Colorado's most prominent big-play threat is trying to work through a bum wheel.
With next week's season opener against Colorado State fast approaching, senior wide receiver Juwann Winfree still is attempting to shake off a nagging hamstring injury that has limited him throughout the preseason. Winfree did not participate in the Buffaloes' open scrimmage on Aug. 11, and in the nearly two full weeks since Winfree has been diligently working to get his game, and his hamstring, back up to speed.
"It's a little bit frustrating, but it's something that's real minor," Winfree said. "I know I'm going to be back. I'm back running routes and I'm just here to make sure the team is looking good. I've still been working as hard as I can, or as much as I can with the limitations. I'm still catching balls every day in practice, after practice. I'm still getting the work in. It's just running full speed right now, that's the only thing I'm limited in. I feel once I get back in, I'll be fine."
Despite a mostly-new cast of faces among CU's deep corps of receivers, the unit once again expects to be one of the strengths of the team in 2018. Yet depth and versatility of those receivers will take a significant hit if Winfree isn't at full strength when the Buffs and CSU collide on Aug. 31 in the Rocky Mountain Showdown in Denver.
Winfree's hamstring issue continues an up-and-down road he has traversed since high school. A transfer who played one season at Maryland and another at Coffeyville Community College, Winfree's CU debut was delayed two years ago by a preseason knee injury that sidelined him the entire 2016 division championship season.
Winfree returned last year but was forced to settle for a supporting role in a receivers group that featured established seniors Bryce Bobo, Shay Fields, and Devin Ross. Still, Winfree played in all 12 games, collecting 21 receptions for 325 yards and two touchdowns. His 15.5 yards-per-catch average was the best on the team among the six CU players who recorded at least 20 receptions, and his electric 79-yard touchdown catch against USC was the Buffs' longest play from scrimmage in four years.
Winfree's big-play ability has been expected to be a backbone of a group of receivers long on talent yet largely short of experience, outside of senior Jay MacIntyre. Head coach Mike MacIntyre expressed some concern Winfree still won't be completely up to speed once the opening kickoff finally arrives next week.
"He'll be ready to go. He did well out there (Tuesday)," Mike MacIntyre said. "He probably won't be able to play as many plays because he's going to get winded because he hasn't been out there all of the time. But we have guys that can rotate in there with him too that are good players."
Co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach Darrin Chiaverini echoed coach MacIntyre's sentiment that Winfree's preseason absence has opened the doors to more repetitions for a few of CU's less heralded receivers. In particular, Chiaverini cited the work of Tony Brown as a pleasant surprise during Winfree's absence. Brown is a fourth-year junior who sat out last season per NCAA transfer rules after moving to CU from Texas Tech.
Brown caught 27 passes for 378 yards in two seasons at Texas Tech.
"(Winfree) is definitely a difference-maker, there's no question. But what I've been really pleased with is the way Tony Brown has played this fall camp," Chiaverini said. "Tony is someone I recruited out of southern California when I was at Texas Tech, and that kid can play. He's shown it all fall camp. He's made plays when he's had opportunities. Of course we want to have Juwann out there, but if Juwann's not going, then Tony Brown's going, and he's a good option as well."