchdown pass was a 43-yard strike to Stewart, who also plays receiver.

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