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Woelk: Dorrell Excited About 'New Energy' In Buffs Program

Feb 2, 2022
Offensive coordinator Mike Sanford is one of six new assistants on Karl Dorrell's staff.

BOULDER — A fresh start for the Colorado Buffaloes has created new levels of energy and excitement within the program.

That's the outlook from CU head coach Karl Dorrell, who believes that a rebuilt coaching staff and the addition of a healthy list of fresh faces on the roster have built a sense of rejuvenation and optimism in the UCHealth Champions Center as his Buffaloes begin preparations for the 2022 season.

No doubt, it has already been an offseason of great change for Dorrell and his Buffs.

For starters, Dorrell completely revamped his coaching staff, bringing on six new assistants — four on the offensive side and two on defense.

Meanwhile, he and his new staff have deftly maneuvered their way through the rapidly evolving environment of roster management, an area that has exploded in the college game thanks to changes in transfer rules (the portal). With the addition of the handful of players who signed letters of intent on Wednesday to those who signed in December, the Buffaloes have added 30 new faces to their roster over the last two months — 22 high school players, three junior college transfers and five additions via the transfer portal.

Those changes, Dorrell believes, have injected a healthy dose of optimism throughout the program — something that was no doubt needed after a disappointing 4-8 finish last season.

"There is definitely a different feeling in the building about moving forward and having a sense of urgency and having some success," Dorrell said at his Wednesday press conference. "It is being manifested in all areas in and around our program. It's a great feeling … We're excited about the future and I know our coaches are excited to get going. There's a lot of great energy that's in our building right now."

The changes are no doubt significant.

On the coaching side, he rebuilt nearly his entire offensive staff, with the only remaining coach from last season being running backs coach Darian Hagan.

As his coordinator, Dorrell added veteran Mike Sanford, a coach with a long and impressive resume. Also on offense, Kyle DeVan takes over on the line, Phil McGeoghan takes the reins with wide receivers and Clay Patterson will coach tight ends and serve as passing game coordinator. Each has experience and proven performance in his past.

Defensively,  Dorrell added Vic So'oto as his defensive line coach while shifting the position duties of Chris Wilson — still the defensive coordinator — to outside linebackers. Also new is Rod Chance, who takes over CU's cornerback coaching duties.

All told, the changes are a major revamping — and a rebuild that is being seen as a big step forward for the program.

"We got better," said Wilson, whose position switch will allow him to stay in contact with the entire defense as the coordinator. "Not taking anything away from our previous staff, but we had a chance to improve with talent acquisition. We added a talented group of young guys."

Indeed, it is a group that Dorrell had no hesitation in calling his best yet at Colorado as he enters his third season in Boulder.

Of course, the offseason transformation also brought on a number of transfers out of the CU program, with 19 players entering the portal after the season's conclusion. The list of departures includes three starting defensive backs and three key wide receivers.

But the Buffs believe that in the end, they upgraded their talent level overall. The list of transfers to CU includes wide receiver R.J. Sneed (Baylor), offensive lineman Tommy Brown (Alabama) and running back Ramon Jefferson (Sam Houston State); as well as three junior college transfers who could all come in and be immediate contributors.

"The additions we made in this program are in a lot of ways a little bit more of an upgrade over things we've had in terms of an attrition standpoint," Dorrell said. "We feel good about moving forward."

No doubt, there is plenty of work ahead for the Buffaloes. They are coming off a year in which the offense struggled for much of the season to manufacture anything resembling consistency while the defense — which did have some bright moments — loses a host of key contributors, beginning with linebackers Nate Landman and Carson Wells, both of whom are expected to hear their names called in the April NFL Draft.

But there is no doubt that Dorrell is slowly but surely stamping the program with his imprint. After taking over late in the 2020 coaching change cycle, then having his first year become a pandemic-interrupted season, the majority of his roster now consists of his players — and his coaching staff is one that has been put together with careful thought and consideration instead of being cobbled together at the last possible moment.

Now, Dorrell's task will be to guide the Buffs through a solid spring, take that momentum into fall camp and build toward a successful 2022 that holds a very challenging — but potentially rewarding — season schedule.

