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Spring Wrap-up: Buffs Improved Depth, Set Stage For Competitive Fall Camp

May 5, 2021

 

BOULDER — When Karl Dorrell's Colorado Buffaloes hit the field in August for the beginning of fall camp, they will be a much, much different team than the bunch we saw last fall.

Much improved. Much deeper. And, if their summer session goes as planned, much more confident.

Those improvements will all be an extension of the Buffs' first spring session under Dorrell, one he and his assistant coaches utilized as a springboard to summer and fall camp.

By all accounts, the spring was a successful endeavor. What CU fans can take away from the spring:

— Development of roster depth was a priority and the Buffs met that priority. Given the circumstances leading up to last season, Dorrell had almost no time to develop anything past a two-deep depth chart. CU had no spring session, an abbreviated summer session and a rushed fall camp. Colorado coaches were forced into hurry-up mode to prepare for the season — which they did with admirable results.

But now, after 15 spring practices, the Buffs have more depth across the board and more players who are more comfortable in the new defensive and offensive schemes.

Even at places where the Buffs were thin this spring, particularly on the offensive and defensive fronts, they were able to develop some young players who will be critical in providing depth next fall.

That comfort level within the schemes breeds confidence. Confidence opens the door to the ability to play faster and be more aggressive. Those traits will be invaluable in CU's summer development.

— Speaking of summer, the next stage of workouts will be crucial to Colorado's continued advancement. Summer workouts are greatly underrated by most folks, simply because they are off the radar.

No organized practices, no pads and, for the most part, no publicity.

But this will be the Buffs' first summer with new strength and conditioning boss Shannon Turley — and it is in the summer that the biggest gains in those areas are made. This is when players truly have the opportunity to get bigger, faster and stronger, and they're indoctrination into Turley's system will be crucial.

Meanwhile, they will also have the opportunity to continue to work through the playbook with player-led practices, their own 7-on-7 work and other individual skill sessions. These are sessions that can improve players' comfort level with the schemes, help them become more familiar with their assignments and those of the players around them,  and help develop continuity.

Every team works hard in fall camp. Every player shows up for camp with a competitive attitude.

But it is during the summer, when the season is still a few months away and the spotlight is shining elsewhere, that some teams make excellent headway and others do not. This is where the Buffs' veteran leaders can make a difference.

— Continued shift in offensive philosophy. Granted, the sample size — a handful of scrimmages — was small. But from what we saw, the Buffs are making a concerted effort to involve the tight end more in the passing game as well as create more opportunities for running backs in space.

The concept is simple — get the backs in space, get them the ball and let them go one-on-one with a defender. The Buffs have the backs who can make plays in those situations and CU's emphasis on making that a regular part of the offense is clear.

As for tight ends, we saw more motion and more shifts, a strategy that causes issues for defenses. Covering a big, fast tight end isn't easy. When that tight end goes in motion, it causes last-second defensive adjustments that give an edge to the offense.

— Skill position depth. It's been a long time since the Buffs have had this kind of depth and talent in the running backs room. There are at least three backs — Jarek Broussard, Alex Fontenot and Ashaad Clayton — who could make a legitimate run at the starting job in fall camp. There are two more — Joe Davis and Jayle Stacks — who will have the opportunity to make a case for playing time as well.

Dorrell has hinted he'll go with the hot hand, and there's a distinct possibility that hot hand could change from week to week, or even quarter to quarter.

Meanwhile, CU's wide receivers room is once again plentifully stocked. From La'Vontae Shenault to Dimitri Stanley to Daniel Arias, there are a number of veterans ready to seize the moment. At the same time, there are a handful of young players — think Montana Lemonious-Craig, Keith Miller III, Brenden Rice and Chris Carpenter — who had solid spring sessions and will put themselves squarely in the mix in fall camp.

As for tight ends, it's another crowded room deep with talent. Incumbent starter Brady Russell is in good position to reclaim his spot and Matt Lynch showed consistency throughout camp. Freshman Caleb Fauria came on strong down the stretch, Alec Pell is quickly getting acclimated to the position and Jared Poplawski had some moments in the last couple of weeks. Throw in a new face or two in the summer and it's another position where competition will be plentiful. 

