Three young defensive ends made their college debuts for the Colorado Buffaloes last week and received mixed reviews following a season-opening loss to Colorado State.
There was plenty to be excited about in terms of what Timothy Coleman, Derek McCartney and Christian Shaver might be capable of in the future. But each also made mistakes that contributed to a stinging setback to start the season and ugly day in defending the run.
The Rams ran for 266 yards against the Buffs, only one yard less than the CSU record for rushing against CU. Obviously that wasn't all because of CU's greenhorns on the defensive line. No one played the run particularly well in Week 1 for the black and gold.
"There was some good things and bad things like there is in every game," defensive ends coach Andy LaRussa said. "Obviously when you lose a game everyone is a little disappointed but there are some positives and some things to build on. I think those guys were obviously disappointed that they lost the game, but they looked at themselves and said, 'There are some good things to take away and build upon.' So it's important to do a little bit of both."
Experience at defensive end is a glaring weakness for the Buffs early in the season, but the coaches and players knew going in they would be targeted and picked on until they begin to make fewer mistakes. Shaver made a little history in the game by becoming the first true freshman in history to start a season opener at defensive end for CU. He is only the sixth true freshman to start a season opener at any defensive position for the Buffs.
Shaver said he never felt overmatched physically in his first game because CU's offensive line had prepared him well throughout August. He said he began to feel like he could play right away this season from the first day of fall camp.
"I got to slow down and not get too anxious," Shaver said of what he learned from his first college game. "I messed up on some of the plays because I was too nervous. I just need to calm down and relax.
Shaver said he ran the wrong defensive play in one instance but that happened to be the play in which one of his fellow young defensive ends shined. McCartney was the only one of the three to register a sack and it happened on the play Shaver cited. McCartney also caused a fumble on the play.
"That was a heck of a play," LaRussa said. "He beat two blocks and got a sack and forced fumble. That's just an exceptional play and those are the things we expect to come from Derek. He did well for his first game. He's overly critical of himself and he's got some things to work on and I think he would agree with that, but he did a good job for his very first game."
LaRussa said he had hoped to see his players put more pressure on the quarterback and he's hoping that will happen more frequently starting this week when the Buffs play Massachusetts in Gillette Stadium.
While Coleman didn't register a sack, he did get a hand up to knock down a CSU pass. He was one of two Buffs credited with breaking up a pass in the game and was happy to finally be back on the field in a game after a knee injury robbed him of most of his senior season in high school in 2012 and a torn Achilles tendon prevented him from playing last season at CU as true freshman.
Coleman had played in Sports Authority Field in Denver twice during state championship games during his high school career at Mullen, but he said it was still special to be out there as a Buff.
"We all had great plays and we all had kind of iffy plays," Coleman said. "We've just got to focus on being more consistent."
LaRussa said he has told his defensive ends they need to improve in a hurry and can't afford to look at themselves as freshmen anymore now that they've been baptized under the lights of their first college game.
"We need to improve on our fundamentals and to not make the same mistakes we made in Week 1," he said. "We need to learn from those. Yes, there will be some new mistakes, but we can't repeat the mistakes we had from the week before."