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Dorrell Optimistic As Buffs Prepare To Open Training Camp

Oct 8, 2020

BOULDER — Twenty-five.

That's the magic number for Colorado Buffaloes head coach Karl Dorrell — and every other Pac-12 coach — as the conference prepares for the opening of its football season the weekend of Nov. 7.

The Buffs are scheduled to report for training camp on Thursday and hopefully begin practice Friday (depending, of course, on Boulder County Health Department mandates). They will then have 25 practices to prepare for their Nov. 7 home opener against UCLA at Folsom Field.

For Dorrell, who has yet to have the opportunity to conduct an actual on-field practice as the Buffs' head coach, it is by no means perfect — but it is an opportunity to actually get ready to play a game.

That's good enough.

"Players are really excited to go," Dorrell said Wednesday in a Zoom version of Pac-12 Media Day for coaches. "It's not a perfect scenario in terms of getting the preparation done and things that were missing along the way. But it is an opportunity to play. We have an opportunity in front of us to get 25 practices in and play our first game on Nov. 7. There's plenty of time for us to get this team ready to go. Will we be perfect? No, but I think we'll show a great promise early on and I think we'll build and get better each week."

There will be no shortage of a "to-do" list for Dorrell and his assistants when the Buffs are finally able to hit the field. While one of the very top priorities will be to identify a starting quarterback — more on that later — CU coaches must also see how quickly they can get the Buffs up and running in terms of executing the schemes they have been studying for basically the last six months.

"We've had a lot of time from that aspect in terms of the information being taught," Dorrell said. "Now we're just at that point where we have to put it together … We're going to have to get it tuned up and ready to go and create a great product when we line up and go on Nov. 7. I think we can do it, just because of how quickly our guys have digested the information. It's just a matter of getting some practice time and some reps for us to perform at a high level. That's the challenge."

The Covid-19 pandemic robbed the Buffs of their first spring session under Dorrell, and has since delivered a frustrating series of starts and stops. But Dorrell knows everyone else in the Pac-12 is in the same boat, and he remains optimistic that his team can be competitive in the six-game regular season schedule that lies ahead.

"I feel good about the mental aspect of our team," he said. "That gives us a chance. I know their mindset is in the right place. They know that every practice is critically important as we head into the season. We feel we can come out there and play well and compete and win some games."

While the Buffs haven't had any true practices, Dorrell has still been able to get at least a feel for his squad via their strength and conditioning workouts, some individual and small-group drills, and some walkthroughs. He has also had ample opportunity to study film from last season, so he has a solid idea of what kind of talent the Buffs will have available.

"One thing I told this team — we're not concerned about missing spring practice and things like that," Dorrell said. "There's a lot of programs in our conference and across the country that have had shortcomings because of this pandemic. We're one of a 100 Division I programs that have dealt with this. You can see there's still pretty good football being played. We anticipate that we're going to be one of those teams that's going to play well when we get our turn."

While every coach dealt with plenty of Covid questions on Wednesday, they also had the opportunity to actually talk about football. Dorrell addressed a number of topics during his interview, including how he and his staff will deal with the process of evaluating the three scholarship quarterbacks on the roster and then identifying a starter. 

It will no doubt be a critical process, especially in such a short period of time. While there are two upperclassmen in the mix — senior Sam Noyer and junior Tyler Lytle — along with true freshman Brendon Lewis, the combined experience of all three is minimal.

"That's a little bit of a shortcoming because of the time of where we're at, with a month before we play," Dorrell said. "We have to determine and find our starter. Normally, you go through a battle in the spring and you kind of have an idea, and then you have some summer work. Then you go into training camp and have a battle again. We're just going to have to do that all at one time … We'll get somebody that can manage our team and manage our offense, do some good things and get better as the season progresses. We just have to do all of that evaluation process in this month of time."

Dorrell also noted that Colorado is blessed with returning talent and depth at two of the most important places on the field — in the trenches. The Buffs have three returning starters on the offensive line (tackle William Sherman, guard Kary Kutsch and center Colby Pursell) as well as all three starters from last year on the defensive side of the ball (Mustafa Johnson, Terrance Lang and Jalen Sami). 

"Probably our deepest and most experienced groups have been our offensive and defensive lines," he said. "We have some returners that have some great experience, some starting experience. As a new coach, if there's any place that you want some experience, it would be up front."

Dorrell also noted that he liked the depth of his running backs and wide receivers rooms, as well as that of his linebackers. As for the secondary, the Buffs don't have a wealth of experience there, but they do have plenty of young if untested talent.

No doubt, the Buffs will be working under an "every minute counts" approach over the next month. Dorrell believes his team will be ready when the first kickoff is finally a reality.

 "Our team is excited about putting their hat in for a chance to go for the championship," he said. "That's what we're shooting for. I know the expectation is probably not there outside of this building, but we feel we can put something together with a good staff, good players, good attention to deal and getting ourselves ready to go this next month. We feel we can be a pretty good program that might surprise some people. We're going to ride that momentum."

UCLA NOTES: While about half of the teams in the Pac-12 at least had regular access to their weight rooms over the summer, the Bruins weren't one of those teams. Local regulations prevented indoor gatherings of any kind, so Chip Kelly's staff had to move weight equipment outdoors onto the practice fields every day. That eliminated some basic lifts, which Kelly admitted, "put us a little behind" in that area … 

Kelly and his wife were both diagnosed with Covid-19 several months ago, but Kelly said he was "as close to asymptomatic as possible." Kelly is the second Pac-12 coach to test positive for Covid, as Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin tested positive just a few days ago … 

When the Pac-12 released the schedule last Saturday, Kelly said the first game got the Bruins' full attention.

"They have a new head coach," Kelly said. "What it's like to play a new head coach in an opener was the biggest thing for us. That's where our attention is."

Contact: Neill.Woelk@Colorado.edu