Buffs Will Need Production From More Than Established Vets — These Players Could Deliver
BOULDER — As the Colorado Buffaloes head into their second season under the direction of Karl Dorrell, there's a solid group of veterans who will be expected to be significant contributors.
You know the names: linebackers Carson Wells and Nate Landman; running back Jarek Broussard; defensive lineman Terrance Lang; tight end Brady Russell; O-linemen Colby Pursell and Kary Kutsch; defensive backs Isaiah Lewis, Christian Gonzalez and Mekhi Blackmon; wide receiver Dimitri Stanley.
This is, of course, not a complete list. There are other returning vets who will be counted upon to make plays.
But there are also a number of youngsters and newcomers who will need to step into the role of regular contributors if the Buffs are going to contend for a Pac-12 South title.
Again, this list is by no means complete, and every player here won't be taking on a major role. But if the Buffs can get some consistency from some of these players, it will be a big step forward:
— QB Brendon Lewis. OK, this is painfully obvious, but the Buffs do need their freshman quarterback to be an impact guy.
Lewis has never started a college game. As Dorrell has noted, they expect him to have some freshman moments. But the Buffs do need him to make plays when the opportunity arises, make good decisions and manage the game carefully. If he does those things, he will give CU's offense a chance to succeed.
— RBs Alex Fontenot and Ashaad Clayton. This might be a little strange, given that Fontenot was a regular starter two seasons ago and led the Buffs in rushing.
But after spending a season on the sidelines with an injury while teammate Broussard earned Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year honors, Fontenot is focused on regaining his share. He had an excellent camp, he's healthy and he's hungry.
Clayton, meanwhile, is the ultra-talented freshman who had some moments last year, but now needs to take the next step and take advantage of every opportunity that comes his way.
While a three-running back rotation is rare, the Buffs do need at least one of these players to step up and provide a regular boost for a CU run game that can't afford to lean on Broussard for 25 carries a game over a 12-game season.
— WRs Brenden Rice, Daniel Arias and La'Vontae Shenault. We saw Rice's potential last year when he had a long TD reception and a punt return for a score against Utah. Shenault has also shown flashes of big-play potential, as has Arias over the last three seasons.
Now, all three will be given more opportunity to make more plays this year. All have big ceilings, but consistency will be the key. It's not hard to imagine one or two of these guys having a breakout season.
— TE Alec Pell. A converted linebacker, Pell is one of a big group of tight ends looking to earn playing time with Russell. He showed good versatility in camp, displaying the ability to make tough catches as well as using his linebacker toughness to mix it up as a run blocker and pass protector. There's no guarantee he'll be a big contributor, but he could also be one of the surprise guys this season.
— O-linemen Kanan Ray, Jake Wiley, Max Wray and Chance Lytle. We're grouping these four together because the Buffs will need at least a couple of them to step up and be consistent in the trenches, especially early in the season.
Wiley had a solid spring and an equally productive training camp. He can play right or left tackle and will be a key to CU's O-line production. Ray, who has battled injuries in the past, has maintained his health, had a strong camp and is pushing for a starting job. Lytle, coming back from an injury (he missed spring ball), has potential and may have developed more in his time at CU than most of his peers. Wray, a transfer from Ohio State, was slowed a bit midway through camp with an injury, but is back and could also step in and be a contributor.
If at least a couple of these guys establish some consistency, they will give the Buffs an O-line that will protect Lewis and open holes for the run game.
— OLBs Guy Thomas, Joshka Gustav and Jamar Montgomery. This is a position battle that has gone down to the wire. While Wells is locked in as a starter, these three all had very good fall camps, showing a penchant for getting to the quarterback and an ability to set the edge.
All three will have their chance to shine as the Buffs will likely run a variety of defensive sets to keep opponents on their toes. In a 12-game season, it's possible that each will come up with a big game or two.
— ILBs Quinn Perry, Jack Lamb, Robert Barnes and Marvin Ham II. Another position where one of the starting spots has been nailed down, in this case by Landman.
But the Buffs need a couple of these guys to step in and take some of the load off Landman. Perry is a prototype inside LB, Ham showed some play-making moments and good consistency for a freshman in camp, and Lamb and Barnes have the versatility to line up at multiple positions to give the defense a different look and keep opposing offenses guessing.
If the Buffs get some production here, it will be a big, big step in the defense improving from last season.
— S Mark Perry. A sophomore with a handful of starts over his career, he looks to finally have found a home at safety. He's had probably his most productive camp so far, and he's showing the playmaking ability that has flashed in the past on a regular basis.
Perry is a guy who could be a difference maker on the back end. If he can develop some consistency, he'll be a big plus for Colorado's defense.
— D-linemen Na'im Rodman, Janaz Jordan and Justin Jackson. There are a handful of other names we could throw in this group, but we'll settle on these three.
Rodman showed some potential last year and made strides in spring ball and fall camp. Jordan came on late and displayed an ability to make plays in the run game and Jackson has been steady.
This is a place where the Buffs need some quality depth. Vets Terrance Lang and Jalen Sami are a good starting point, but D-coordinator Chris Wilson loves the idea of being able to rotate in fresh legs, especially when it comes to stopping an opponent's run game. If Rodman, Jordan and Jackson take their game up a notch this year, it will have a positive impact throughout the Colorado defense.