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Plenty Of Storylines To Follow As Buffs Set To Open Training Camp

Aug 1, 2022
Alex Fontenot could return to the "feature back" role for CU this year.

BOULDER — When Karl Dorrell's Colorado Buffaloes open training camp Tuesday, there will be no shortage of storylines that will be worth watching develop over the next month.

The Buffs will have 25 practices between now and their Sept. 2 season opener against TCU at Folsom Field (8 p.m., ESPN), and every one of those workouts will be crucial to their development.

On what will Dorrell and his revamped staff be concentrating?

The correct answer is "everything." But we've outlined some obvious storylines to follow, as well as some inside-the-numbers issues that will be critical as August unfolds.

Position battles — No doubt, there are plenty worth watching here, beginning with the most important position on the team.

Can incumbent Brendon Lewis hold onto his job as the starting quarterback, or will he be unseated by J.T. Shrout, who is fully healthy and itching to get back into the mix? Dorrell has stressed that Lewis is in the driver's seat, saying it's his job to lose. He has been effusive with his praise of Lewis, who has earned the respect of his teammates and coaches with his work ethic and leadership.

But Shrout was impressive last summer before his injury and had a solid spring in limited work. He has also spent plenty of time studying Mike Sanford's new offense, and the guess here is this is a battle that won't be decided until the final weeks of camp.

Of course, there are plenty more positions up for grabs. Running back, wide receiver, inside linebacker, edge rusher and both sides of the line will have playing time on the line. The first couple weeks of camp will be interesting to see what players make an early impression and work their way into more reps as camp progresses.

Workhorse or running back by committee? Colorado's leading rusher the last two seasons decided to hit the transfer portal — but there's still talent in the RB room, led by 2019 leading rusher Alex Fontenot. The senior is healthy and might just have a chip on his shoulder after spending the last two seasons playing second fiddle.

Meanwhile, junior Deion Smith has shown flashes of breakaway ability, sophomore Jayle Stacks adds a different dynamic to the position and walkon Charlie Offerdahl is coming off an excellent spring.

But the bottom line here? The position is in great hands under the direction of RBs coach Darian Hagan, who might just be one of the most underrated position coaches in the Pac-12. Hagan has consistently produced excellent running backs in his two stints as Colorado's RBs coach. From Rodney Stewart to Phillip Lindsay to Trayvon McMillian to Fontenot and Jarek Broussard, Hagan's backs have always produced.

Thus, we're confident of one thing — whoever lines up in the backfield will be ready to play.

Development of new offense — The Buffs liked the progress they made during the install process of Sanford's new offense in the spring, a process Dorrell described as starting "completely from scratch."

Obviously, there's still plenty of work to be done as the Buffs get past the basics and continue to work on the finer points of the scheme. CU coaches will do their best to fit the playbook to the personnel and — hopefully — have a smooth running machine up and ready to go by Sept. 2.

Defensive takeaways — Colorado was 29th in the nation last year in turnover margin, giving the ball away just seven times (tied for the best in the country) while recording 13 takeaways.

That second number has to increase. CU's defense spent ample time in the spring working on expanding their opportunities for interceptions and fumble recoveries. Those are game-changing moments and the Buffs must find a way to increase those momentum shifters this year.

Wide receiver development — While the Buffs lost two of their top four receivers from last year in the offseason, there's still plenty of playmaking ability in the WR room.

But the biggest addition may have come in new assistant coach Phil McGeoghan, who has already earned a promotion to assistant head coach and could be ready to coax more consistent production out of a group that has struggled to hit expectations in recent years.

Replacing big dogs on defense — The Buffs lost several starters on defense from last year, but none may have been as impactful as inside linebacker Nate Landman and edge rusher Carson Wells.

But Colorado has some players waiting to fill those shoes — and CU might just be deeper and more talented overall this year at those positions. The Buffs had some players step up on the edge in spring ball in Devin Grant, Guy Thomas, Alvin Williams and Jamar Montgomery, and we'll see Terrance Lang coming off the corner as well on occasion.

At ILB, Robert Barnes came on strong down the stretch last year, Quinn Perry stepped in and was solid in Landman's absence, and Marvin Ham II, Eoghan Kerry and Mister Williams made strides in the spring. Throw in transfer Josh Chandler-Semedo, and it's a group that might be better overall than last year.

Cornerback development — The Buffs lost both their starting corners to transfer in the offseason, and have added a new coach there as well in Rod Chance.

But Chance has some young players who looked good in the spring. If they can continue that growth pattern in training camp, they could have an impact by the time the season begins.

Long and short of it — Colorado's offensive woes from last season are well-documented. But inside those main numbers are two areas that must be improved — explosive plays and short-yardage situations.

Colorado finished last season with just 30 plays of at least 20 yards, the fewest in that category in recent history. The Buffs have to improve their ability to produce game-changing plays.

At the same time, CU was just 51-for-158 in third-down conversions (near the bottom of the nation), including just 30-for-52 on third-and-4 or less.

Those short-yardage situations can make or break a game. Every CU fan remembers when Colorado had three chances at 2 yards inside the Texas A&M 10-yard line last year and came away empty in a 10-7 loss.

If the Buffs can convert those types of situations more frequently, they can change the outcome of some of those close games.