They aren't big names to the college football world yet, but the talent Colorado has assembled at receiver is significant.

Seniors Kabion Ento and Juwann Winfree are incredible athletes with size, speed and athleticism to dominate cornerbacks. Another senior, Jay MacIntyre, is as reliable and steady as anyone on the team.

Sophomores Laviska Shenault and KD Nixon are physically gifted and possess star potential. Then, there's junior Tony Brown and redshirt freshman Jaylon Jackson, who have arguably been the two most explosive receivers in preseason camp.

"The list goes on and on," co-offensive coordinator/receivers coach Darrin Chiaverini said.

For that group to reach its full potential, however, the Buffaloes need junior quarterback Steven Montez to reach his. With a full year of starting experience under his belt, the 6-foot-5, 235-pound, strong-armed Montez is the key to CU busting loose offensively, and the Buffs are expecting him to be even better than he was a year ago.

Montez's statistics from last year — 228-of-377 (60.5 percent) for 2,975 yards, 18 TDs and 9 INT — were solid, but he often played like the sophomore, first-year starter that he was. At times, he'd leave the pocket too quick, or he'd lock into one receiver and force a throw.

Going into this year, there are plenty of signs that Montez is developing his game.


Advertisement

"He's able to go through his read progressions quickly," Chiaverini said. "You've seen him really mature from last year to this year. I've been really, really pleased with how fast he processes things now. You don't get that without experience. You have to go through it."

Learning to remain calm in the pocket, with chaos all around, also comes from experience, and Montez believes he will do a better job of helping his offensive line this year.

In 2017, only seven of 130 teams in the country gave up more sacks than the 3.25 per game yielded by the Buffs. That's a statistic that looks bad for the offensive line, but some of that's on Montez, too. He's gifted enough to make plays with his feet, but the instinct to run sometimes created unnecessary sacks.

"I'm going to be staying in the pocket a lot more this year," he said. "I think that's what I need to do in order for me to be successful and for the team to be successful. The scrambling stuff is going to happen naturally, but hopefully it's scrambling up through the pocket and not out through the back."

Montez has always been a confident player, but the improvements he's made this offseason have made him even more confident in his game.

"(Quarterbacks coach Kurt Roper) and coach Chev have really done a good job of letting me know when I've done things right," he said. "And, obviously, when I've done some things wrong, helping me correct it, helping me fix those mistakes. That's given me a lot of confidence going into this season."

The Buffs ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in scoring a year ago (26.4 points per game), and they've been 10th or worse six times in their seven seasons in the conference.

Led by Montez, a solid stable of running backs and the deep pool of talent at receiver, the Buffs appear to have the tools to take a leap forward, but after failing to meet high expectations a year ago, there's a more humble approach going into this season.

"We still have some stuff to improve on," Montez said 10 days before the season opener. "I think we're coming along well and I think we're going to be prepared come Aug. 31."

A quick look at each position on the CU offense:

Quarterbacks: Montez appears ready to take his game to the next level and the tools are there for him to be one of the best QBs in the Pac-12. Behind him, sophomore Sam Noyer and redshirt freshman Tyler Lytle both go into the season more confident and game-ready than they were a year ago. Talented true freshman Blake Stenstrom will likely redshirt.

Running backs: While there are several backs in contention for carries, it appears that senior graduate transfer Travon McMillian and senior Kyle Evans have separated from the pack. McMillian was a productive player for Virginia Tech the past three years. Evans was the Buffs' top backup in 2016 before a hip injury limited him last year. Senior Donovan Lee, junior Beau Bisharat and redshirt freshman Alex Fontenot are all fighting for opportunities, as well.

Tight ends: Junior Chris Bounds had a very good 2017 season in which he proved his ability as a blocker and receiver. Depth took a hit this month with Jared Poplawski suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. However, walk-on Brady Russell earned a scholarship with a great camp and JUCO transfer Darrion Jones has great potential.

Receivers: It's a talented bunch led by senior Juwann Winfree on the outside and senior Jay MacIntyre in the slot. Senior Kabion Ento, junior Tony Brown, sophomores, KD Nixon and Laviska Shenault all have big-play potential. Redshirt freshmen Maurice Bell and Jaylon Jackson both played well in fall camp, making a push to get in the rotation.

