There is no question Colorado's defense improved in 2013 under first-year coordinator Kent Baer compared to 2012. It gave up nearly eight fewer points per game. It yielded an entire yard less per play.
Yet no one would call giving up 38 points and 468 yards per game good defense, least of all Baer.
With eight starters returning on defense, it would seem the Buffaloes are in good position to improve next fall. So we decided to check in with Baer and see how things are going as he eyeballs the spring game on Saturday.
First, let's look back to last year: What went well and what didn't with the defense?
Kent Baer: You look at the stats. Third down, red zone, we've got to get better. We've got to get better in a lot of different categories. We improved as time went on, but this is a heck of a league with a ton of challenges on both sides of the ball. We've got to get better. It's a matter of learning what we ask them to do. I think we've made a lot of progress this spring. We've concentrated on certain things. We'll continue to do that the rest of the spring and into fall camp.
What's been the message -- the prime focus -- this spring?
Baer: I don't know if there's been one prime focus, but one of the focuses is how hard we play every snap. The effort it takes to win in this league. We've been focusing on third downs. We've been focusing on red zone. There are a lot of things we've been focusing on. Getting lined up correctly, communicating. Being more physical. There's obviously a lot of things we've got to improve on.
Who's stepped up as a leader?
Baer: It's more by example, the way we practice. Chidobe [Awuzie] has done a great job for us in the secondary. I think he's emerged as a leader. Addison Gillam, Kenneth Olugbode at linebacker, Juda Parker on the defensive line. Josh Tupou on the defensive line. They've all shared a role in that. All had some playing time last year. We'll continue to push that as we move forward.
Let's go through all three levels: First, who's been playing well on your D-line?
What about linebacker?
Baer: The two linebackers I mentioned, Addison Gillam and Kenneth Olugbode, and Brady Daigh, I think they've proved a lot this spring. They continue to improve.
Who's going to lead your pass rush this fall?
Baer: I think it's going to be by committee. We can't count on one guy. We've got to make sure we've got the right guys in the game on pass downs. It's going to be by committee, not necessarily by scheme. Coach [Jim] Jeffcoat and Coach [Andy] LaRussa do a great job coaching those guys and teaching them. It's something we'll emphasize and get better at.
What needs to happen for you guys to take a major step forward on defense in 2014?
Baer: We've got, what, seven or eight guys coming back who started and saw a lot of football. That's going to help us, No. 1. We've got to get those things I mentioned earlier. The things you asked me what we need to improve on. All those things are going to make us better. We've got to be better on third down, we've got to get more turnovers, we've got to be better in the red zone. We've got to play harder. We do that, we'll be a lot better.