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Youngsters Make Plays In Third Buffs Scrimmage

Apr 23, 2021

BOULDER — With 12 practices down and three to go, Colorado coach Karl Dorrell continues to like the progress his Buffaloes have made this spring — particularly his younger players.

Friday, the Buffs conducted their third scrimmage of the spring, running about 65 plays that featured a variety of combinations at a number of position groups. 

Most importantly, plenty of younger players — those who will be vying for playing time next fall as well as providing critical depth — got plenty of reps.

"This whole spring process to me, the No. 1 goal is getting our young players reps to get caught up to what we're doing and also watching how they're development goes and being able to teach fundamentals and bring those guys along," Dorrell said. "I know what the older players can do. It's more seeing what those younger players can do that can add to our depth for the fall."

On a day when Dorrell said there were "mixed results" from the quarterback position, the defense emerged with the overall edge, particularly in a handful of "last-minute offense" situations near the end of the scrimmage.

Friday was the first day the Buffs have worked on live last-minute situations and the defense kept the offense out of the end zone in the drills.

"In the two-minute, the first time scrimmaging that was a little bit of a challenge," Dorrell said of quarterbacks Brendon Lewis and J.T. Shrout. "I thought they did some positive things. There were some interceptions today, some of them were tipped interceptions from off a receiver's hand and the defense was right there to recover. I thought they played OK. But if you asked them, they'll say they didn't have a great day because there were some interceptions."

Among the defenders coming up with interceptions in the scrimmage were freshman cornerback Christian Gonzalez (who also had a nice pass breakup), junior safety Isaiah Lewis and junior linebacker Jonathan Van Diest.

The offense did get into the end zone a couple of times near the end of the scrimmage, including on a nice 15-yard run from Ashaad Clayton. The freshman running back was nearly knocked off his feet near the goal line, but kept his balance with his free hand on the ground to reach the end zone.

"The more reps he gets, he just gets faster and faster and faster and he's so much more confident," Dorrell said. "That's just one example of a freshman who with more reps than he's ever had, he feels like he has a great feel in our run game. I'd say there's a number of positions that way."

Dorrell also noted the play of freshman cornerback Tyrin Taylor, who had an interception in 7-on-7 drills, his first of the spring, as well as the development of sophomore defensive lineman Na'im Rodman and true freshman linebacker Devin Grant.

"Na'im has done a really nice job," Dorrell said of the 6-foot-2, 300-pounder who is getting plenty of No. 1 reps alongside veteran Jalen Sami. "He's been consistent from the start of spring practice. He's really getting a great feel of what his role is within our defense. His technique has gotten a lot better. You see him being more aggressive and getting in the backfield and putting pressure on the quarterback … I'm very encouraged with where Na'im is. I'm sure he feels the same way, that he can carry that confidence and experience into the summer and be one of our key players for us on the defensive line in the future."

Dorrell also mentioned juniors Janaz Jordan and Justin Jackson as defensive linemen who have made big strides this spring.

Grant, an early enrollee, continues to make plays from his outside linebacker spot.

"You can tell he's learning and picking up his job responsibility, doing really well," Dorrell said. "He had a good strong scrimmage today, playing much more assertive and playing fast. He is definitely one of those guys for a young player who is getting better and is taking advantage of his reps. He's on par to really being a big factor for us in the depth of our outside 'backer position going into summer."

CU's running backs continue to be productive, with Clayton, Alex Fontenot, Joe Davis and Jayle Stacks all producing some solid gains Friday, both in the run and pass game.

In the receiving game, Dorrell said, "No one really stood out at receiver. (Tight end) Matt Lynch had a couple nice catches today."

The Buffs have three practices remaining next week, culminating with Friday's "Spring Showcase" at Folsom Field.

"I really like the work that's going on right now," Dorrell said. "We have three days left. We're progressing well.  Hopefully we'll have a good showcase on Friday and call it a wrap. I would say the body of work this spring has been pretty good for our young players to get some reps and get caught up with what we're doing."

BUFFS BITS: Tight end Brady Russell is taking part in more and more of each practice, but did not scrimmage Friday, as the CU staff is being prudent when it comes to veterans who are either returning from an injury or nursing minor tweaks. "We don't want to create a setback for (Russell)," Dorrell said. "We already know what he can do. It's bringing him along so he's confident that he's running routes effectively, getting his timing back, things like that. We're being very cautious with guys like him." … 

Another young player who continues to make plays is freshman inside linebacker Alvin Williams … Grad transfer Robert Barnes is also proving to have a knack for being in the right place at the right time … Tight end Jared Poplawski and wide receiver Keith Miller III each had catches for nice gains … Freshman O-linemen Carson Lee (center) and Valentin Senn (guard) are getting snaps with the No. 2 unit.

VISKA VISITS: Former CU star LaViska Shenault, now with the Jacksonville Jaguars in the NFL, paid a visit to practice Friday to check up on some of his old teammates as well as younger brother La'Vontae.

"I like all of our former players that are in the league coming back so they can share their experiences and the challenges they face," Dorrell said. "I think there's definitely some educational moments that he can help this team with."