Dorrell Sees Growth In Buffs' Depth, Progress In Camp
BOULDER — Five practices into training camp, Colorado coach Karl Dorrell's quiet confidence in his Buffaloes continues to grow.
"The summer work they invested as a team was very impactful," Dorrell told reporters at CU's annual media day. "They did some really good things that have put us in a position to be a very competitive team, particularly in our conference … I'm excited about this team. I really am. I'm excited about how far they can go."
Dorrell is not a head coach prone to hyperbole, even in training camp, when every team is still undefeated. But after five practices, he believes he's seeing improvement at virtually every position, both in terms of talent at the top and depth throughout.
Dorrell also likes how quickly his team has adjusted to a coaching staff that has six new faces.
"I think we have a chance to be an outstanding football team," he said. "The coaching staff has done a really good job with meeting the expectations of what our players expect themselves to be … We still have a ways to go but I'm very encouraged that we're going to continue to get stronger and better each week because of the attitude and commitment these players have exuded about themselves."
Dorrell and his players are well aware of the outside perceptions of this year's team. They know they were picked by the media to finish last in the Pac-12, due in part to the departure of several key starters from last year, both to graduation and the transfer portal.
But one fifth of the way through camp, CU's coaching staff is getting confirmation of what they suspected at the end of spring ball — despite the losses of some key players, the Buffs might very well be better at many of those positions.
A quick rundown of some of those positions and how they've looked thus far in camp:
Wide receiver — Two of the Buffs' top three WRs from last year are gone. But the dramatic improvement of senior Daniel Arias (third on the team last year with 19 catches for 237 yards) and the rapid development of some young standouts such as incoming freshman Jordyn Tyson (already getting snaps with the top two units) has Dorrell optimistic about the outlook at the position.
"Daniel Arias, I can tell you right now is not the same player you guys have seen," Dorrell said. "He's a helluva football player … We are better (at the position). We have depth. The young freshmen that came in are really good players … I feel like that position is the best it's been since I've been here."
Inside linebacker — The Buffs no doubt took a hit here with the departure of one of the program's all-time leading tacklers, Nate Landman. But the development of Quinn Perry and Robert Barnes down the stretch last year, the improvement of youngsters such as Marvin Ham II in the spring, and the addition of transfer Josh Chandler-Semedo gives CU a potent group inside.
Thus far, they've had an outstanding camp, and could prove to be a strength of the defense. There is depth, talent and versatility in the group — something defensive coordinator Chris Wilson will no doubt be able to utilize with situational defensive calls.
Running back — CU's leading rusher the last two seasons is gone. But Colorado's top back in 2019, Alex Fontenot, is finally back to full strength after battling injury the last two seasons, as is Deion Smith.
"(Fontenot) is back to his 2019 form," Dorrell said. "He looks really good, confident, strong, making great decisions … The same thing with Deion. He's completely healthy."
Perhaps most importantly, the environment in the running backs room is fully a "team first" attitude.
"Both of those guys get along and they understand their role," Dorrell said. "For us to be an efficient offense, both of those guys have to be our one-two punch … They just want to win and they want to help our offense be as good as it can be."
Defensive line — Improved depth here has been a major development. An offseason of strength and conditioning with Shannon Turley helped several players in the trenches add some much-needed size and strength, and Colorado should now be able to rotate in several different groups with no significant drop in performance.
Two mainstays from last year, Jalen Sami and Na'im Rodman, are back. Meanwhile, senior Justin Jackson has made big strides and is now getting regular snaps with the top two units.
"We feel like we have two really solid groups that are really only defined by a hair between what's the first team and what's the second team," Dorrell said. "I have two defensive fronts that I took a lot of confidence in. They have a lot of talent and they're passionate players that know that they can make plays."
Offensive line — The Buffs lost two full-time players to graduation here, but there's still a good foundation of returnees in tackles Jake Wiley and Frank Fillip, and guard Casey Roddick.
CU also added a key transfer in Tommy Brown, who has been injured but could begin practicing next week and hopefully will be ready by the beginning of the regular season. Also making strides up front have been Noah Fenske at center, Austin Johnson and Alex Harkey at guard, and Gerad Christian-Lichtenhan at tackle.
Again, depth has significantly improved.
"We feel we have two very strong units," Dorrell said. "They're working hard and doing what's necessary for us to improve … After this first week, I feel strongly that we have more pieces there than we've had in the past."
Secondary — Colorado must replace two regular starting corners and one safety, but the development of some young players in the spring and their continued growth this fall has Dorrell confident.
The group includes sophomore corners Nikko Reed and Kaylin Moore and freshman Joshua Wiggins (who had an outstanding spring), along with young safeties Dylan Dixson and Trevor Woods and "star" DB Tyrin Taylor.
Most of that group had at least a taste of playing time last fall, then got significant snaps in the spring. If they continue to progress at their current rate, Dorrell believes the Buffs will have a steady, reliable secondary.
But perhaps one of the most important developments of camp thus far hasn't been limited to one position group or even just one side of the ball.
It's an overall environment of leadership, with a number of older players taking on the reins of accountability and making sure younger players understand their responsibilities. The attitude was initially fostered by the coaching staff, but Dorrell believes it has now taken root throughout the locker room.
"It's genuine energy," Dorrell said. "I think it did start initially with our coaches. They have a passion about developing a football team and football players. But the players kind of fed off the energy of everyone and they have taken it on their own. We passed the baton to them and now they're creating their own energy. They're feeding off each other and that's creating the morale and camaraderie and identity of this team."