Last Friday evening after the second practice of fall camp, Colorado defensive coordinator Greg Brown told his fellow assistant coaches sophomore Jered Bell would be a likely candidate for major playing time at cornerback.
Brown wasn't ready to name Bell a starter at that point so early in camp, but based on the way Bell performed in the spring and his presence early in camp, he thought it was time to let Bell know he would be relied on this season.
Saturday morning before practice, Brown pulled Bell aside and told him he was impressed with how he was going about his business. He said he informed Bell that if he continued providing consistent effort and improving, he would earn plenty of playing time.
Three hours later Bell was being helped off the practice field after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
"That's tough. What an unfortunate deal," Brown said. "He had just worked himself into position to be a guy. He's tall. He can run and he's smart."
With Bell out for the season, Brown was back at square one Sunday morning trying to find two reliable cornerbacks from a large field of contenders. It hasn't helped that sophomore Parker Orms has been out with calf cramps and swelling in the same leg in which he suffered a torn ACL last season.
It's possible that if both Orms and Bell were healthy, they could have been the starting cornerbacks for the Buffs when the season starts at Hawaii on Sept. 3. Orms still has an opportunity to earn one of those jobs if he can get healthy and return to action without missing a major amount of camp.
"There is no question that is the biggest need on the team right now, I mean the entire team," Brown said in reference to identifying the starting cornerbacks. "Going into our season, we've got to settle on a pair of corners who can get the job done and give us a chance to win, and we're nowhere near finding that answer yet."
Brown is working a group of 21 defensive backs in camp, including walk-ons. He said it is the largest group he has coached in one season in his career. He said he likes the depth in the group, but to this point none of the remaining healthy players have emerged.
Brown said if none of the players competing for playing time at cornerback back prove they can be consistent enough to merit a starting job, he has a contingency plan. He will use safeties at corner until someone does prove they should be on the field.
What veterans such as Arthur Jaffee and Travis Sandersfeld lack in speed, they make up for by knowing their assignments and playing smart football. Brown said another safety, sophomore Terrel Smith, also is being given opportunities at cornerback and could become an option there or maybe even the nickelback in the mold of former Buff Cha'pelle Brown.
"That puzzle is far from being solved," Brown said.
One problem at cornerback is that most of the players competing at the position are young and are in either their first or second season in the program. Coaches would like to see players such as third-year sophomores Ayodeji Olatoye and Paul Vigo make a move.
Olatoye and Vigo are still up and down from one practice to the next.
"We're all here fighting, trying to start," Olatoye said. "It's a lot of competition. We've got a lot of corners out here. With the limited reps you have, you have to show what you have. It's a huge meeting room."
Olatoye said his familiarity with coach Brown is an advantage for him and others who have been in the program long enough to have been coached by Brown before his one-year stint at the University of Arizona last fall. However, Olatoye said Brown is using only about 50 percent of the schemes he did in 2009 when Olatoye was a true freshman in Boulder.
He understands that expectations of him are growing the older he gets and the more time he spends in the program, but he doesn't necessarily agree that veteran players should be considered the favorites to win starting jobs because they are more experienced and familiar with the college game.
"Talent doesn't require age," he said. "Whoever coach Brown sees fit, he's going to put the best talent on the field. If that's me, then it's me. If it's not, then I just try to find my role."