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Buffs Get OK To Practice; Dorrell Set To Open First Camp Friday

Oct 8, 2020

CU Footbal Pre-camp Depth Chart

BOULDER — The University of Colorado athletic department received approvals Thursday afternoon from local public health officials to begin practices for football and men's and women's basketball.  

Boulder County Public Health has authorized practices to resume tomorrow in those three sports.  Football will begin its fall camp Friday morning, the first practice for CU's new head coach Karl Dorrell, while men's and women's basketball can resume limited practices allowed by the NCAA until they can officially start their preseason practices next Wednesday, Oct. 14.  CU's other 14 varsity sports will resume practice upon approval from Boulder County Public Health.  

"I couldn't be more excited for our student-athletes and coaches who have remained positive and persevered through a difficult seven months not knowing when or if they'd get to this point this season," said Athletic Director Rick George.  "We're grateful for the collaboration with Boulder County Public Health that's made this return to practice possible. We will continue to employ robust protocols and procedures within our program to ensure the health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches, staff and community."

The news means CU coaches and players can get down to the business of preparing for a season — which means we can actually talk football.

Thursday's news was particularly good for Dorrell, who can finally hold the first full practice of his tenure in Boulder. CU's head coach — who was hired Feb. 23, only to see the pandemic shut down college sports just a few weeks later — now has four weeks and 24 practices to prepare for the Buffs' season opener.

Colorado opens the season Nov. 7 with a home game against UCLA at Folsom Field.

No doubt, the circumstances presented by the Covid-19 pandemic have made this a season like no other in modern history. Throw in the fact that the Buffs will be playing under their third head coach in as many seasons — along with six new faces as assistant coaches — and this will no doubt be a unique year in many regards.

But there are also plenty of themes that are common to seasons past, storylines that are part of every training camp. Here's a first glimpse of what we'll be watching as Dorrell and the Buffs use the upcoming month to prepare for their seven-game Pac-12 schedule:

1. Newcomers and youngsters will be crucial. It is worth remembering here that what Dorrell accomplished in the immediate weeks after his arrival last February was ultra-critical, not only to this season, but for the foreseeable future.

What Dorrell did was keep a top-30 recruiting class intact. Instead of a mass exodus — something many observers expected — every member of the 2020 recruiting class elected to remain a Buff. Those new recruits, plus a number of younger players who have spent just a year in the program, could turn out to be significant contributors from the get-go.

"That class … they're fabulous," Dorrell told the Pac-12 Network earlier this week. "There's a lot of guys that are going to have a chance to play for us and help us this fall."

Indeed, the list of newcomers who could figure in the Buffs' plans — as well as young players who have spent a year or two in the program but have played sparingly — is lengthy. A number of them are included in the first depth chart of camp (attached to story) and others will no doubt work their way into contention as camp progresses.

A list of newcomers we'll be watching? Try OLB Guy Thomas; DBs Will Anglen, Christian Gonzalez, Toren Pittman and Jaylen Striker; RB Ashaad Clayton; QB Brendon Lewis; and DL Justin Jackson. Meanwhile, returnees who have had just a taste of action but could make a name for themselves in camp include OL Frank Fillip, Kanan Ray, Casey Roddick and Austin Johnson; DB Mark Perry; ILB Marvin Ham; and OLB Jamar Montgomery.

This is by no means a complete list. There will no doubt be others who will have a training camp "breakthrough." But the fact that Dorrell managed to keep his roster intact upon arrival will prove to be a critical piece of the puzzle as the Buffs move toward opening kickoff.

2. Continuity will be a key factor. Another critical area Dorrell addressed as soon as he arrived was maintaining some consistency and familiarity on both sides of the ball with his assistant coaching staff.

Dorrell did bring in six new assistants. But he also retained defensive coordinator Tyson Summers, whose group finished strong in 2019; and he elevated WR coach Darrin Chiaverini back to offensive coordinator, a role he filled in 2018.

"It was important that I keep that kind of continuity given how late I was hired," Dorrell said. "Darrin's going to do an excellent job being our leader of the offense and Tyson, who has had experience as a head coach and coordinator, will just continue to grow and be better as a defensive coordinator."

When Dorrell made the decision to keep Summers and Chiaverini — as well as outside linebackers coach Brian Michalowski and running backs coach Darian Hagan — he couldn't have known that the Buffs would soon find themselves shut out of spring ball because of the pandemic.

But that made keeping some continuity in those positions even more critical. Because the Buffs have had virtually no on-field practice time, they have spent the last few months studying schemes. But since those schemes are familiar, it will mean they have a much better chance of hitting the ground running when they actually do get on the field.

And, those holdovers from the last staff also have a very good understanding of what each player is capable of accomplishing in those schemes.

"Those two guys (coordinators), they understand the scope of their players on both sides of the ball," Dorrell said. "We've changed a few things in terms of scheme on both sides of the ball, but we did it with minimal terminology change. The buzzwords they heard last year are going to be the same this year."

3. Position battles, position battles, position battles. We won't take too much time outlining what most Buffs fans already know. But competition for playing time will be fierce in just about every position group. Dorrell has made it clear from the beginning that this will be a fresh start for every player on the roster — which means every player on the roster will have to prove himself in camp.

Of course, the battle at quarterback will be the headliner. Veterans Sam Noyer and Tyler Lytle are the favorites, but they will no doubt be pushed by gifted true freshman Brendon Lewis. But there will also be plenty of competition at running back, where Alex Fontenot enters camp as the incumbent; all along the right side of the offensive line; at wide receiver; and throughout the secondary. 

There could even be some interesting battles on the defensive line, where the Buffs return all three starters from last year — but also have some talented younger players who will be vying for spots on the two-deep.

4. Veteran leadership will be critical. These 2020 Buffaloes find themselves in a position few college football players have faced — their third head coach in three years (never mind the fact that some players are adjusting to their third — or even fourth — position coach).

But Dorrell has done an excellent job in earning his players' trust thus far. He has stood behind them in social justice matters; kept them informed every step of the way through the pandemic ups and downs; and has made it clear everyone will be held accountable.

Now, his veteran leadership has to step up. Elder statesmen such as William Sherman, Colby Pursell, Nate Landman, K.D. Nixon, Mustafa Johnson, Carson Wells and Derrion Rakestraw will be responsible for pulling the team through tough times in training camp.

Remember, this will be a training camp like none ever before. The Buffs will be practicing five to six days a week — and be attending class at the same time. Every minute of every practice will be critical, and a sense of urgency will be a requirement.

That's where the vets will have to step in. If they can keep everyone focused, keep everyone engaged and make sure everyone is working for the greater good of team success — these Buffs will have a chance to surprise some folks when the 2020 season finally kicks off.

Contact: Neill.Woelk@Colorado.edu