Although the Colorado football team won't have star Laviska Shenault at full strength during spring football, the next few weeks will be crucial for the development of the Buffaloes at receiver.
Shenault, who caught 86 passes for 1,011 yards last season, is recovering from offseason toe and shoulder surgery. The Buffs will also be without redshirt freshman Dylan Thomas (knee) when spring practices start on Monday, but receivers coach Darrin Chiaverini is eager to see his young, talented players emerge this spring.
"It really gives a guy like (sophomore) Daniel Arias a chance to show that he can be a guy and be consistent," Chiaverini said. "Ability-wise, he's as good as anyone I've had. His speed down the field, his body type and the way he's built, I'm interested to see him take the next step."
CU is looking for several receivers to take the next step this spring.
Although the top three receivers from last year — Shenault, KD Nixon (52 catches for 636 yards) and Tony Brown (32 for 333) are all back — the 2018 season proved that depth is critical. Shenault, Juwann Winfree, Jay MacIntyre and Nixon all missed time with injuries and that contributed to the sputtering of the offense late in the year.
With Shenault limited, Nixon is the leader of the group this spring. The outgoing junior was explosive at times last season and Chiaverini knows he can only get better.
"KD Nixon proved himself to be a big-time play maker last year and he's in really good shape," Chiaverini said. "I think you'll see him have a big spring."
Brown will be among the leaders, too, as the lone senior at the position, but this spring will highlight the youth. Arias and fellow sophomores Maurice Bell and Jaylon Jackson are all ready to step up and there's a lot of excitement about redshirt freshman Dimitri Stanley.
"Dimitri, to me, has a chance to be special," Chiaverini said. "I'm really excited about Dimitri. He's a great kid, he's smart, he picks up the offense. His movement skills, his ball skills ... he has a chance to do some big things.
"That group, there's going to be competing for playing time."
Chiaverini's son, walk-on sophomore Curtis Chiaverini, is also improving and could be a sleeper at receiver or a key contributor on special teams.
CU head coach Mel Tucker is eager to see which players emerge as leaders throughout the spring, but believes that early on, it will be the coaches setting the tone.
"The leaders are going to naturally emerge, and we'll see who those guys are," he said. "You also have to grow leaders. You have to put people in position to lead and help them lead and teach them how to lead. Initially it's going to be the coaches. Eventually the goal would be to have the players be the primary leaders. When you have a team where the leadership is strong on the player side of it, that means you have a really good football team."
Quarterback Steven Montez, a fifth-year senior and two-year starter, continues to improve as a leader, while the Buffs may lean on several other experienced players, such as senior offensive lineman Tim Lynott and juniors Mustafa Johnson (defensive line) and Nate Landman (linebacker). Senior punter Alex Kinney also returns after being a captain last year.
"I think this is a special group and I really like this team," Tucker said. "There's something about this group of guys that I think they're special."
CU will practice three times (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) this week and then take next week off for spring break. ... The spring game is scheduled for April 27 at Noon at Folsom Field. ... Tucker said his coaching style will be a mix of hands-on teaching and overseeing the entirety of practice. "I'm very enthusiastic in practice," he said. "I like to make sure that I set the tempo for the coaches and for the players, so I'll do that. I also have to make sure the practices run smoothly, so practice organization is a big part of what I have to do — and make sure that the coaches can coach and that we're efficient and effective."