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Dorrell Pleased With Spring Ball Opener

Mar 29, 2021

BOULDER — Karl Dorrell opened his second season as the Colorado Buffaloes' head coach Monday with his first spring practice.

The Buffs have a new defense and a new defensive coordinator, two new assistant coaches, some new wrinkles on offense — and the same goal as always.

Improve every day.

Day one of spring, Dorrell said, was a good one in that regard.

"You could tell there was a lot of excitement," Dorrell said following the afternoon workout. "There was really good energy on the field. Obviously a lot of guys that want to start off spring practice on a very positive foot. We saw a lot of good things on both sides of the ball."

The Buffs have a full agenda for their 15 practices (14 remaining). That includes installing a new defense under new coordinator Chris Wilsom, implementing some changes to an offense Dorrell said he thought was "a little bland" toward the end of last season, and getting as many reps for as many players as possible.

"That's what spring is for," Dorrell said. "It's good to see some of those young players, particularly the guys that came here mid-year, getting some reps. You can tell they're just a little behind in terms of understanding the full offense and defense and special teams because they've only been here about three months. (But) I was very pleased with everyone's effort. Everyone's trying to make plays."

Installing the new defensive scheme will no doubt be a critical piece of spring ball. The Buffs have simplified some of their calls to make the system more player friendly — but that also includes new terminology. CU players spent the last couple of months studying the scheme in the classroom; now their task will be to translate those lessons to the field.

"It's getting used to the different calls and the alignments and things we're doing," Dorrell said. "We're going to continue to try to push the envelope with them with their knowledge … We're going to force feed these guys about learning stuff as fast as they can so we can continue to grow and digest the system. We're not going to make it purely vanilla. We're going to have to stress them some to challenge their mental makeup."

One of the goals of the new defensive scheme will be to take full advantage of CU's best players — and make sure they are on the field as much as possible. At the same time, Dorrell said, the Buffs want to reduce the number of checks and calls to allow those players to be more aggressive.

Dorrell pointed to CU's outside linebackers, in particular junior Carson Wells, as one of the positions that should benefit from the change. Wells last year led the nation in tackles for loss with 2.7 per game, including 4.5 quarterback sacks, and was second on the team in third down stops (eight) and passes broken up (five).

"The tweaks we made are more conducive for them to be more 'pin your ears back and go,'" Dorrell said. "We're trying to take a lot of the adjustments we've had the last couple years and simplify those and really let our guys just play and run and go. That's our mentality on the defensive side — it's really going to help that group be even faster."

Offensively, the Buffs are implementing more motion in order to create space for their skill players and — hopefully — create some mismatches against opposing defenses.

"We started right away creating some motions and shifts, stuff that we're not used to," Dorrell said. "But I thought we did a pretty decent job offensively  in executing a few of those things. The defense is catching up to that."

Overall, the Buffs will use the spring to do what every team in America does. 

"We're trying to address the things we're trying to be better at, the things we didn't show as much last year," Dorrell said. "It's a good start for that."

QB COMPETITION: With last year's starting quarterback, Sam Noyer, relegated to conditioning and agility work this spring after undergoing shoulder surgery, it has opened the door for more reps for the other QBs on the roster.

That group includes freshman Brendon Lewis, who is coming off a standout debut in the Alamo Bowl; transfer J.T. Shrout (Tennessee); and incoming freshman Drew Carter.

 "I thought J.T. did some positive things today," Dorrell said. "Brendon is confident. I think the bowl game helped him in his confidence. He looks like a totally different guy out there now since he had that experience in the bowl. Drew Carter did some positive things. You can tell it's a new offense and new process for him."

But, Dorrell said with a chuckle, Noyer was not unnoticed.

"He's definitely around. You can hear him."

FONTENOT READY TO ROLL: Running back Alex Fontenot, who led the team in rushing in 2019 before being sidelined all of last season with a hip injury, is back and feeling 100 percent.

"Thank goodness he's back," Dorrell said. "It was good to see him at practice. It doesn't look like he's favoring anything. He's making good cuts, he's vertically getting push up the field, he's running strong through the line of scrimmage. I think he's over the hump and it's good to have him back."

Fontenot's absence last fall opened the door for Jarek Broussard, who took the Pac-12 by storm and was named the conference's Offensive Player of the Year.

Now, the Buffs have a running backs room that includes Fontenot, Broussard and highly touted Ashaad Clayton.

"There's a lot of talent," Fontenot said. "But the way I look at it, I know ability. I'm going to find my way onto the field."

BARNES FITTING IN: Newcomer Robert Barnes, a graduate transfer from Oklahoma, has made a good early impression.

"Robert has shown great leadership since he's been here," Dorrell said. "He's been great in our offseason workouts and getting to know his new teammates. I've been very pleased with what he's done for us since he's been here."

The 6-2, 230-pound Barnes played in 34 games at Oklahoma with 10 starts, playing both safety and linebacker. He finished his career there with 79 tackles  (49 solo), one tackle for loss, two interceptions, four passes defended and one forced fumble.

Currently listed as an inside linebacker, he is versatile enough to play on the outside or in the "alley" as a hybrid safety/linebacker. 

 "We're trying to get a lot of looks for a lot of different guys and make a good assessment at the linebacker positions," Dorrell said. "What is the best combination? Who are the best three or four guys we can utilize and help us in terms of the core of that group? We're trying to still figure out what their skillset is, what are they really good at. What are the things we want to get our guys in position to do that they're capable of performing? We feel he's going to give us the flexibility to plug and play. He has versatility to be in a number of those positions."

SCHEDULE: The Buffs were in shorts and helmets on Monday and will be in the same gear Wednesday.

They will then conduct two practices in upper pads before donning full pads for the first time April 7. 

CU's first of three scrimmages is set for April 9, with the other two slated for April 16 and April 23. The "Spring Showcase" is scheduled for April 30 and will be televised by the Pac-12 Network.

Contact: Neill.Woelk@Colorado.edu