FORT COLLINS –– Injuries continue to pile up for a Colorado State football team that has been forced to play short-handed more often than not in 2021.
Throughout Steve Addazio’s second campaign at CSU, the injury bug has seemingly singled out position groups one by one. And the squad’s ongoing injury troubles developed a new layer in the Rams’ 31-17 loss to Wyoming last Saturday, as its linebacker corps hobbled away from War Memorial Stadium in noticeably depleted fashion.
“On defense, we had DB issues early in the year where we had no safeties,” Addazio said. “We kind of weathered the storm with that. That hurt us at the beginning of the season, and now we’re into this linebacker situation we’re into right now. We’re getting hit, and we have to find a way to overcome this right now.”
Despite not practicing ahead of the Border War, senior middle linebacker Dequan Jackson gave it a go against Wyoming. But the veteran’s day was short-lived, with Jackson limping through the opening possession before exiting the game for good.
Jackson’s departure sparked a rotational scramble that negatively affected CSU’s normally stout run defense.
The Rams entered the contest allowing 109 rushing yards per game as the Mountain West’s third-ranked squad against the run. But the Cowboys ran for an eye-popping 385 yards (6.8 per touch) against a CSU defense missing its team captain and tackle leader (75) in Jackson.
“We’ve had a chance to review everything, and on defense, our biggest issues were the obvious,” Addazio said Monday. “(Injuries) weren’t the only part of it, but they were certainly a big part of it. The defense was trying to compensate for everybody with some young guys at linebacker who don’t have much experience at all. And I can tell you it was hectic. It was hard on the coaching staff on defense.”
The injuries didn’t stop with Jackson, either. Shortly following his exit, Bam Amina –– Jackson’s initial replacement –– endured an injury CSU’s staff now views as potentially season-ending.
Then, sophomore Sanjay Strickland’s ailment forced CSU to throw redshirt sophomore Tavian Brown into the action as its fourth option at middle linebacker –– despite barely practicing since suffering an injury versus San Jose State on Oct. 9.
“We tried to activate Tavian in a position where he didn’t get any reps in that week,” Addazio said. “So that was kind of an unfair situation. But we were out of options. That had a real adverse effect on us.”
So, how do Jackson, Amina and Strickland’s injuries impact the CSU’s outlook ahead of a battle with Air Force on Saturday? That remains to be seen.
Jackson’s status remains murky, meaning Brown may once again have to play out of position.
Even if Jackson returns, given the unknowns surrounding Brown’s health, it’s safe to assume CSU will have to pull deeper off the bench than normal at the OLB slots.
“This injury deal is creating a little bit of havoc with us right now,” Addazio said. “We’ve got to make some personnel decisions. We may have to adjust what we’ve intended to do. That’s what my focus is, and we’re in the process of all of that right now. My sense will be we’ll gain a couple guys back. But they probably won’t practice, which I’m worried about. We just don’t have the answers yet.”
As Addazio touched on, before truly devising a plan to hinder AFA’s FBS-leading rushing attack (302 yards per week), gaining a sense of who will be available and to what capacity represents CSU’s primary objective at linebacker.
Preparing for the Falcons’ option-oriented offense constitutes a difficult task regardless of a squad’s health. Hence, CSU’s linebacker-related uncertainty places Addazio’s defense in an especially tricky boat before striving to defeat an AFA team that has averaged 380 rushing yards over its current four-game winning streak in the Ram-Falcon Trophy series.
“We’re behind the 8-ball, no doubt,” Addazio said. “Tavian is will be shadowing Dequan a little bit because we have to see how the week progresses with both of them. We’re probably gonna have to get some young guys in (at linebacker). We just have to prepare to dance with who we have.”
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