Buffs Position Preview: CU Coaches Building Quality Depth On O-Line
BOULDER — Colorado fans are expecting a big year this season from the Buffaloes' run game, and for good reason. CU's running backs room is loaded with talent.
But if reigning Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year Jarek Broussard and his cohorts are going to put up some big numbers in 2021, they'll need exactly what the Buffs had in 2020: big fellas up front to open up big holes in the trenches.
"The reason we ran for so many yards is not just because of Jarek Broussard," said Buffs offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini recently. "It's the O-line. Those guys do a great job."
CU's offensive line did indeed put together a stellar season in 2020. Along with paving the way for a run game that averaged 218 yards per game on the ground in five regular season games, the Buffs also gave up just six quarterback sacks in those five games.
This year, the core of that O-line group is back, beginning with junior center Colby Pursell (20 career starts) and senior left guard Kary Kutsch (16 career starts). Other returnees with considerable experience include sophomore tackle Frank Fillip (eight starts), sophomore guard Casey Roddick (six starts) and junior guard/tackle Chance Lytle (three starts).
The Buffs also added a pair of transfers in the offseason who could contribute immediately in tackle Max Wray (Ohio State) and interior lineman Noah Fenske (Iowa), and sophomore Kanan Ray is getting plenty of work in fall camp at guard and tackle. Redshirt freshman Jake Wiley is getting plenty of snaps at tackle with the No. 1 group after a productive spring, and freshman Gerad Christian-Lichtenhan is also receiving some opportunities with the top two groups in training camp.
Add the presence of a handful of other young returnees and some true freshmen, and O-line coach Mitch Rodrigue finally has enough players to give the Buffs some depth at a position group that was lean in that area as recently as last spring.
"It depends on how you describe depth," Rodrigue said recently. "We do have bodies — in the spring, we didn't even have bodies. Do we have quality depth? That's something we're working on. It's much better than in the spring, but it's a work in progress."
Pursell and Kutsch are clearly the mainstays and anchors of the group, bringing experience and leadership. Wiley is quickly growing into a steady contributor, Ray's versatility is a plus and Lytle, a late bloomer who suffered a broken leg at the end of last season, is back healthy and in the mix for some substantial playing time.
"Chance is a tough kid," Rodrigue said. "I'm proud of how he came back. I'm pleased with what he's doing. He's moved around, right tackle, left tackle. We're just trying to find him a home right now. He's doing good and he deserves a shot."
Wray is also figuring into the mix at tackle, and CU coaches are still mixing and matching some combinations as some injuries have forced some shuffling up front.
"We had to make a couple of changes here and there, positionally moving tackles around, moving guards around," Rodrigue said. "But offensive line is a position where there's a lot of communication going on and a lot of footwork, fundamental techniques, so it takes a while to catch up. I'm pleased with our effort right now. We just got to get a
a little better on some things."
POSITION COACH — Rodrigue is in his second year at Colorado after joining head coach Karl Dorrell's original staff. Rodrigue has also coached at South Alabama, Southern Mississippi and Louisiana, and has coached several NFL players during his career.
KEY RETURNEES — The Buffs have a solid core of returning veterans, including junior center Colby Pursell, senior left guard Kary Kutsch, sophomore tackle Frank Fillip, sophomore guard Casey Roddick and junior guard/tackle Chance Lytle. Other returnees competing for some significant playing time include sophomore Kanan Ray; freshmen Jake Wiley, Gerad Christian-Lichtenhan, Carson Lee and Austin Johnson; and sophomore Joshua Jynes
KEY NEWCOMERS — Transfers Max Wray (Ohio State) and Noah Fenske (Iowa) could see some time right away, and incoming true freshmen Edgar Amaya and Jackson Anderson have had their moments in camp thus far.
IF ALL GOES WELL … The Buffs will find a solid rotation in the next week or so — and keep that rotation healthy.
CU finally has some depth up front, but there may be no other position group on the field that requires more precision teamwork. The combination of returning veterans and quality young players gives this line a chance to be a solid, productive group, but the key will be maintaining some week-to-week continuity.
On a team with plenty of talent at the skill positions, how this O-line develops will be a critical factor in the offensive production. Their performance will be especially crucial with a young starting quarterback who will need to feel comfortable when the Buffs hit the meat of their schedule — and that will begin with the second game of the season, when top-10 Texas A&M visits Colorado.