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First Spring Scrimmage For Buffs Should Highlight Position Battles

Apr 8, 2021

BOULDER — Karl Dorrell's Colorado Buffaloes will conduct their first scrimmage of the spring Friday, a workout that should provide at least a glimpse of some of the changes on both sides of the ball.

The Buffs are installing a new defensive scheme under new coordinator Chris Wilson, and they're making some offensive changes as well to incorporate some new looks on coordinator Darrin Chiaverini's side of the ball.

Dorrell has said he hopes to get the basic installation of the new playbook completed on both sides by the end of the spring. He also indicated he will "stress" his players just a little and challenge them to absorb as much as possible in the 15 allotted practices (Friday's scrimmage will be No. 6).

But along with changes to the playbook, spring is equally important when it comes to giving young players a chance to compete. Dorrell has said he hopes to have a depth chart formulated at the end of the spring session, and there are a number of positions where up-and-comers are getting their chances to show they deserve a long look when fall camp rolls around.

Five positions that are shaping up as spots that will be fun to watch right up until the Sept. 3 season opener:

1. Quarterback. With incumbent starter Sam Noyer out for the spring following surgery, the door has been opened for plenty of reps for freshman Brendon Lewis and sophomore transfer J.T. Shrout, the two candidates most likely to be in the mix for time next fall (Shrout is still awaiting an NCAA ruling on his eligibility for the season).

Both have had solid camps thus far, with each getting snaps with the No. 1 offense. Lewis has built on the confidence he gained from an outstanding showing in the Alamo Bowl and his playmaking ability is evident. Shrout has good accuracy, good arm strength and, in the words of Chiaverini, "natural quarterback savvy."

Friday will be their first chance to show how they can operate the offense in a scrimmage situation.

But, this won't be a race decided in the spring, especially with Noyer waiting to get back on the field. However, we already know this much: this might be the most talented and deep quarterback room the Buffaloes have had in recent memory. The competition from now through fall camp should be interesting to watch develop. 

2. Running back. When you have two players in your backfield who have both led the team in rushing in one of the last two seasons, it screams competition. 

That's what the Buffs have in sophomore Jarek Broussard, last season's Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year, and junior Alex Fontentot, who ran for 874 yards and five touchdowns and also caught 27 passes in 2019.

But just like the late-night TV commercial, there's more … 

The Buffs also have a host of talented youngsters itching to get their chance, including freshman Ashaad Clayton and sophomore Joe Davis, both of whom have shown flashes this spring, and freshman Jayle Stacks brings a different dimension if needed.

Broussard is the incumbent starter, and he's done nothing this spring to lose his grip on the spot. But it still makes for a competitive battle, and it's another spot that will have plenty of twists and turns between now and September.

3. Inside linebacker. OK, let's jump to the defensive side of the ball.

Out for the spring — but on target to be ready for fall camp — is All-Pac-12 senior Nate Landman, last year's team MVP.

His absence, however, has opened up repetitions for a host of other players, and CU coaches must also find another ILB to replace graduated starter Akil Jones.

Veteran Jonathan Van Diest has the most experience of any CU returnee, but grad transfer Robert Barnes (Oklahoma) has the most playing time of anyone in the group. Also having a good camp and earning reps with the No. 1 unit have been junior Quinn Perry, returning freshmen Alvin Williams and Marvin Ham II, and true freshman Zephaniah Maea.

Barnes, who also played safety at Oklahoma, is a versatile player who can line up inside or in the alleys. Van Diest had a solid winter offseason and has a great grasp of the defensive plan and the younger players are making a case for their names on the two deep.

4. Wide receiver. Back to the offense and a position that has some excellent returning veterans and a host of young, talented players vying for their chance at some playing time.

Returning players with starting experience include Dimitri Stanley, La'Vontae Shenault, Maurice Bell and Daniel Arias. All have had their moments, with Stanley the returning leader in yardage last year (249 on 16 catches) and Shenault the leader in receptions (17 for 193).

Shenault, by the way, has earned praise from Dorrell for his growth in maturity after some off-the-field difficulties, and he appears ready to take full advantage of his vast potential. 

Then there are the youngsters. Freshman Brenden Rice last year turned heads with a 61-yard TD catch and an 81-yard punt return for a score against Utah. Freshmen Chris Carpenter, Montana Lemonious-Craig and Keith Miller III each brings a different skill set to the field. And, veteran Jaylon Jackson has had his moments as well.

It is a talented, deep room — and one that will be producing competition right up to the season opener.

5. Defensive line. This is where every good defense starts — and Wilson might have the horses to give the Buffs a punch here.

Certainly, there is depth. Massive defensive tackle Jalen Sami (6-6, 325) is back, as is talented defensive end Terrance Lang. Also pushing early in spring ball are Janaz Jordan, Jayden Simon, Na'im Rodman and Justin Jackson — just to name a few.

No doubt, this is a spot with plenty of candidates — and a position where the two-deep is critical. Coaches love to keep fresh legs in the trenches, and the more dependable players the Buffs can have at the position, the better.