Buffs OC Chiaverini Expects Plenty Of Competition Throughout Offense Position Battles
BOULDER — Like every other coach in the Pac-12 (and every other conference that postponed its fall schedule), Colorado Buffaloes offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach Darrin Chiaverini is finding ways every day to negotiate these unprecedented times.
When the Buffs were finally allowed to return to the field last week for individual and group skill sessions, it proved to be a welcome relief. The on-field work provided at least a semblance of "normal" football activity, something Chiaverini said every coach and player was hungry to have.
"We needed it — all of us needed it," Chiaverini said recently. "None of us have ever gone through anything like this. It's the first fall I've had since I was 8 years old where I haven't been playing or coaching in games, and it's something we all have to deal with every day — especially when you see some of the other conferences playing games."
Indeed, the past weekend certainly couldn't have been easy on the Buffs. As they engage in a month of 12-hour work weeks that will include on-field individual and group skill sessions, there were a handful of other conferences that were playing games.
But the Buffs also know the current situation is temporary. Current plans for the Pac-12 call for competition to resume Jan. 1, and that date could be bumped up in light of a recent deal that saw the conference obtain rapid-result testing machines for every school in the league.
"I know why we're not playing, but that doesn't make it any easier," Chiaverini said. "It's the weirdest thing I've ever been through. You are conditioned to play and coach football in the fall. When that's not there, you learn how to deal with it every day."
Under current guidelines established by the NCAA, teams whose conferences are not playing this fall are allowed a total of 12 hours of work per week. That includes several hours on the field as well as in the weight room and classroom/film sessions.
"We've been able to get some good work in those skill development sessions," Chiaverini said. "We're doing some individual drills and work in some groups. You can tell the kids need it. They want it. They want to be on the grass, playing football."
The current rules could change as soon as Oct. 4. But until then, the Buffs can't engage in 11-on-11 or 7-on-7 work. They can, however, run full unit drills in helmets and "spiders" (upper-body pads), meaning the coaches can get a good look at players running the offensive and defensive schemes.
That, at least, is giving Karl Dorrell's staff a chance to see players put their summer of film study to work.
"It's obviously too early to tell how the position battles are going to shape up," Chiaverini said. "But what I have noticed is there are definitely just a lot of guys who are excited to be out there. It shows they've been missing football, just like we have as coaches."
In a recent radio interview, Dorrell — who is the Buffs' third head coach in as many years — said the postponement of the fall schedule does offer a few opportunities, especially for a team that wasn't allowed to conduct a spring ball session in its first year under their new coach.
"We have a new head coach and we have to establish his culture and what he wants for our program," Chiaverini said. "It's important for all of the assistants, especially the new coaches who haven't been around their players a lot yet. The good thing I have going for me is that I know a lot of these guys and know who they are. There's a little bit of a trust factor there that helps."
And, Chiaverini said, the players have done an excellent job in adjusting to another head coach.
"The players have really handled themselves the right way," he said. "They've been very receptive to Coach Dorrell. I have a lot of experience with Coach Dorrell. He coached me for four years and now I'm getting a chance to work with him and learn from him. I think this is going to be something special we can build going forward."
Some other areas Chiaverini addressed:
On the return to his duties as the offensive coordinator, a position he held in 2018: "You go back and look at the film and see what you did well (in 2018) and then you look at what you didn't do so well and you try to find ways to minimize those things. I'm grateful to be back in the position of coordinator. Even though it was hard for me at the time, it was good for me to grow and learn. The best way to learn is through experience and I got some very valuable experience that year. I'm excited that Coach Dorrell is here and I"m excited to work with him. I'm really excited about our offensive staff and excited about our players."
On how is wide receiver room appears to be ready to reload and not rebuild, despite the loss of second-round NFL Draft pick Laviska Shenault Jr.: "It's important to have that consistency. It's fun to recruit your room and develop your room and see them grow and take the next step every year. Since I've been here we've been able to do that. You see guys step up every year. They're talented but they also work really hard at their craft. I think when they hear the same voice, work on the same technique and work on the same fundamentals year in and year out, it gives you the ability to take the next step as a player."
What he sees early from the WR development thus far: "I'm excited to have K.D. Nixon back. He's done a really good job of being a leader this offseason. He's been working hard on his game, which he's always done, and he's also working with all the quarterbacks and other receivers. Daniel Arias, I think is ready to take the next step and be a frontline guy. I'm excited about his growth. Maurice Bell is another guy who has really grown the last couple of years. He's ready to take another step. He's worked really hard on his game. A guy like Dimitri Stanley, who can play inside or outside, I'm really excited about. He's got great ball skills and he's a very smart kid. Then you've got Lavontae Shenault, who I think is going to be a really good player. He's got a competitive spirit that I really like to see.
"Then you have Jaylon Jackson, who has made plays for us, and the freshman class. That group reminds me of the group that year when we were able to find Laviska, K.D., Jaylon and Maurice. They're competitive, they want to play, they work hard, they're good kids and they listen. The good thing is you've got different body types and skill sets. You've got Brenden Rice, who's 6-3, 200 pounds; you've got Keith Miller, who's 6-4, 210 pounds; and you've got Chris Carpenter, who's a very dynamic slot who can stretch the field vertically with good ball skills. And then there's Montana (Lemonious-Craig), who's kind of in between all three of them. A 6-footer who can run and catch and works hard every day and wants to learn.
On the position battles throughout the offense: "I've always believed competition makes you better. You've got to want competition, whatever position you play. If you want to be an elite college player and have a chance to play at the next level, you have to embrace competition and embrace being uncomfortable. That's what makes you better."
On the offensive line competition: "You have some established guys with Colby Pursell and Kary Kutsch and Will Sherman (all three starters from last season), and they've played a lot of football. But then there are some interesting battles with Kanan Ray and Casey Roddick at guard, Frank Fillip at tackle. I'm excited to see if Frank can take that next step. He's done a good job in the weight room. He's put the weight on and he's put the strength on, I think Coach Rod (O-line coach Mitch Rodrigue) has done a great job with those guys. Then you've got some young guys like Jake Wiley and Valentin Senn. There are some other different pieces that will be interesting to watch. Josh Jynes has been around the program a while. I'm excited to see those guys compete."
On the running backs: "I'm excited to see the running backs. Adding a guy like (freshman) Ashaad Clayton is big. You can see he's talented and he's going to push the whole group to be better. Just seeing him on the field, you can see he's got natural ball skills and natural movement skills. I think (last year's starter) Alex Fontenot has done a good job of just working consistently and continuing to improve. He's a quiet guy but he goes about his business. I'm excited to watch that group elevate."
On the quarterbacks: "Obviously everybody wants to talk about the quarterback position. Getting Sam Noyer back was big. Tyler Lytle is a guy who's really competed hard the last couple of years as the backup and Brendon Lewis has a bright future. I'm excited to see that competition unfold once we get to that point, But right now, it's more just watching them throw in drills and seeing how they interact with their teammates. When we get to have live drills, it's going to show. The guy that's consistent, takes care of the football, understands the offense and can move the chains — that's who's going to start. That's the way it should be and that's what it will be — an open, honest competition and your work will showcase who you are and why you deserve to be the guy."