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Ten Takeaways After Buffs Wrap Up Major Scrimmage

Aug 21, 2021

BOULDER — Colorado coach Karl Dorrell put his Buffaloes through their last major scrimmage of fall training camp Saturday, with both sides of the ball once again coming up with some big moments.

"It was kind of a give-and-take scrimmage," Dorrell said. "Offense had some good runs and passes and the defense stepped up and made a couple plays … I like where we're at. They're just battling each other and I love that part."

The Buffs are now less than two weeks away from their Sept. 3 season opener against Northern Colorado at Folsom Field (7 p.m., Pac-12 Network). Overall, it's been a successful training camp, although it has also been clouded by some costly injuries.

Our takeaways as we head down the stretch run before the opener:

1. Overall, the defense has made some big strides. This was no doubt a priority for the Buffs heading into camp as they continued to install and develop their new scheme under new coordinator Chris Wilson.

CU coaches are pleased with the progress thus far, especially with veteran linebackers Nate Landman and Carson Wells getting some snaps in Saturday's workout.

"It's good to see Nate out there," Dorrell said. "You can see his leadership, how confident the defense is when he's out there with Carson. When all those pieces are back and we're ready to roll, it's going to be pretty special … When they all are playing together and get better as we go, they have a chance to be a really good defense."

2. OLBs have developed. Nobody will be surprised if All-Pac-12 performer Wells has another big year. But one big plus of camp thus far has been the play of the other outside 'backers — Joshka Gustav, Jamar Montgomery and Guy Thomas. All three have had solid camps and turned in excellent efforts in Saturday's scrimmage, with each showing a knack for getting to the quarterback and playing well against the run. Montgomery appears to have improved in a big way, Gustav has picked up where he left off at the end of last season and Thomas has been consistent throughout. Having someone opposite Wells who has the ability to play in an opponent's backfield will be a huge plus — and this group has made steady improvement in that area.

3. Mark Perry has helped strengthen the back end of the defense. This could be the year that the two-time lettermen who has flashed in the past adds consistency to his game. Now back "home" at safety, he had a big interception in Saturday's scrimmage and also made plays against the run. A versatile player who has excellent speed and can play a physical game, Perry could give the Buffs a talented and experienced back end of the defense.

4. Yes, the Buffs can run the ball. Last year's Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year, Jarek Broussard, is showing all signs of being ready for another big season. But it almost certainly won't be a one-man show this year. Junior Alex Fontenot had a very good scrimmage Saturday and appears ready to give the Buffs a dynamic one-two punch behind an offensive line that is gelling a little more every practice. Meanwhile, youngsters Ashaad Clayton and Joe Davis are having their moments, and veteran Deion Smith, returning from a knee injury, is also showing he wants a shot at the rotation.

5. QB Brendon Lewis' comfort level is growing. An injury to sophomore J.T. Shrout obviously isn't how CU coaches wanted the quarterback battle to play out in camp.

But with Lewis now getting the vast majority of the snaps with the No. 1 group, it's clear his confidence and comfort level are growing steadily.

"He's still a young player," Dorrell said. "We keep forgetting he's still a freshman. It's not like he's a wily old vet. He's going to make mistakes and we know that. We tell him, 'You're not going to be perfect, but it's OK to strive for perfection.' … The best thing we can do for him knowing he's going to make a mistake or two is getting past it and keep going."

6. D-line depth continues to improve. One player Dorrell pointed to as having a good scrimmage Saturday was junior Janaz Jordan. 

"Janaz showed up a couple times, which is good to see because he's starting to get in better shape and he's running down the line of scrimmage and catching people from behind," Dorrell said.

That gives the Buffs another dependable player in the heart of the defense. Terrance Lang, Na'im Rodman and Jalen Sami have all had good camps and newcomer Blayne Toll is starting to flash. It bodes well for the rotation D-coordinator Wilson would like to employ.

7. Special teams are steady. Dorrell made special mention of true freshman kicker Cole Becker after Saturday's scrimmage.

"He's got ice in his veins," Dorrell said. "We tried rattling him and he just does his job. He's had a fabulous camp — I think he's missed one field goal and he was mad about that. He's expecting perfection. He's one of those guys we targeted to come in here and be that next great kicker and we think he's on the right track for that."

Punter Josh Watts is also having a consistent, steady camp and the return game looks solid, with Dimitri Stanley, Brenden Rice and La'Vontae Shenault all producing big moments in the scrimmages.

8. Wide receiver depth is solid again. Shenault, Stanley and Rice give the Buffs a dangerous, productive trio, with Montana Lemonious-Craig, Keith Miller III, Daniel Arias and Jaylon Jackson all capable of producing big moments as well. It's a group that could see any one of five or six players have a big game every week, and one that should help keep opposing defenses from stacking up against the run.

9. This is still a very young team. Thanks to the "free" year of eligibility as a result of the Covid pandemic and the rule that allows players to participate in four games and still be considered a redshirt, CU's roster currently has an astounding 70 players listed as freshmen.

That means there is competition at every position from young players. The result of that competition is … 

10. Depth, depth, depth. Building depth has been a top priority for Dorrell since his arrival, and his efforts are bearing fruit.

Nearly every position group on the field not only has a host of players, but a host of players who can step in and be productive. It's noticeable in the trenches on both sides of the ball — critical areas — as well as at the skill positions on offense, and at linebacker and the secondary on defense.

This is a team that should grow as the season progresses. There will no doubt be some bumps in the road, especially with a schedule that will see the Buffs face three teams in the preseason top 25 in the first five weeks.

But as those young players get some experience under their belts and the confidence that goes with it, these Buffs have the potential to be playing their best football when they hit the home stretch of the Pac-12 schedule.