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Buffs Position Preview: CU Takes Significant Step Forward At Quarterback

Aug 3, 2022
J.T. Shrout, left, and Brendon Lewis are battling for CU's starting QB job.

BOULDER — Maybe no position on the Colorado Buffaloes roster has taken a bigger step forward from a year ago than quarterback.

When the Buffs headed into 2021 fall camp, they had three scholarship quarterbacks whose combined college experience totaled barely a handful of appearances.

This year, Karl Dorrell's team has five scholarship quarterbacks, including one of whom started every game last season (Brendon Lewis), and two more who have spent a year in the program learning the ropes (J.T. Shrout and Drew Carter). Also in the group are transfers Maddox Kopp and walkon James Mott III, along with highly regarded incoming freshman Owen McCown.

The math adds up to a highly competitive group that should not only produce a solid starter when CU opens the season Sept. 2 against TCU, but a group that will give offensive coordinator Mike Sanford the luxury of options when it comes to fitting his playbook to the personnel.

 The biggest story in camp — one that will have plenty of chapters before the opener — is the competition between Lewis and Shrout.

A year ago, the two were neck-and-neck in camp before Shrout suffered a season-ending knee injury. Lewis then battled his way through a difficult season in an offense that never found anything resembling a consistent rhythm. While his numbers were by no means eye-popping (1,540 yards, 10 TDs), he did show a great maturity in protecting the ball, finishing the season with just three interceptions. 

But Dorrell made major changes in the offseason, including bringing in Sanford to revamp the offense. The Buffs spent the spring installing Sanford's scheme, with Lewis at the helm. But while Shrout was limited in his spring participation, he still got some time on the field in non-contact drills and was able to at least get a good feel for CU's new attack.

Now, the two are involved in what promises to be an interesting battle — and both should benefit from the competition.

CU's coaching staff will closely chart every practice. That means every play every day will be recorded and scored and become part of every quarterback's overall camp performance. Every completion, explosive play, incompletion, interception and scoring drive will be part of the performance rating.

But, noted Sanford, CU's coaches will utilize more than just pure numbers to select a starter.

"There's a statistics that doesn't show up on a piece of paper, and that's just the overall flow and operation of the offense, the pre-snap communication, those types of things I think are going to play into it just as much," Sanford said. "If we're in rhythm offensively and all 11 guys that take the field each and every snap have an ultimate belief in how the information is being communicated to them, we'll execute at a higher level."

In other words, those quarterback intangibles — presence, leadership, confidence and accountability — will also play a big role in determining a starter.

One other note of interest? Sanford stressed that while the Buffs will indeed name a starting quarterback, it doesn't mean the other will be relegated to sideline duty for the season.

"Both those quarterbacks are going to be needed at different parts of the year," he said. "It might be because somebody busts a shoelace and the other guy's got to go in and he throws a touchdown. It might be for a trend in play. It's not going to be a quick leash. We want to name a starter. But the other guy is not going to hold the clipboard the whole year."

 POSITION COACH — Sanford steps into the role as CU's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach — a solid step forward for Colorado's coaching staff.

He brings a solid resumé and a wealth of experience to the position, with previous stops including Stanford, Notre Dame and Minnesota.

While it's not a prerequisite for an offensive coordinator to also coach quarterbacks, it no doubt helps. The man calling the plays will also be the man in the quarterbacks room, discussing strategy. It means a direct line between the devising of the overall game plan and the most important player on the field.

Sanford appears to have quickly earned the trust of his quarterbacks and the players seem to truly embrace his offensive scheme — one that should be able to be tailored to the strengths of CU's skill players.

That will be critical when it comes to selecting a starting quarterback. If the Buffs can gear their attack toward the strengths of their starter — whoever it is — it will be a big step forward from past years.

KEY RETURNEES — Lewis is obviously the key returnee, having started all 12 games for CU last year — making him the only QB on the roster to have multiple college starts. Shrout and Carter are also back, and both had the opportunity to work with the new offense in spring ball.

KEY NEWCOMERS — The Buffs signed three additional QBs in the offseason. Two are transfers, Kopp and Mott, and one is freshman McCown. McCown, by the way, has already turned heads with his savvy play, decision making and QB instincts.

IF ALL GOES WELL … CU's starter will show a solid command of the new offense. The numbers won't have to be great to be an improvement over last year, but more importantly, the ability to generate consistent drives, control the clock and establish consistency will be critical.