Buffs Wrap Up Spring With Solid Showcase Performance
BOULDER — Friday's Colorado Spring Showcase at a sun-splashed Folsom Field proved to be a nice microcosm of the Buffaloes' spring overall: big plays on both sides of the ball, young players stepping up and grabbing a share of the spotlight, and overall improvement evident everywhere.
"I was encouraged by the whole body of work this spring," said CU head coach Karl Dorrell. "They worked hard. Our young guys have a good feel of what we're doing on offense and defense. Now, we need a lot of summer work to put all the icing on the cake."
Friday's workout was a controlled affair with a strong focus on situational work. While the offense had a chance to extend long drives on a couple of occasions, Dorrell limited each unit's time on the field because of depth issues on both sides of the ball.
Still, there proved to be plenty of opportunity to see the development of players on both sides, beginning with young quarterbacks Brendon Lewis and J.T. Shrout.
Each had bright moments in Friday's showcase. Shrout, a sophomore grad transfer, finished 9-for-13 for 77 yards and a touchdown, a 3-yard toss to tight end Alec Pell in red zone work. Lewis, a freshman, was 8-for-9 for 62 yards and also had a 10-yard run.
Also getting snaps were Drew Carter (1-for-1, 15 yards), Grant Ciccarone (3-3, 22) and Jordan Woolverton (1-2, 5).
"We feel like that stable has changed drastically from what it was when I first got here last year," Dorrell said. "You can see how good 'B. Lew' is playing. He looks more comfortable in the pocket, he's making some really good positive plays. You can tell his growth is on the upswing. J.T. Shrout, for a guy that just got here in January, I think he's in the thick of it as well. He's caught up learning the system and he was able to piece himself together."
Both should offer a stiff challenge to incumbent starter Sam Noyer, who should be ready to roll by the summer after offseason shoulder surgery, setting the stage for a hotly contested quarterback battle in fall camp.
"It's going to be a tremendous competition once Sam gets back in the summer," Dorrell said. "Sam's going to have to try to hold off two pretty good players that are going to be on his heels. It's a good situation to have."
Also on the offensive side Friday, six wide receivers had at least one catch, as did two tight ends and four running backs, with Pell's TD the only receiving score of the day. Four running backs had at least two carries (Jarek Broussard sat the scrimmage out), with Jayle Stacks and Charlie Offerdahl crossing the goal line in red zone work.
Defensively, eight players registered at least three tackles and the defense also recorded three sacks and five third-down stops. In the "Good News-Bad News Dept.," the defense did not register a takeaway — meaning the offense did not give the ball up via fumble or interception.
Now, the Buffs will have most of May off before reconvening in June to begin their summer workout sessions that will include plenty of work with new strength and conditioning coordinator Shannon Turley.
Dorrell talked to his players before Friday's finale about the importance of coming back in June ready to take the next step in their development. While a little time away from the grind to spend with friends and family will be valuable, Dorrell said he also wants them to stay focused on the task ahead.
"I want them to reflect on the work we need to accomplish this summer," Dorrell said. "We talked about that at length this morning before the scrimmage. There's some work we need to get done both as a team physically, and also the mental aspect of sharpening ourselves and sharpening each other about the challenges that are set in front of us in terms of our schedule … There's a lot I want them to digest and think about because when June hits, we're going to be hitting it hard and heavy."
Some individual highlights from Friday's workout:
— Four wide receivers had three catches, led by La'Vontae Shenault's three grabs for 38 yards that included a beautiful one-handed snag. Freshman Montana Lemonious-Craig had three for 37, including the day's longest catch, a 27-yarder from Shrout; freshman Keith Miller III had three catches for 30 yards, with each catch producing a first down; and sophomore Dimitri Stanley had three for 26 (Stanley took a hard hit late in the scrimmage but he checked out fine following with no significant injuries).
— Tight ends and running backs were also a big part of the passing game. Freshman tight end Caleb Fauria, who came on over the last couple of weeks of the spring, had two catches for 26 yards and Pell had one for 3. As for running backs, Stacks caught two passes and Ashaad Clayton, Alex Fontenot and Joe Davis each had one.
— In the run game, Clayton wrapped up a productive spring by carrying five times for 40 yards, including a 24-yard jaunt for the day's longest run. Davis had six carries for 25 yards, Fontenot added five for 21, Offerdahl had five for 20 and Stacks had two for five yards, including a 3-yard scoring run.
— On the defensive side, CU's linebackers had solid days. Junior inside LB Jonathan Van Diest — who Dorrell later singled out as having a solid, consistent spring — finished with five tackles, as did fellow inside 'backer Robert Barnes. Outside linebacker Joshka Gustav finished with three tackles; including a pair of sacks; and outside linebacker Devin Grant, another impressive youngster in the spring, had three tackles. Also on the inside, walkon LB Geno Macias had three stops, as did walkon safety Steele Dubar.
— Up front, defensive lineman Justin Jackson had three stops, including a sack, and Lloyd Murray Jr. was in on two tackles.
SCHOLARSHIPS AWARDED: When Friday's practice began, junior safety Curtis Appleton and grad transfer tight end Matt Lynch were both walkons.
But after Dorrell paired the two in a one-on-one drill, he pointed to the scoreboard — where they each learned they had been awarded a scholarship.
"Both of those guys were integral pieces for us last year and they've made some productive input on both sides of the ball," Dorrell said. "Curtis was doing some really good things for us on our defensive side. He's grown at the safety position and he's one of our core special teams players. "Matt came in and quickly acclimated himself. He was an integral piece to us last year when Brady (Russell) got hurt."
Appleton last season played in all six games as a key special teams performer, and also played 35 snaps on defense in three games. He had a key interception against San Diego State.
Lynch, a grad transfer from UCLA, is a converted quarterback. He played his last season at UCLA as a tight end, then transferred to Colorado for last season, when he played in four regular season games and caught two passes. Now he is taking advantage of the "extra" year of eligibility presented by the Covid pandemic.
Dorrell wants every walkon to know that a similar opportunity is available.
"We want the competition to be fierce at every position," he said. I want our walkons to feel like if you do walk on at Colorado, 'If I work hard and I can get on the depth chart and contribute on special teams, I have a chance to earn a scholarship,'" he said. "That's what these two guys did. Those guys are well deserved."
A video of the scholarship presentation can be viewed here.