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Dorrell Likes Defensive Effort In Third Spring Practice; Barnes Standing Out

Apr 2, 2021
Grad transfer linebacker Robert Barnes is fitting in quickly into CU's defense.

BOULDER — Colorado's third practice of the spring put a smile on the face of Buffaloes head coach Karl Dorrell.

After two workouts in shorts and helmets, the Buffs finally donned shoulder pads for their third workout Friday, and Dorrell liked what he saw — particularly from the defense.

"Our tackling technique and fundamentals, judging on how it started last year and where we are now, are completely different," Dorrell said. "Guys are really understanding how to squeeze space, how to utilize where your help is, doing a great job vice tackling, doing a better job of open field tackling. I felt really good today. This practice showed a lot of improvement, even from what we did in the bowl game. It's a really good start defensively."

The Buffs are using the spring to implement a new defensive scheme under new coordinator Chris Wilson. So far, Dorrell said, players are finding the new playbook very much to their liking, as it lends to an improved level of confidence when it comes to calling out assignments.

"It's more player friendly," Dorrell said. "We're not having as many checks. You'll notice that even in practice you're seeing so much more communication where they're confident with the calls that they're making. That's something I think last year was 'gray.' I think now you're seeing a lot of assertive calling and adjustments on the defensive side. Guys stepping up, great verbal communication. I think defensively it's a really positive step forward with our new scheme."

Dorrell also mentioned a handful of players who have performed well after three practices, including new linebacker Robert Barnes. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound graduate transfer from Oklahoma has been playing inside linebacker, but has the versatility to fit into CU's scheme in several places. 

"You can feel his presence on the field," Dorrell said. "He's a veteran player, had a lot of experience. You can see how he carries himself, how he can diagnose plays, how he tracks the football and how he fits on runners. You can tell he's been around the block, so to speak. I think he's going to be a really good piece for us. When Nate (Landman) gets back, there will be a couple guys like him that I think will really help engineer this defense to be a really good defense in the fall."

Other defenders Dorrell mentioned included inside linebackers Alvin Williams (who made the move from outside), inside linebacker Quinn Perry, outside linebackers Joshka Gustav and Carson Wells, and safety Mark Perry.

Williams, Dorrell said, has "made his presence known" while Quinn Perry has "done some positive things." 

At safety, Mark Perry's improvement could be key for a CU defense at a position that needs to replace a graduated starter as well as develop depth. Perry is also running sprints for the CU track team this spring.

"He made a few plays today that I didn't see him make routinely last year," Dorrell said.

Dorrell said Gustav, who saw some quality snaps down the stretch last season, is "carrying that to the next level for his development. Carson, same thing."

On offense, Dorrell said some of the early standouts are the "usual suspects" — running backs Jarek Broussard and Alex Fontenot and wide receivers La'Vontae Shenault and Dimitri Stanley.

DB VERSATILITY: Dorrell said defensive passing game coordinator Brett Maxie and cornerbacks coach Demetrice Martin will continue to "cross train" their defensive backs to be able to play multiple positions.

"Because of these sophisticated offensive systems you see in both college and in the NFL, you have to have a number of secondary players that can play in certain roles on the defensive side," Dorrell said. "We play with three corner sets and one safety, we play with three safeties in the game and two corners. The more flexible we can be and then plug and play with some of the personnel, that's really going to help us."

Teaching such flexibility also gives players a broad view and a better understanding of the overall defense.

"We're teaching the defense that way for them to really understand the big picture and not be so isolated on their spot," he said. "That is how we're moving forward, is to create that versatility in the back end."

SCHEDULE: The Buffs will have another practice Monday in shorts and shoulder pads, then put on full pads Wednesday. Their first scrimmage is scheduled for next Friday.