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Woelk: A Little Continuity A Big Piece Of Puzzle For 2021 Buffaloes

Aug 13, 2021

BOULDER — When the Colorado Buffaloes opened training camp this year, it proved to be a milestone moment for the vast majority of CU  players.

Prior to this year's opening, only 12 players on CU's entire roster had participated in back-to-back fall camps in Boulder under the same head coach. That means players entering their fourth season with the Buffs (and third and second) are finally getting the chance to experience a little continuity.

Do not underestimate the importance or significance of that stability.

This year, the Buffs are not learning from scratch. They are not trying to figure out how the new guy wants things done, what he expects of them and how they are supposed to react.

These things — a team's foundational culture — are already in place. CU players know what to expect from Karl Dorrell, and they know his expectations of them.

Now, they can take their games and their program to the next level, which is exactly what Dorrell and his coaching staff are aiming to do this year.

Of course, there were some offseason staff changes. Defensive line coach Chris Wilson has added the title of defensive coordinator, and has tweaked CU's defensive scheme to be more in line with his and Dorrell's philosophy.

Shannon Turley is the new strength and conditioning coordinator, bringing with him a scientific and psychological approach that includes the "why" of his regimens, not just the "what."

And, Bryan Cook has stepped into the role as tight ends coach while Mark Smith heads the inside linebackers.

But while those changes are no doubt important, the most crucial piece of the puzzle is the same. For the first time in four seasons, CU players have the same head coach — and that is why the optimism always so prevalent this time of year on every college campus bears a little more weight in Boulder.

The Buffs aren't guessing about what they are capable of accomplishing. After a 4-2 finish in 2020 that saw them head into the final week of the regular season in contention for a Pac-12 South title, they know.

Now, they are confident that Dorrell's culture is solid. They believe in him, they believe in his system and they believe that good things are on the horizon — and Dorrell believes in his players. After surviving a first year in which every day seemingly presented a new unprecedented obstacle, he can concentrate on football.

Friday's CU Media Day provided the annual dose of unfettered optimism, the same healthy dose of positive thinking that is common with just about every team in America at this point.

Everyone is undefeated. Everyone had a good summer of strength and conditioning and everyone is confident.

The Buffs are no different. Virtually every player who stepped in front of a microphone or notepad Friday said he expected CU to be a better team this year.

But the Buffaloes' confidence is built on more than hope. The Buffs bought into Dorrell's philosophy a year ago and reaped a positive return on their investment.

This year, they are buying in not only to their coach, but to each other.

The 2021 Buffs are deeper than the 2020 version at virtually every position on the team, including some spots where the wealth of talent is elite. They added experience via the transfer portal at some key positions and have improved depth at others simply through the process of giving young players a chance to play a year ago.

Now those youngsters are veterans, familiar with what it takes not only to play at the college level, but what it takes to succeed. There is an expectation that they will perform at that level.

No doubt, this year's CU schedule is an imposing lineup. Four opponents were included in the preseason coaches' national top 25, with four more receiving votes.

But it is the type of schedule the Buffs are embracing. They want to test themselves against the best, and they want to prove that last year's finish to the season — two straight losses — will not be a theme that continues into 2021.

"They had a good taste in their mouth from what they were able to accomplish last year," Dorrell said recently. "(But) they obviously want to change the narrative of how we finished the year. There's a lot of motivation about getting our work in and our leaders are really leading that charge."

MEDIA DAY NOTES: Dorrell said it will probably be "a couple more weeks" before he and his staff settle on a starting quarterback. He said the competition between J.T. Shrout and Brendon Lewis is nip-and-tuck, and CU coaches will use the next two scrimmages — Saturday's workout and the following Saturday — to help make the final decision. "Both are playing really well," he said. "We'll see if there's some separation." … 

Dorrell continues to like what he's seeing from the Buffs' additions through the transfer portal. Each new player, he said, has performed well, and has brought welcome experience and depth to the roster at key positions … 

But, Dorrell also noted, he's not fond of the Pac-12's recent decision to allow players to transfer within the conference without having to sit out a year. The ramifications of that rule, he said, have yet to be seen, but he's not predicting that they will be good for all the conference schools … Dorrell said about 94 to 95 percent of his players have received a covid vaccine, and all of his coaching staff is expected to have received their second dose within the next 10 days. Players and personnel who haven't received a vaccine must be regularly tested and must also wear masks indoors. Dorrell also said there could be travel ramifications for unvaccinated personnel … 

The process of building depth continues to pay benefits. Dorrell used outside linebacker as an example. Last spring, Carson Wells and Joshka Gustav took roughly 90 percent of the snaps because of injuries. But now, with veterans Jamar Montgomery and Guy Thomas healthy, and the rapid improvement of freshman Zion Magalei, the Buffs are able to get those players some quality snaps, which also allows CU not to overwork a player like Wells throughout camp … 

Dorrell also noted that with a wealth of talent at running back, he expects there to be more distribution of the workload this fall. Last season, Jarek Broussard averaged 26 carries per game, a number Dorrell hopes to reduce this year. "We shouldn't have to use one workhorse," Dorrell said.

SCHEDULE: The Buffs will engage in their ninth practice of camp on Saturday, a full-pads scrimmage. They will then practice again Sunday, Monday and Tuesday before taking Wednesday off. They are slated to conduct their second scrimmage of camp on Saturday, Aug. 21.