Game day experience is the most important way to evaluate the talent of a certain position group and, for the Colorado offensive line, there's a lot to prove in that regard.
There is, however, excitement about the potential of that group.
Leading up to fall camp, which begins Aug. 1, Buffzone.com is previewing each position group for the Buffs. In this installment, we take a look at the offensive line, which will lean on some youth to try to improve as a unit.
"I'm very excited about them," junior quarterback Steven Montez said. "I think we're going to be very tough up front. I think we have a lot of guys that can play some football and we have some mean, edgy guys, which you need up front. All of our linemen are real strong and they've been showing it in the weight room."
A year ago, injuries and a two-game suspension to then-senior left tackle Jeromy Irwin contributed to a disjointed group. CU gave up 39 sacks (ranking 123rd nationally with 3.25 per game) and ranked 102nd nationally with just 3.78 yards per rushing attempt.
From that group, the Buffs lost three seniors - Irwin, Jonathan Huckins and Gerrad Kough — that combined for 92 career starts (30 last year). The Buffs also lost Isaac Miller (six starts in 2017) to medical retirement.
This year, the Buffs will lean on four veterans — senior Josh Kaiser and juniors Aaron Haigler, Tim Lynott and Brett Tonz — but also a talented and untested group of youngsters.
"I think it's another group, kind of like the wideouts, that is unproven a little bit, but talented," co-offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini said. "The young guys in that group are really talented."
The young guys are led by redshirt freshman Jake Moretti, a highly touted tackle from Pomona High School. Injuries have prevented him from playing a game since 2015 — his junior year of high school — but he turned heads during his limited time on the field in the spring.
"Jake Moretti was impressive," Chiaverini said. "When he was playing in spring football and he could go 100 percent, he's as talented as any young freshman I've seen lately.
"We have to keep him healthy."
If healthy, Moretti might be the best offensive lineman the Buffs have had in several years.
Redshirt freshman Colby Pursell is another key, as he's slated to start at center. He's already gaining a reputation for his work ethic in the weight room and certainly fits the mold of the prototypical center.
Redshirt freshman guard William Sherman, true freshman tackle Frank Fillip and sophomore guard/tackle Kary Kutsch, a junior college transfer, are among the group of other young players that could be in the mix to play.
While that young group gets up to speed, the Buffs will look to their veterans to lead the way.
Haigler is a two-year starter on the right side of the line and he's had his best offseason.
"I love Haigler, where his progression has gotten to (at this point)," Chiaverini said.
Lynott is the most experienced lineman on the team, with 24 starts, mostly at right guard. He tore his right Achilles' tendon against Arizona State on Nov. 4, but is healthy and ready to go for camp.
Kaiser and Tonz both bring a veteran presence to the group and they'll push for starting jobs, as well.
While there's a lot to prove — even for the veterans — this is potentially a group that's deep with talent.
"There's a lot to be excited about with our O-line," Montez said.
Position: Offensive line
Returners (2017 statistics)
Aaron Haigler, Jr., 6-7, 295 (9 starts: 6 at RG, 3 at RT; 10 TD blocks, 5.5 sacks allowed)
Josh Kaiser, Sr., 6-6, 300 (5 starts: 2 at LT, 3 at RT; 3 TD blocks, 4.5 sacks allowed)
Tim Lynott, Jr., 6-3, 300 (10 starts: 6 at RG, 4 at C; 11 TD blocks, 3.5 sacks allowed)
Brett Tonz, Jr., 6-4, 295 (63 snaps played)
Hunter Vaughn, So., 6-7, 300 (played on special teams)
Justin Eggers, Jr., 6-5, 305 (walk-on)
Jack Shutack, Jr., 6-6, 285 (walk-on)
Kolter Smith, So., 6-3, 285 (walk-on)
Kary Kutsch, So., 6-4, 300 (JUCO transfer)
Chance Lytle, Fr., 6-7, 315 (redshirted)
Jake Moretti, Fr., 6-4, 295 (redshirted)
Heston Paige, Fr., 6-5, 275 (redshirted)
Colby Pursell, Fr., 6-4, 290 (redshirted)
William Sherman, Fr., 6-4, 290 (redshirted)
Frank Fillip, Fr., 6-7, 280 (true freshman)
Josh Jynes, Fr., 6-3, 310 (true freshman)
Kanan Ray, Fr., 6-4, 280 (true freshman)
Casey Roddick, Fr., 6-4, 340 (true freshman)
Jacob Isen, Fr., 6-2, 245 (walk-on; redshirted)
Jonathan Huckins (graduated; 8 starts at center in 2017)
Jeromy Irwin (graduated; 10 starts at left tackle in 2017)
Gerrad Kough (graduated; 12 starts at left guard in 2017)
Dillon Middlemiss (graduating early)
Isaac Miller (medical retirement; 6 starts at right tackle in 2017)
Grant Polley (sitting out 2018 season)
2017 recap: As a group, the Buffs had their ups and downs, giving up 39 total sacks (3.25 per game), but also helping running back Phillip Lindsay rush for 1,474 yards. Senior left tackle Jeromy Irwin and left guard Gerrad Kough led the way. Combined, they gave up just four sacks, but they were the most penalized of the group, with 13 combined flags. Overall, seven different linemen played at least 390 snaps and six different line combinations started.
2018 outlook: There is hope that this year can be better, in part because of the offseason improvement made by juniors Aaron Haigler and Brett Tonz and senior Josh Kaiser. Of the three, Haigler has the most experience, with 16 career starts. He's taken his game up a notch this offseason and was voted a team captain. The return of Tim Lynott from a torn Achilles is vital, as well. He's played right guard and center, but would ideally lock into right guard this season. Lynott has all-Pac-12 potential if he can settle into one position. The real key to the line, however, is the development of the youngsters. Redshirt freshman Jake Moretti could start at left tackle and classmate Colby Pursell is atop the depth chart at center going into camp. They are the leaders of a good group of young linemen. At left guard, Tonz and redshirt freshman William Sherman could lead the battle for the starting job. Tonz, a converted defensive lineman, has continued to get better on offense and he has a mean streak. Several others will push for playing time or even starting roles. True freshman Kanan Ray, a former UCLA signee who joined the team in January, is one of the most talented young linemen, but he has a knee injury that could prevent him from playing this year. He could, however, benefit from the new redshirt rule by getting some game experience late in the year if he's healthy.