Both Sides Produce Big Plays In Buffs Scrimmage
BOULDER — Colorado coach Karl Dorrell saw plenty to like in the Buffaloes' second scrimmage of the spring Friday in the CU Indoor Practice Facility.
The extended scrimmage lasted about 60 plays, more than twice the number of last week's initial scrimmage of the spring.
What Dorrell saw was an offense that came up with some big plays, a defense that produced some big stops in the red zone, and overall, another solid step of improvement as the Buffs put their ninth practice of the spring in the books.
"I thought our guys competed well," Dorrell said. "I thought there was a lot of give and take where the offense was making some plays and the defense was making some plays. The defense really stepped up and kept the offense out of the end zone for a number of times we were down there … I think this team is getting better. I feel really good where we are in terms of that progress."
What is becoming increasingly clear on the offensive side is that the Buffs are blessed with an abundance of talent in the backfield. Even with Jarek Broussard sitting out Friday with a tender ankle, CU's backs produced consistently in the run and passing game.
Alex Fontenot, Joe Davis, Ashaad Clayton and Jayle Stacks all had nice runs, with Fontenot breaking tackles up the middle several times to pick up extra yardage.
"I was impressed with Alex today," Dorrell said. "He was very assertive. He wasn't tippy-toeing on anything. He was running hard and getting through the line of scrimmage. What I saw on film in 2019 (when Fontenot led the Buffs in rushing) is what I saw Alex Fontenot do today. That was a really, really positive sign that he's back and he's going to have some great value for us in our backfield."
The Buffs are also making a concerted effort on offense to make their backs an integral part of the passing game. Every CU back caught at least one ball Friday, with Stacks breaking a 25-yard gain, Davis hauling in a couple for first downs and Fontenot and Clayton also getting in on the action.
"That's the one area I think a lot of teams use as the second or third spot in the passing progression — if there's nothing there, check it down to the back," Dorrell said. "We do have some featured plays for the back, where he's the first read. We feel good about our backs in space. In space, it's hard to bring these backs down."
But while the offense did get into the end zone a few times — quarterback J.T. Shrout threw a pair of scores, one to Montana Lemonious-Craig and another to Daniel Arias — the defense also came up big in several red zone situations.
"When their backs were to the wall, particularly down there very deep in the red zone, they tightened up and it was really hard to punch the ball in," Dorrell said. "I'm very excited about that. That's part of what we need our defense to be — very stingy against the run, making sure we're taking care of that area, the scoring area, and limiting teams to field goals."
Coming up with a big play on one key stop were defensive lineman Justin Jackson, linebacker Devin Grant and safety Ray Robinson.
Robinson, who came to CU as a safety but then switched to linebacker, is back at safety and getting some repetitions with the No. 1 defense.
Also producing some big stops on the interior and providing pressure on the quarterback was defensive lineman Lloyd Murray Jr. Meanwhile, linebackers Carson Wells and Joshka Gustav added good pressure on the quarterback from the outside, leading to a couple of sacks.
The Buffs still have limited numbers at some position groups, especially the offensive line, where even a two-deep depth chart across the front might be hard to put together.
Still, Dorrell believes his squad is making steady progress. Now, he said, the key will be to finish strong over the final couple of weeks.
"I think the point right now is to try to finish these next two weeks getting some of that health back and continuing to develop the depth in our program, particularly our young guys," he said. "These were viable reps for them today, to get a chance to scrimmage and play against each other. Good competitive stuff today. Good finish to that third week and hopefully have two more successive improvement weeks to feel good coming out of the spring process."
Other scrimmage notes:
BIG SKY: Montana Lemonious-Craig had a couple catches in the scrimmage, including the touchdown on a beautiful ball from Shrout in the corner of the end zone that produced an excellent catch from the freshman.
"Montana's growing into being what I call a 'comfort piece' for the quarterback," Dorrell said. "Guys that are open, that are productive and do something good with the football. Montana is getting in that role with the quarterbacks. They're really comfortable with him. He didn't play that much last season and we know he's going to be a big part of what we do going forward. It's good to see that there's some comfort there that quarterbacks feel with him."
SETTLING IN: Shrout continues to show a solid comfort level with an offense he just began learning at the semester break after transferring from Tennessee. He moved the offense consistently and his two TD passes were both squarely on the money in tight windows.
"I thought J.T. did a nice job today," Dorrell said. "He's quickly digesting our information. You can tell his comfort level is really starting to get noticed because he's being more accurate, he's being efficient with the football and he's taking advantage of the things he sees. I'm very pleased with where J.T. is. We need a couple more weeks to continue to bring him along and B Lew (Brendon Lewis)."
Lewis also had some bright spots, breaking a couple of long run and also connecting with Dimitri Stanley for a pair of first downs.
SCRIMMAGE TIDBITS: Freshman tight end Caleb Fauria caught a touchdown pass. "He is at that point now that he's made a few plays and his confidence is growing," Dorrell said. "If we can continue to bring him along where he's making productive plays and gaining his confidence, he'll be a factor to help us in the fall." … Davis continues to be a steady factor in the backfield, even in the face of competing with Broussard, Fontenot and Clayton. He's an adept receiver (he caught a touchdown from Shrout in a two-minute drill earlier this week) and can run inside and out. "Joe has been really solid in doing all those types of things, really from the start," Dorrell said. "He's kind of an unsung hero — he doesn't draw a lot of attention. But you recognize that when Joe's on the field, he's usually a very productive kid, he's a dependable kid. He plays that role for us really, really well." … Dimitri Stanley had some nice yards after the catch on a couple of plays … True freshman QB Drew Carter also got some snaps and produced several nice throws, including the touchdown to Fauria … Safety Isaiah Lewis recorded an interception and Mark Perry made plays on the back end and on the line from his safety spot … Josh Jynes (guard) and Gerad Christian-Lichtenhan (tackle) worked with the No. 1 offense.