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CU Position Preview: Buffs Build Depth, Emphasize Versatility On O-Line

Aug 25, 2022
Jake Wiley (60) and Casey Roddick (70) give the Buffs starting experience up front.

BOULDER — New Colorado offensive line coach Kyle DeVan likes the depth the Buffaloes bring to the table this year up front.

But along with some solid starters and backups he believes can produce, DeVan has emphasized another quality across the line — versatility.

DeVan wants players who can not only play one position well, but can move to another spot on the line and be equally productive.

The result, he believes, means the ability to put your best players on the field.

"Having that versatility allows you to play the best five or the best six," said DeVan, who joined Karl Dorrell's staff last winter from Michigan, where he worked as an offensive analyst. "You're not pigeon-holed where he's your fifth-best or your eighth-best offensive lineman, but he's the only one that plays left tackle. Then the competition raises."

DeVan inherited a line that included three returning starters, but also one that lacked depth.

This season, he believes the Buffs will not only be able to field a solid starting five, but also have quality backups who can step in and maintain production when the need arises.

CU's three returning starters are tackles Frank Fillip and Jake Wiley and guard Casey Roddick. Between them, they logged 31 starts last season, when Wiley manned the left side while Fillip and Roddick played on the right. This August, they have been getting work on both sides, just a small part of the versatility DeVan is trying to build.

The Buffs also have a group of returnees who played a handful of snaps last year and have seen their practice reps increase dramatically in the spring and fall camp. That group includes center Noah Fenske, center/guard Austin Johnson and tackle Gerad Christian-Lichtenhan. Fenske and Johnson have been battling for the No. 1 spot at center, with Johnson also able to move over to guard. Christian-Lichtenhan — the tallest player on the Buffs' roster at 6-foot-10, 325 pounds — has been getting working at tackle.

But DeVan has also been developing a group of newcomers who could be contributors. That includes Alabama transfer Tommy Brown, who was running with the No. 1 group early in the spring before being sidelined with an injury, Arizona transfer Luke Eckardt and junior college transfer Alex Harkey, who has been taking his share of reps with the No. 1 group at guard in August.

"(Harkey) has done a great job transitioning into Division I football," DeVan said. "He's been a great asset and gets a ton of reps with the different groups. Luke has grown into the interior position and play on the outside as well."

Brown, meanwhile, has just recently returned to practice. While his status for the Sept. 2 season opener at home against TCU (8 p.m., ESPN) is still up in the air, he will almost assuredly be a key piece as the season progresses.

DeVan also has some young newcomers who are getting their feet wet quickly. That group includes true freshmen Van Wells and Travis Gray.

"I really like where the guys are," DeVan said. "It's been fun, to be honest. It's been fun to work with a bunch of hungry young men that have the ability and have the capability and now we're putting it all together."

How productive DeVan's group can be will be a critical piece to the Buffs' overall success this year. CU's offense never found a consistent rhythm last year, finishing with historically low numbers.

But in camp, the Buffs looked to be establishing some consistency, particularly in the run game. If they can translate that into the regular season, it will be a big step forward in giving Colorado an offense that can control the tempo of a game.

POSITION COACH — DeVan arrived in Boulder with an outstanding resumé that includes time as a player in the NFL (Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Tennessee) as well as coaching stops at Michigan, Arizona and Ball State. Last season, he helped Michigan's offensive line earn recognition as the best overall group in the nation, and he has also developed a reputation as a top-notch recruiter and teacher.

KEY RETURNEES — The Buffs return three starters last year in tackles Frank Fillip and Jake Wiley and guard Casey Roddick. Other returnees with some experience who could be key contributors this year include center Noah Fenske, center/guard Austin Johnson and tackle Gerad Christian-Lichtenhan. 

KEY NEWCOMERS — The Buffs picked up a pair of Division I transfers in Tommy Brown (Alabama) and Luke Eckardt (Arizona), and junior college transfer Alex Harkey. True freshmen Van Wells and Travis Gray are also putting themselves into the mix for a place on the two-deep.

IF ALL GOES WELL … The Buffs will field a cohesive unit that can pave the way for an improved run game while also stepping up pass protection. In turn, Colorado's offense will take a significant step forward.