Woelk: Buffs Who Could Significantly Increase Their Impact
BOULDER — If the Colorado Buffaloes are going to take a step forward from last season's 4-8 record, they will no doubt need their veteran leaders to step up.
On offense, that means players such as tight end Brady Russell, O-linemen Frank Fillip, Casey Roddick and Jake Wiley, running back Alex Fontenot, and wide receiver Daniel Arias. Defensively, those returnees with significant playing experience who will need to take their games up a notch include such vets as D-linemen Jalen Sami, Na'im Rodman and Terrance Lang, safety Isaiah Lewis, and linebacker Quinn Perry.
But if the Buffs are indeed going to improve, they will need big contributions from players who saw little playing time last year (or none at all in a CU uniform).
The group covers a wide spectrum. Some have been on CU's roster for as long as five or six years, others are transfers, and others are incoming freshmen.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but here are a group of players who could have much bigger impacts this year — and be difference makers when it comes to helping the Buffs improve their win-loss record.
Linebackers Josh Chandler-Semedo and Robert Barnes — An interesting pairing here. Chandler-Semedo started 31 games over the last three seasons for West Virginia before transferring to Colorado. Barnes started three games for CU last season, but played sparingly in the first seven games.
We include them on this list because the two could have a tremendous impact on Colorado's defense.
Barnes has had an outstanding camp, as CU coaches are making great use of his versatility. He's a converted safety who has maintained that speed, but he has benefited greatly from plenty of work in the weight room and has added a level of physicality to his game.
Chandler-Semedo is a physical inside player who will be a big boost to CU's run defense and can also play from sideline to sideline. The two have paired almost seamlessly in camp and should give the Buffs a great presence on the second level of the defense.
Linebacker Eoghan Kerry — Here's the opposite end of that spectrum, a true freshman who enrolled last spring and has been making great strides since his first practice. He may not be an every-down player, but he could make some contributions this year while also establishing himself as a force for the next several years.
Wide receivers Maurice Bell and Chase Penry — This is Bell's sixth season in a Colorado uniform. He is a player who has shown flashes of excellence throughout his time in Colorado, but has had some terrible luck with injuries. This could be the year that his patience and hard work pays off. He's running excellent routes, displaying good hands and becoming a reliable target for both of the leading quarterbacks. Penry, who had eight catches last year, started slowly in camp this season but has come on of late. He's dependable, sure-handed and has a knack for getting open.
Running back Deion Smith — Now in his fifth year with the Buffs, he's another player who has displayed potential but also been hampered by injury. He's having his best camp yet and will almost certainly get a decent share of playing time.
Wide receivers Jordyn Tyson, Montana Lemonious-Craig and Jack Hestera — A true freshman who turned heads quickly in camp, Tyson is showing the ability to line up at different spots, get open, make catches and pick up yards after the catch. This is another youngster who could contribute this year and blossom into a stellar performer over the next few seasons. Lemonious-Craig is a returnee who had moments last year, had a good spring and is adding consistency to his game. Hestera is a walkon who had a great spring and could prove to be someone who adds some big moments this fall.
Safety Jaylen Striker — A JC transfer who played in three games in 2020, he missed last year with an injury. He moved to safety this season and has seemingly found a home. He's made plays in camp, has shown good versatility and could be a regular on the back end this year.
Quarterback J.T. Shrout — We all know Shrout's story — a transfer from Tennessee who was vying for the starting spot early in camp last year before a knee injury sidelined him for the season. Now, he's competing with incumbent Brendon Lewis for the starting spot and is having a very good fall camp. He's picked up the offense quickly and is showing a nice presence in the pocket. He can throw short, medium and long with accuracy, and is displaying no signs of his injury, instead making plays with his legs with regularity. Even if he doesn't win the starting job, he will quite likely see some action — and at the very least, he has made Lewis better through competition.
Defensive lineman Justin Jackson — He played 135 snaps last season, but odds are he'll see much more time on the field this year. In a defense that throws a wide variety of looks at offense, he offers a solid inside presence and will give the Buffs much-needed depth in the trenches. He's added some size and strength, can push the pocket and defend the run.
Offensive lineman Tommy Brown — A transfer from Alabama, Brown had a good early spring before being sidelined by an injury. He could return to practice next week, and his immediate goal will be to regain his conditioning. If he can quickly rebound, he should be a huge help to CU's offensive line as the season progresses.
Wide receiver R.J. Sneed II — A transfer from Baylor, he brings experience and savvy to CU's WR room. He has also been hampered by injury, but could return next week, and is another player who could provide a big boost as CU's season progresses.
Edge rushers Chance Main, Guy Thomas, Devin Grant and Jamar Montgomery — Main is a transfer from Incarnate Word, Thomas is a returnee who started four games last year, Montgomery played 138 snaps and Grant played 145. This bunch could be part of a rotation the Buffs throw at opponents to keep fresh legs in the game and pressure on the quarterback. The Buffs desperately need to improve their outside rush and some combination of this bunch could be the answer.
Cornerbacks Nikko Reed and Kaylin Moore — Reed played 199 snaps last year while Moore played 134. Both were reserves for most of the season, but they will likely be the starters when CU opens the season Sept. 2 against TCU. They are young but talented and have the ability to become playmakers at their positions. The big question will be how quickly they handle the learning curve when the lights go on. A couple others who could figure here include freshmen Josh Wiggins and Jason Oliver.
O-linemen Austin Johnson, Noah Fenske, Alex Harkey, Gerad Christian-Lichtenhan— Harkey is a JC transfer, Fenske came in from Iowa last year, Christian-Lichtenhan is in his third year and Johnson is in his fourth season in Boulder. Fenske and Johnson have been competing at center, with Johnson also playing some guard. Harkey has been getting some snaps with the top unit at guard and Christian-Lichtenhan has been getting some reps at tackle. Obviously, they won't all be starters — but they have had solid camps and will give CU some much-needed depth up front.
SAMI ON WATCHLIST: Buffs DL Jalen Sami is on the preseason watchlist for the 2022 Polynesian College Player of the Year. The Award is presented annually to the most outstanding college football player of Polynesian ancestry that epitomizes great ability and integrity. The Watch List is composed of 85 players from 43 different FBS schools.
The 6-6, 325-pound Sami is in his fifth year with the Buffs (he missed 2018 with an injury). He has played in 28 games with 24 starts and has 58 career tackles, with 10 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. He was named a preseason All-Pac-12 third team by Athlon, Lindy's College Football and Phil Steele's College Football.
CU has one previous winner of the award, as quarterback Sefo Liufau was the recipient in 2016.
You can now secure seats for another season of Colorado Buffaloes football. Tickets are available and can be purchased here.