The task will include a delicate balance of reviewing the good and bad of last season and weaving that into a continuous building of optimism and promise for the future.

"There was a lot to build off of last year even though we didn't have a lot of wins" Dorrell said. "We did feel like we got better in a lot of respects. They're going to build off those things. We're still going to reach back and recap the season because we have to. We have to address things and fix things and move ourselves forward. But for the most part they're ready to get started on 2022. The training has been absolutely outstanding."

The Buffs are currently in the midst of a rigorous offseason strength and conditioning program under the direction of Shannon Turley, the former Stanford strength guru who helped transform the Cardinal into a perennial Pac-12 contender. Also on tap this spring is "football school" — classroom and on-field instruction sessions — before the Buffs put on helmets and pads for the spring ball session, tentatively scheduled for March 30 through April 23.

"There is definitely a different feeling in the building about moving forward and having a sense of urgency and having some success," Dorrell said. "It is being manifested in all areas in and around our program. It's a great feeling."

LESSON LEARNED: Immediately after the conclusion of last season, Dorrell and his staff hit the recruiting trail. For years, that has been standard procedure for coaching staffs.

But the explosion of activity in the transfer portal has redefined standard procedure.

Now, Dorrell said, he will alter his schedule in the future to make sure he meets with players immediately after the season, as it is in that time period that many players make their decision to jump into the portal.

"I went out recruiting right after the season and in hindsight, it might not have been the most appropriate thing to do," Dorrell said. "I probably should have had some interviewing process right after the season to check in with all of our players and get some discussions about how their experience has been, where they need to go from here, and things of that nature. I talked with other head coaches across the country, and we have to make sure we're in lockstep with our current players, even though we're in a recruiting process for adding additional ones. I think the communication piece needs to improve and we'll continue to work on those things so we're all on the same page."

FRESH START: One thing Dorrell and each of his new assistants stressed repeatedly is that this spring will offer a "clean slate" for the entire roster.

Every player, Dorrell said, will get the opportunity to earn a spot on the depth chart — and nobody has a "guaranteed" spot, even those who were starters in 2021.

That includes opportunities for young players and newcomers.

"I'm excited about that situation," Dorrell said. "We feel we're getting better and better in terms of the belly of that talent from a quality standpoint. A lot of those players will be impactful players for us this fall. One of the enticements of why they decided to come to our place is that they see an opportunity to play and to contribute. A lot of these guys are very confident that they can help the team win … They feel very strongly about their own skill sets and how they can come in and impact the team. We're going to coach them up and create a great level of competition at every position group. We're going to play the best players that we think can help us be successful."

MORE ADDITIONS: Given the state of player movement in today's environment, Dorrell said the Buffs could add a few more new faces in the coming months. That could include another offensive and/or defensive lineman, as well as a possible running back.

It is all part of roster management, which has now become a year-round task.

"Recruiting was already year-round, even when we were recruiting at the high school level," Dorrell said. "Now, because of the portal and when those opportunities come and go, we have to be ready to make the adjustments when (they are) needed."

NEW COACHES: Each new coach also met with the media Wednesday afternoon. Some highlights from each coach's interview:

Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford: "We want to be very balanced and we're going to win in the trenches. There is going to be an identity of physicality."

Sanford also said he is a firm believer in utilizing the particular skills of a number of running backs, saying his philosophy is running back by committee instead of only one feature back.

Offensive line coach Kyle DeVan: "We're going to start with a clean slate. These guys have been through a lot (DeVan will be CU's third offensive line coach in the last year). We're going to create a foundation. They are here because they love Colorado and they love CU. They want to be the best they can be."

Tight ends coach Clay Patterson: "Tight ends are a matchup problem. You have to be versatile because it's a unique position. You have to be an O-lineman and pass protect, you have to run block and you have to run great routes. You have to be versatile and we're going to put our guys in position to be successful."

Wide receivers coach Phil McGeoghan: "This isn't going to be a country club. We want guys who want to work."

Cornerbacks coach Rod Chance: "I'm a relationships coach. Kids don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."

D-line coach Vic So'oto: "My core philosophy is being violent. If you have a violent, physical defensive line, everything else takes care of itself."