Dorrell Pleased With Buffs' First Day In Full Pads
BOULDER — Colorado football coach Karl Dorrell walked off the practice field Tuesday with a little extra pep in his step.
While Tuesday was the fifth practice of the Buffaloes' fall camp, it was their first in full pads. That's enough to put a smile on any coach's face.
"This is real ball now," Dorrell said in his post-practice press conference. "We had some banging going on. I was really pleased with what I saw. I saw it on both sides, in every position. I wanted to see who wanted to compete, who wants to be tough, who wants to win the drill. There's some really good measurements today. A lot of whooping and hollering, guys cheering each other on. It was a great start for our first day in pads."
Because of the compact nature and late start of this year's camp due to the Covid-19 pandemic, every practice and every drill becomes a little bit more critical. Throw in the fact that the Buffs have a number of heated position battles on both sides of the ball, and it means that the first day of full pads is also a day when true "separation" in some of those battles will begin to take place.
"I had a positive impression, that this is how it's supposed to look — that's what it's supposed to feel like," Dorrell said. "That first day of pads was a real productive day. There's a lot of stuff we did and they did it fairly well today. I'm encouraged. When you're in pads for the first time, it tells you a lot about the temperament of your team. Who's going to strike somebody, who's not. For the most part, all of our kids have been very competitive."
While there are a handful of returning starters who will almost certainly be in their positions when the Buffs kick it off Nov. 7 against UCLA, there are plenty of spots where competition for playing time is fierce. Dorrell and his assistants have made developing depth one of their camp priorities, and they have been mixing and matching combinations at a number of positions, trying to determine not only starters, but key backups.
The Buffs used their first day in full pads to get in plenty of team drills and situational work, including red zone, second and third down transition and some full length of field situations. They also had one fully "live" period when the offense had a couple opportunities to score in the red zone or be forced to settle for a field goal.
"I think our team is learning how to play in pads and the expectations that go with it," Dorrell said.
After five straight days of practice, the Buffs will get a day off Wednesday, then return to work Thursday. The first major test of camp will come Saturday, when they conduct their first scrimmage of camp.
"I think our players are doing a really good job of paying attention and getting some good work in," Dorrell said. "I'm very pleased after five straight days of the work we've gotten in. We still have a ways to go, for sure. But their attitude is right and we'll get there by the time we play."
BALANCING ACT: CU coaches are doing their best to make this as close to a "normal" fall camp as possible. But given the circumstances, it's impossible to completely replicate conditions because unlike a regular fall camp, players are now involved with daily classwork as well.
Usually, fall camp is conducted the month before school starts, meaning coaches have the players' undivided attention. But now, players are attending classes after practice, checking in with tutoring sessions and making sure their classwork is completed.
Thus far, Dorrell said, the Buffs have done an excellent job of balancing both.
"I'm very proud of these young men," he said. "It's not a camp setting, even though we're trying to make it a camp setting. They do have classes in the afternoon, they do have tutor appointments and tests and papers and stuff to do .. They have a lot on their plate and their attitude has been great. They know it's double duty from their standpoint and they've handled it really, really well."
PURSELL BACK 'HOME': After starting five games at guard last year — along with missing the bulk of season following gallbladder surgery — junior offensive lineman Colby Pursell is spending the bulk of his time at center.
He's happy to be there.
"It's like riding a bike," he said. "That's what I was recruited here to play. When I redshirted, I was getting center reps. When I started as a redshirt freshman, I got center reps. When I was a guard last year, I still got center reps."
Pursell is now one of the leaders on an offensive line that features three starters from last year, a group that also includes left tackle William Sherman and left guard Kary Kutsch.
But on the right side, the Buffs must find a pair of new starters. Thus far, sophomore Frank Fillip has been solid at right tackle while sophomore Casey Roddick has been getting plenty of time at right guard. Also seeing time on the right side are sophomore Kanan Ray, freshman Carson Lee and redshirt freshman Valentin Senn.
Those young players, Pursell said, have taken the necessary responsibility.
"They're taking initiative," Pursell said. "They're doing more on their own. They're asking more questions. They're stepping up. You see that in the whole room, which is awesome to see. That's what's going to elevate our unit and make us a better offense."
WIDE RECEIVER DEPTH: While Dorrell spends time with every position group throughout the course of a practice, he admits he usually stops by the wide receivers first.
"That's just a natural draw," he said with a laugh. "I kind of gravitate there. I played the position, I've coached it for most of my career. They know that, they want me there. I want to be there to have some impression on them. I get involved in their individual periods, working on technique and fundamentals. I do that with a number of position groups, but it does start with them."
Even though the Buffs lost their top receiver last year (Laviska Shenault Jr.) to the NFL, it is still one of the deepest position groups on the team. Along with returnees K.D. Nixon, Daniel Arias, Dimitri Stanley, Maurice Bell, Jaylon Jackson and La'Vontae Shenault, there are several newcomers who are already making an impression in camp.
"We're so deep at that spot, there's a number of guys that can be helping us this year," Dorrell said. "We have to narrow that down at some point, but it's a great problem to have."
Stanley and Bell have both consistently made plays so far, and Arias and Shenault have also stepped up. Among the newcomers, Brendan Rice has had some moments.
"We have some depth there, some young players that are going to step up and help us along with the young players we already have in the program," Dorrell said. "We're very fortunate at that position."