During the past few months, Colorado's offensive linemen have dealt with injuries, inexperience and inconsistency.

Their position coach, Gary Bernardi, sat down near the practice fields this week to talk about the trying season. He took a sip of Gatorade, shook his head and simply said, "It's been hard."

CU has more offensive line talent than at any point during head coach Mike MacIntyre's three seasons in Boulder, and yet it's been a weekly struggle in the trenches.

"The offensive line is the stable of the offense," MacIntyre said. "It stabilizes it and makes the engine go. With all the different injuries we've had there every week, it has made it tougher to be consistent."

Perhaps no unit at CU needs an offseason as much as the offensive line.

Starting left tackle Jeromy Irwin suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 2. Jonathan Huckins, a sophomore who has started eight games at right guard, has had two different injuries and is walking around campus on crutches this week.

Sophomore left guard Gerrad Kough (nine starts) missed three games with injuries. Tackle Sam Kronshage missed a game with an injury.

All the injuries forced senior right tackle Stephane Nembot to move to left tackle, where he's not as strong, and forced the Buffs to rely on youngsters such as redshirt freshman John Lisella II.

CU has used eight different starting combinations up front. Junior center Alex Kelley is the only lineman to have started all season in the same spot.


Advertisement

"It's really frustrating at this position to have so many combinations," Bernardi said.

Only one season in his 34-year career compares to this one, Bernardi said, and that was the 2004 season when he had just a couple of scholarship linemen at Northern Arizona.

"It's been tough, but guys have stepped up and guys have done a good job of stepping up and playing in positions where people have gotten hurt," Kough said. "We just keep working."

Work is the optimal word for this group as they look forward, because as difficult as this season has been, the Buffs firmly believe that the future is bright for the offensive line, as long as they have a successful offseason.

"The positive side is that all those guys are coming back except Stephane and they've all played a lot, so (in 2016) we'll have a lot of guys that have played," MacIntyre said.

In addition to Irwin, the Buffs are expecting Kelley, Kough, Huckins and junior guard Shane Callahan to return after all have been regular starters this season.

Kronshage, Lisella and Sully Wiefels are all players who weren't projected to get much playing time this year, and yet Kronshage has had 504 snaps, Lisella 315 and Wiefels 146. They've combined for 11 starts.

Huckins, Kough and Callahan came into the season with a combined two career starts (both by Kough), but have combined for 21 starts this season.

While the results haven't always been good, Bernardi said the effort and preparation have been fantastic. That gives him confidence that his linemen are going to turn their experience into more positive results in the future.

"All the things you're doing right now, they're going to be more reactionary because they know what's happening," Bernardi said. "You just have to learn and go, and if the kids were not receptive and the kids didn't work hard and it wasn't important, then I'd be sick. I get frustrated and I get mad, but they try their (butt) off, and that's what gives me hope that they're going to get better and we are going to get better."

They're also going to know how hard they have to work in the offseason after getting pushed around by Pac-12 defenders.

CU senior defensive lineman Justin Solis has battled linemen all over the Pac-12, including his own teammates.

"I'd say we're probably one of the smaller, weaker teams," Solis said in comparing the CU linemen to other teams.

Solis said he believes that will change, however, as the young linemen mature.

"(Director of sports performance Dave) Forman does a great job with us and we've definitely gotten stronger over the years," Solis said. "(The linemen) are young, still out of high school still. There's definitely an age factor. That's why we have the offseason, for these guys to get bigger and stronger."

Having seen the work his linemen put in during the season, Bernardi has no doubt they will work hard in the offseason.

So while this season has been difficult, Bernardi smiled as he talked about the potential CU has in the trenches.

"I'm positive and upbeat about it," he said.

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33.