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Leadership Emerging As Buffs Continue Fall Training Camp

Aug 6, 2021
Tight end Brady Russell is back, healthy and leading a solid position group.

BOULDER — Fall training camp is more than Xs and Os.

No doubt, implementing defensive and offensive schemes and game plans is critical, as is identifying the players who can best execute those schemes.

But another critical process through the long haul of camp is continuing the building of a culture of leadership — and so far, Colorado coach Karl Dorrell is pleased with what he's seen of his Buffaloes in that regard.

The Buffs wrapped up their second day of camp Friday. Dorrell again said he liked what he saw from his players on the field, and noted that their effort in August is the product of work from last spring through the summer.

Those are the days that set the stage for improvement.

"It's a combination of things," Dorrell said. "It's their training, what they did this summer to get themselves in really good physical shape to play the game. And then I think it's a great step from what they did in spring, the information we had there. They carried that over to the summer and really enhanced the efficiency and productivity of what they did in the spring. It is a culmination of our training and those guys doing a lot of player-led stuff in the summer. It's definitely reflected in what I've seen."

That progress also requires more than just coaches instructing players. The process also involves leadership from older players who know the culture Dorrell and his staff want to build, and assume their roles in making sure that foundation is firmly established.

"It's critical because I feel the foundation has been laid," Dorrell said "We've made it as strong as possible and it's a good foundation. There's a great comfort in knowing that they know what the expectations are. They know how we handle ourselves within our program. It's comforting to see

that they've kind of bought into that,  but more importantly they've bought into each other."

Dorrell obviously depends on his veterans to assume that leadership role — but he is also seeing some transfers assume those duties, in particular those who came in as graduate transfers, such as linebacker Robert Barnes.

"He quickly has established a respect in that leadership that he's brought because of his work ethic," Dorrell said. "He's always been vocal, he's always been very encouraging with his teammates. Those are all great qualities of leaders, who really understand how to pick guys up that need to be picked up and how to get on guys that need to pick it up. He's been able to do those things really early. He's been a great addition for us."

LANG READY FOR NEXT STEP: Dorrell said he and his staff believe this could be a breakout year for defensive lineman Terrance Lang. 

Last season, the junior finished with 14 tackles — five for loss, including a sack — in five regular season games. That came on the heels of a six-sack effort in 2019.

Lang missed spring ball because of offseason surgery, but is now at about 95 percent, according to Dorrell.

"He's in great condition," Dorrell said. "He should be full go in another week's time."

Always a physically gifted and potentially dominant player, Lang has improved the developmental side of his game as he matures.

"You haven't seen the best of his game yet," Dorrell said. "You saw glimpses of it because he's such a good athlete. Now the mental side of the game — his football knowledge and his role in understanding the defensive system is really going to enhance it even more. We're excited to watch him play."

BUILDING DEPTH: After finishing last season without much experienced depth at inside linebacker and tight end, the Buffs have improved significantly in both of those areas.

At ILB, all-Pac-12 performer Nate Landman is back after missing the bowl game because of an Achilles injury. Meanwhile, veteran Jonathan Van Diest is reaping the benefits of a productive spring, and newcomers Barnes and Jack Lamb (also a grad transfer) are giving CU plenty of depth in the middle of the defense.

At tight end, Brady Russell is back after missing most of last season with an injury.

"He adds that experience dimension and also the savviness of the position," Dorrell said. " I think some of the younger players are starting to learn by emulating and watching what he's doing. It's good to have him back on the field. He's a great leader. He does a great job of encouraging his group by helping them get coached. He's been a very good presence for us."

Russell, who actually helped coach the position during CU's Alamo Bowl appearance in the absence of the Buffs' regular tight ends coach, said he's now in better shape than at any time in his Colorado career. Now, he's ready to be a key contributor to an offense that has plenty of explosive potential.

"We have so much more depth than we have in the past, whether it's young guys or transfers," he said. "There's a lot of veteran leadership. I feel a lot of confidence."