Woelk: Dorrell's Goal Of Spring Development Produces Results
BOULDER — "Develop. Develop. Develop."
That recent social media message from Colorado Buffaloes coach Karl Dorrell succinctly wrapped up his spring football philosophy.
Develop depth, develop young players for the future, and develop a culture that will create the discipline and accountability necessary to produce sustainable success over the long haul.
So far, Dorrell's first spring session with the Buffs has been a solid portrayal of that philosophy. While no doubt critical in terms of X's and O's — CU coaches are implementing substantial changes on both sides of the ball this spring — these 15 practices may be equally important in terms of Dorrell having the opportunity to truly establish a foundation for the program.
Results to this point are promising. Monday provided the latest evidence, when the Buffs put together a solid start-to-finish workout.
"I'm just really encouraged with what this team's doing right now," Dorrell said. "They're really getting the information down and it's starting to really look nice and sharp and crisp and precision-like … We're so much further ahead now than we were at any point last fall. That's encouraging. We want to continue to stay on that path that will get us to be a really good team at the start of the season."
Every good practice is a reason for coaches to feel encouraged. But Monday practices in the spring — after players have had a couple days off — are almost always dicey propositions. Just two weeks ago, Dorrell made public his disappointment with his team's effort in a Monday workout, after he expressed that displeasure with them following the practice.
But since then, the Buffs have attacked Mondays with renewed vigor.
"This team responds to constructive criticism, the constructive work we were talking about at that time," Dorrell said. "The last two Mondays have almost been steps up coming off a weekend. They've had Saturday and Sunday off and they stepped it up."
No doubt, one practice is barely a snapshot when it comes to the big picture. But within something such as Monday's snapshot is the assurance that the Buffs are beginning to see the big picture through the lens Dorrell is providing.
"All these players that are here practicing and working on their skill sets and learning our system are all chomping at the bit about getting some meaningful reps," Dorrell said. "In the fall, it's hard to get everybody reps. This spring, we're getting everybody a ton of reps, whether you're walk-on status or second team or whatever. They're getting a chance to really showcase what they can do."
That process is building a competitive, disciplined group that will reach far beyond a two-deep depth chart. Players know they have a real chance to prove their abilities — but they also know every snap, every drill counts.
The result is confidence, competition and critical depth.
"You're trying to see who you can count on," Dorrell said. "They may not be starters but they can be a top reserve and help us on special teams. There's a lot of things we're really making that evaluation on."
That is how solid programs are built to withstand the test of time. Young players who have been tested in practice are prepared to step in and perform when needed without a significant dropoff in production. Young players get meaningful snaps in the spring, experience success and gain confidence — and are then ready to translate that experience into game situations in the fall.
"As a head coach, I feel really good about what we're doing," Dorrell said. "We have so many players that are really starting to gain confidence and are starting to play a little bit faster and not be so gray in their thinking. They're starting to trend in the right way."
Of course, this spring is not a "normal" spring in many ways.
For starters, there was no spring session at all last year. When all CU students were sent home near the outset of the Covid pandemic, that included student-athletes. Then came a greatly abbreviated summer session before an on-off-on again fall schedule that ultimately produced just five regular season games and a bowl appearance.
And, through it all, the ever-present shadow of a pandemic that changed virtually everything in their waking lives.
But this spring has at least provided a hint of a return to "normal" — and there's no doubt players are a little more excited than usual about practices.
Now, while the veterans are still clearly getting their opportunities to improve, younger players have their chances as well. There is no game on the immediate horizon, no time crunch of installing a game plan and preparing for an opponent.
Instead, it's a chance to improve, a chance to grow and a chance to learn.
Dorrell is seeing the results up and down the roster.
In last week's scrimmage, wide receiver Daniel Arias caught a touchdown pass, as did tight end Caleb Fauria.
For Arias, the spring has been a huge step forward.
"You can tell every time he's out practicing," Dorrell said. "He's so much more confident, he's so much more assertive. You see it in his speed, you feel his speed on the field because he's a lot more comfortable knowing what his information is and what he needs to perform and do. He's a completely different player now than what I saw in the fall. He's playing fast, he's strong and big and he's having a really good spring so far."
It's the same with Fauria, the same with running back Ashaad Clayton, the same with some of CU's young defenders such as linebacker Joshka Gustav — and with some veterans, such as safety Ray Robinson.
Those are just a few examples of the improvement Dorrell is seeing up and down the roster.
"As a head coach, I feel really good about what we're doing," Dorrell said. "It's all really starting to tie in. That lightbulb is starting to glow a little bit stronger."
Dorrell stresses the message and the players are not only buying in, they are reaping the rewards.
It is a simple message with a big payoff.
Develop, develop, develop.
ACADEMIC SUCCESS: CU held its annual Academic Recognition ceremony Monday, with several football players being honored.
Running back Jarek Broussard received the Clancy A. Herbst, Jr., Student-Athlete Achievement Award; Jamar Montgomery and Jayden Simon were among those earning Most Improved Student-Athlete Awards; and 11 football players were recognized for maintaining perfect 4.00 grade-point averages in the 2020 calendar year.
"They are listening to my message about how important it is to be competitive both on and off the field," Dorrell said. "It's starting to resonate. Whatever we do in our program, we're going to compete. We're going to compete in the classroom, compete on the field. That's how we see ourselves in the future. We're going to be great on and off the field."
D-LINE IMPROVEMENT: Even with several players out for the spring and several others not scheduled to arrive until the summer, Dorrell likes the improvement he has seen up front on the defensive side.
"Na'im Rodman has really had a solid spring," Dorrell said. "Janaz Jordan this last week practiced the whole week and did some positive things. You can tell once he gets in shape he's going to be so much better. Justin Jackson is making some positive improvement. Austin Williams is getting in better shape."
PERRY 'HOME' AGAIN: After playing his true freshman year at the nickel spot, then bouncing to strong safety last fall, sophomore Mark Perry believes he's found a comfort zone at free safety in CU's new defensive scheme.
That scheme, Perry said, fits his skills.
"I wouldn't say it's less complicated but it allows us to play a lot faster," Perry said. "As a safety, being able to just get lined up and go, it makes it a lot easier."
Perry is also running sprints for the CU track team this spring, and he said he's seeing the benefits on the football field.
"I've seen it pay off a lot, especially when I'm coming downhill and I'm covering the middle of the field," he said. "I feel faster getting in and out of my breaks."
Dorrell said Perry is having an excellent spring — another one of the younger players who is making big strides.
"Night and day difference from what it was in the fall," Dorrell said.
VACCINE PLANS: With all adults in the state now eligible for Covid vaccines, Dorrell said he hopes to have every player on the team have at least one shot by the end of spring practice.
Then, if the players can get their second shot sometime in May, the Buffs could have virtually every player fully vaccinated by the time they return in June for summer workouts.
"As soon as we do that, we probably won't be mandated to wear masks so much," Dorrell said. "We're hoping that's going to be the case with June being open in recruiting and June also being a time when we're back in summer access. Hopefully it will look very similar to what a normal year would look like in June."