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Dorrell, Buffs Aim For Competitive Spring Session

Mar 29, 2022

BOULDER — After months of strength and conditioning, classroom work and walkthroughs, Karl Dorrell's Colorado Buffaloes are finally ready to hit the field for spring ball.

The Buffs will conduct their first of 15 spring practices Wednesday, the beginning of a somewhat condensed spring session that will wrap up with the annual Spring Showcase on April 23.

The No. 1 priority, Dorrell said, is simple: compete.

"We want this spring practice to be a very competitive spring for all positions," said Dorrell, who is entering his third year at CU. "A lot of people are competing to move up the depth chart, and new players are getting involved with what we're doing in terms of showcasing what they can do … We want to develop our systems on offense, defense and special teams —going back to square one and teaching the basic fundamentals and principles of all three of those areas."

Indeed, there may not be a position group on the roster where the depth chart is even close to being settled. While the Buffs do have a number of returning starters at multiple positions, nearly all of those starting spots will be up for grabs as Colorado tries to rebound from last year's disappointing 4-8 finish.

The winter months produced a significant amount of turnover on the Colorado roster, a situation that will make every practice critical in establishing continuity and consistency moving forward.

From a player standpoint, the Buffs lost a number of key players to graduation and the transfer portal — but they also added some key newcomers, a number of whom could become contributors immediately.

From a coaching standpoint, Dorrell did not stand pat after last season's finish. Colorado added six new assistants over the winter, including a new offensive coordinator (Mike Sanford) and three others on the offensive side of the ball.

Most of the new coaches have had ample time to familiarize themselves with their position groups. They have conducted classroom work in "football school" and have utilized permissible walkthroughs to begin implementation of new schemes and techniques.

Now, they will have 15 practices to continue the process and set the table for summer workout sessions and fall camp.

"For our veteran players, we want to refine their development, whether they're returning starters or guys that were key players for us last year," Dorrell said. "We want to also close the gap with some of these first year players that got here in January, getting them comfortable in our systems … The bottom line is the finishing goal of spring is to make sure we come away feeling like we have a really strong foundation set with our offense, defense and special teams — kind of a snapshot of what we think we can continue to build from going into summer and fall camp."

The Buffs are no doubt anxious to hit the field and continue the process of washing away the bad taste from last season. Although Colorado did have a relatively strong finish — two wins in the last four games — the overall result is obviously not one they want to repeat.

In order to change that trend, they will need to establish consistency on both sides of the ball, something that was absent far too often in 2021.

"The veteran players are definitely eager and chomping at the bit to continue to improve and reestablish themselves in the program," Dorrell said. "We have a lot to prove. Obviously we have a bad taste in our mouth from last season — it wasn't the type of season we were expecting. We definitely have some work to do and they understand that. They're ready to get to work and start developing and getting this team to be as good as they can be."

While the Buffs no doubt lost some key contributors on both sides of the ball, Dorrell has said he believes that overall CU improved its roster. The Buffs added 30 new players (22 high school recruits, three junior college transfers and five players via the portal), and 12 of those players are already enrolled and will participate in spring ball.

"We feel like these last couple of months have been really, really productive," Dorrell said.  "We had some good skill development both from a player perspective and a physical development perspective. From a strength training guideline, I feel like our team is in much better shape, the best we've looked since I've been back here at Colorado. I feel really good about the start of this session compared to last year at this time."

One key priority for the Buffs this spring will be the continued implementation of Sanford's new offensive scheme. Colorado's offense took a major step back last fall — especially in the passing game — and efficiency and consistency were critical issues in all phases of the offense.

Dorrell said the spring session will be crucial in helping the CU staff identify personnel strengths and establish an identity to fit those strengths.

"We have an idea about where we want to take this thing, but what's really going to create the foundation and what direction we're going to go is going to depend on these 15 practices —  where we think our strengths and weaknesses are and moving forward from that standpoint," Dorrell said. "We have some good veteran pieces coming back, particularly returning starters at some of the skill spots. But we still have to mend ourselves as an offense to do things in a very productive manner consistently, which was our biggest challenge over the course of the season last year."

One major focal point, Dorrell said, will be establishing balance. At Sanford's previous stops, he has placed a big emphasis on being productive and efficient in both the run and pass games.

"We want to create balance," Dorrell said. "We want to be able to throw the ball much, much better than we did a year ago … We want to improve our running game. There's definitely a lot of areas offensively that we want to make sure we want to address. I think the identity part will define itself at some point."

Defensively, coordinator Chris Wilson returns for his second year at the spot. Dorrell said there will also be some "tweaks" on that side of the ball as CU fits its scheme to the talent available.

Attitude, Dorrell said, won't be an issue. His players are eager and ready to hit the field.

But he also wants to make sure the Buffs use this spring to address the little problems that added up to big deficiencies a year ago.

"I know the energy is going to be there and the competitiveness is going to be there," he said. "I want us to become a smarter team that really understands the game better. I know their attitude and competitiveness is going to be strong. But we want to make sure it looks like we've made the progress from certain instances in development — how guys are playing, how are they putting themselves in position, things like that."

No doubt, spring is a time for optimism in every program in America. Dorrell believes the foundation he is building in Boulder continues to put the right cornerstones in place.

"I feel good about what this team has done to this point," he said. "I'm cautiously optimistic about how I feel we're going to have an excellent spring. But we still have to put that into action."

SPRING SCHEDULE: The Buffs will practice three times this week, then four times a week over the ensuing three weeks, culminating with the April 23 Spring Showcase. NCAA rules allow for three workouts in shorts (no contact), four in pads with no tackling, five in pads with tackling allowed 50 percent of the time or less, and three in pads with tackling allowed throughout (as in an extended scrimmage).

Contact: Neill.Woelk@Colorado.edu