Newcomers, Young Players Stepping Up For Buffs In Spring Ball
BOULDER — Back in February, after the transfer portal dust had settled and Colorado had wrapped up its 2022 recruiting class, Buffaloes head coach Karl Dorrell expressed optimism about the overall improvement of CU's roster.
"The additions we made in this program are in a lot of ways a little bit more of an upgrade in terms of things we've had in terms of an attrition standpoint," Dorrell said. "We feel good about moving forward."
Of course, along with roster changes, Dorrell was also talking about an offseason coaching staff shuffle that saw him bring in six new assistants, moves seen as healthy upgrades in just about every regard.
But now, roughly halfway through spring ball (seven practices down, eight to go), Dorrell's roster assessment appears to be on target. While the Buffs did lose a number of key players — to the portal and to graduation — CU's additions seem ready to fill the gaps in some places and make the Buffs better in others.
Two of the most notable transfer additions this year were offensive lineman Tommy Brown (Alabama) and wide receiver R.J. Sneed II (Baylor).
Both addressed "need" positions on the roster.
The Buffs lost two key O-linemen to graduation and two more potential starters to transfers. But Brown has quickly settled into the No. 1 unit rotation, and he brings maturity, experience and the invaluable background of a championship program. Add in the improvement of Noah Fenske (a transfer from Iowa a year ago), the continued development of veterans Casey Roddick, Jake Wiley and Frank Fillip, and the addition of highly regarded O-line coach Kyle DeVan, and Colorado's performance in the trenches should be considerably better than last season.
As for wide receiver, Sneed steps into a spot where the Buffs saw several key players hit the portal. But Sneed brings the same attributes as Brown — proven production, experience and leadership. Sneed is having a solid spring by all accounts, and should be a significant contributor next fall.
There are also some other positive developments at wide receiver this spring, beginning with the improvement of sophomore Montana Lemonious-Craig and senior Daniel Arias. Lemonious-Craig, who showed flashes last fall, appears ready to become more of an every-down player. Arias, meanwhile, is also trending his game toward more consistency.
Overall, the position could very well be more productive than it was a year ago.
It's also worth noting here that new coordinator Mike Sanford's scheme seems dedicated to incorporating tight ends as a consistent part of the passing game, a factor that should increase production through the air and give wide receivers a little breathing room in the secondary.
One other spot hit by the portal on offense was running back, where the Buffs lost their leading rusher of the last two seasons. But the Buffs still have their leading rusher from 2019 in the fold, Alex Fontenot, as well as a healthy Deion Smith, who is showing signs of being capable of steady production. Also, sophomore Jayle Stacks is having a very consistent spring and has been one of the pleasant surprises of spring ball thus far.
One unknown here is incoming transfer Ramon Jefferson, a low-to-the-ground, powerful back who will arrive in the summer and should give the backfield an added dimension.
The Buffs also took an attrition hit on defense, especially in the secondary, where three starters departed. But early signs in the spring are that returnee Nikko Reed — who had some solid moments last fall — is ready to take his game up a notch. Meanwhile, newcomer Joshua Wiggins had an outstanding opening scrimmage last weekend, and there are other youngsters who are already showing flashes as well.
Meanwhile, returning safetyTrevor Woods, who came on strong at the end of last season, is having an excellent spring and showed consistency in coverage and against the run in the first scrimmage.
Two big pairs of shoes that must be filled from last year are at linebacker and edge rusher, where Nate Landman and Carson Wells were standouts a year ago.
Here, another transfer appears ready to fill the bill inside. Robert Barnes, who came to Boulder from Oklahoma a year ago, is healthy, familiar with the defense and brings a terrific versatility to the position. Barnes can switch into the slot when needed, giving coordinator Chris Wilson some nice defensive options.
Also inside are returnees Quinn Perry, Marvin Ham II and Mister Williams, and true freshman Eoghan Kerry is already making his mark, giving the Buffs depth and promise inside.
On the edge, Devin Grant and Alvin Williams have had solid springs, as has Terrance Lang, who also lends versatility to CU's attack up front. Newcomer Chance Main is developing there as well, along with Justin Jackson, who has had his moments this spring.
Overall, CU saw more than 20 players head to the portal in the offseason. A large number of them went in search of more playing time, and only a handful have landed with Power 5 programs.
But in terms of roster improvement, Dorrell's February assessment is indeed starting to prove true: overall, Colorado's roster appears to have taken a step forward.