— Yes, the quarterback competition will be fierce. Just a year ago, Sam Noyer won the fall camp battle to earn the starting spot.

Now, Noyer will find himself in another battle after missing the spring following surgery.

This one could go down to the wire. Both freshman Brendon Lewis and sophomore J.T. Shrout had excellent spring sessions. Both gained confidence, both impressed their coaches and both looked comfortable in the offense.

Noyer is by no means going to be playing catchup, but with Lewis and Shrout getting all the meaningful reps in the spring, they have pulled much closer to the incumbent. Their summers will be critical and it will be fun to see how CU coaches divvy up the reps when fall camp rolls around.

— Depth at linebacker. While much of the attention in spring ball was focused on the plentiful talent at the offensive skill positions, the Buffs also developed some solid depth at both linebacker spots.

With ILB Nate Landman out, it opened the door for plenty of reps for veteran Jonathan Van Diest, and the junior responded with an excellent spring from beginning to end. Also having solid springs inside were grad transfer Robert Barnes and freshman Alvin Williams, while Quinn Perry and Marvin Ham II had good showings early before being sidelined.

On the outside, returning All-Pac-12 performer Carson Wells had an impressive showing throughout the spring and appears ready to take his game to the next level. Freshman Joshka Gustav made big strides and will be a force in fall camp, and freshman Devin Grant turned heads as well.

That depth will be a big plus in CU's new defensive scheme, which aims to present opportunities for playmakers — and every one of those linebackers fits that bill.

— Competition, competition, competition. The depth CU developed in the spring means fall camp will present some extremely competitive position battles. Along with those spots we've already mentioned, there should be some excellent battles along the defensive line and in the secondary.

Up front, Na'im Rodman had a steady, solid spring. Veteran Jalen Sami did nothing to suggest he won't be ready to take another step as a big-time stopper in the middle, and Janaz Jordan, Justin Jackson and Lloyd Murray Jr. will fit into the equation as well. Another plus — Terrance Lang should be healthy for the summer.

The secondary competition should be interesting as well. Freshman Christian Gonzalez looks to be a fixture at one corner, but the other will have several contenders. True freshman Tyrin Taylor had an impressive spring, Jaylen Striker had some moments, Nigel Bethel showed a nose for the ball and veteran Mekhi Blackmon will figure in if he returns to corner from the nickel spot, where he spent most of the spring.

The back end will also be interesting. Isaiah Lewis, who had a solid season last fall, will be a factor again at safety, while Mark Perry made big strides at free safety. Ray Robinson also made some noise at strong safety and Toren Pittman will figure in the equation.

There will also be some battles on the offensive line as well. While Frank Fillip (left tackle), Colby Pursell (center) and Kary Kutsch (left guard) look to be firmly entrenched at their spots, there will be battles for the two-deep as well as at the other guard and tackle spots.

Jake Wiley made nice strides at right tackle, Kanan Ray looked good at guard early, and he can play tackle as well. Gerad Christian-Lichtenhan received a ton of snaps at left tackle and will be in the mix, as will Joshua Jynes at guard. Also figuring in the mix will be Carson Lee, while Chance Lytle, Austin Johnson and Casey Roddick — all of whom missed the spring — will be back in the competitive mix.

There will also be battles in the kicking game. Vets Josh Watts and Evan Price had good springs, but there are some new legs on the way for the summer that will push the needle fall camp.

— Dorrell's culture now has a foundation. Dorrell's first year in Boulder left little opportunity for him to implement the culture he expected.

But now, with a new strength coach, a new defensive coordinator and some other new assistants — plus plenty of face-to-face time with his team this spring — he has had time to make clear what he expect from the Buffaloes.

Now, things like "accountability," "ownership" and "discipline" are more than just words. The Buffs know what is expected of them in those areas and they know how to build those traits and make them foundational pieces of the program.

A year ago, Dorrell and his staff were scrambling to find ways to engage the players on a regular basis. 

That won't be a problem this summer. Dorrell's culture is taking shape — and this Buffs team should be ready to take the next step in the fall.

Contact: Neill.Woelk@Colorado.edu