Offensive line: Juniors Tim Lynott (right guard) and Aaron Haigler (right tackle) lead what could be a solid group if it develops quickly. Redshirt freshman Colby Pursell continues to impress and is slated to start at center. Senior Josh Kaiser (left tackle) and Brett Tonz (left guard) have earned opportunities to start. There is a lot of young talent to watch, too, with guard/tackle Jake Moretti, guard/tackle William Sherman, guard Kary Kutsch and tackle Frank Fillip.

Projected depth chart

Pos. First team Second team

QB Steven Montez, Jr., 6-5, 235 Sam Noyer, So., 6-4, 220

RB Travon McMillian, Sr., 6-0, 210 Kyle Evans, Sr., 5-7, 180

TE Chris Bounds, Jr., 6-4, 250 Brady Russell, Fr., 6-3, 250

WR Laviska Shenault, So., 6-2, 220 Kabion Ento, Sr., 6-3, 190

WR Juwann Winfree, Sr., 6-3, 215 Tony Brown, Jr., 6-1, 190

WR Jay MacIntyre, Sr., 5-10, 185 KD Nixon, So., 5-8, 185

LT Josh Kaiser, Sr., 6-6, 300 Frank Fillip, Fr., 6-7, 280

LG Brett Tonz, Jr., 6-4, 295 Jake Moretti, Fr., 6-4, 295

C Colby Pursell, Fr., 6-4, 290 Tonz or Lynott

RG Tim Lynott, Jr., 6-3, 300 Kary Kutsch, So., 6-4, 300

RT Aaron Haigler, Jr., 6-7, 295William Sherman, Fr., 6-4, 290

Snapshot: CU offense

Assistant coaches

Darrin Chiaverini (3rd season): Co-coordinator/WRs

Klayton Adams (6th season): Co-coordinator/O-Line

Gary Bernardi (6th season): Tight ends/fullbacks

Darian Hagan (3rd season): Running backs

Kurt Roper (1st season): Quarterbacks

Five to watch

T/G Josh Kaiser, Sr.: The lone senior up front, Kaiser's ability to be at his best will help to solidify the left side of the line.

RB Travon McMillian, Sr.: After rushing for 2,152 yards in three years at Virginia Tech, he's hoping to be the featured back with the Buffs.

QB Steven Montez, Jr.: Had a solid year in 2017 (2,975 yards, 18 TD, 9 INT), but the Buffs need him to be better and more consistent.

C Colby Pursell, Fr.: There's a lot on his plate as a freshman, but if he's as good as advertised, he'll be a main cog in the trenches.

WR Juwann Winfree, Sr.: Buffs have a lot of talent at receiver, but it starts with Winfree, who has waited a long time for his chance to be a star.

2017 Statistics

Rankings Avg. Pac-12 National

Scoring 26.4 11 81

Total offense 417.6 7 48

Rushing 157.2 8 74

Passing 260.4 4 39

Passing efficiency 134.4 8 57

Sacks allowed 39 10 122

3rd-down % 41.8 6 46

Red zone scoring 84.1 9 69

Top returning individuals

Passing

Steven Montez: 228-377 for 2,975 yards, 18 TD, 9 INT

Sam Noyer: 13-27 for 119 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT

Rushing

Steven Montez: 132 att., 338 yards, 3 TD

Beau Bisharat: 21 att., 61 yards, 0 TD

KD Nixon: 3 att., 20 yards, 0 TD

Receiving

Jay MacIntyre: 28 catches, 396 yards, 2 TD

Juwann Winfree: 21 catches, 325 yards, 2 TD

Laviska Shenault: 7 catches, 168 yards, 0 TD

Numbers to know

3.25 — Sacks allowed per game last year, putting the Buffs at 11th in the Pac-12 and 123rd nationally.

3.8 — Rushing yards per carry for the Buffs last year, ranking 9th in conference and 102nd nationally.

4 — Offensive linemen on the roster that have appeared in a game with the Buffs: senior Josh Kaiser and juniors Aaron Haigler, Tim Lynott Jr., and Bret Tonz.

14 — Turnovers by the Buffs in 2017, tied for 19th fewest in the nation. It was also the fewest in a season by a CU team since 1993 (13).

2,152 — Career rushing yards for Travon McMillian, who spent the last three years at Virginia Tech.

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