BUFFS TO WATCH

A few players to keep an eye on during Colorado's spring practices:

Offense

RB Beau Bisharat, Sr.: He's got the most experience at running back, but can the 6-foot-2, 225-pounder find his way atop the depth chart?

TE Darrion Jones, Sr.: A JUCO transfer last year, he's got exceptional size (6-6, 255) and ability. Can he put it together and be a weapon for the offense?

RB Jaren Mangham, True-Fr.: One of the most intriguing freshman backs CU has had in a while, the 6-2, 215-pounder fits the mold of what coach Mel Tucker likes in a runner.

OL Va'atofu Sauvao, Jr.: A newcomer from the JUCO ranks, he's aiming for a starting spot. If he has a great spring, it could impact the entire group up front.

WR Dimitri Stanley, Fr.: He showed his talent in a couple games last year and has had a great offseason. He's a potential star at slot receiver.

Defense

OLB Nu'umotu Falo, Sr.: Returned last year after sitting out 2017 with a suspension and never could get into the regular rotation. Does he finally take the leap forward as a senior?

S Derrion Rakestraw, Jr.: Graduation and injuries have impacted the Buffs at safety. Rakestraw struggled in his new role last year, but has the raw ability to make a dramatic improvement and earn a starting job.

DL Jalen Sami, Fr.: At 6-6, 320, he's a beast up front. One former CU coach believes Sami could be better than Javier Edwards - who graduated after last season - was in 2018.


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CB Trey Udoffia, Jr.: In and out of the lineup for the past two years, Udoffia has yet to find consistency. If he can, the Buffs could be solid at corner.

ILB Jonathan Van Diest, So.: The former Cherry Creek High School star has been waiting for his opportunity for a while. A starting job is there for the taking.

When Colorado hired Mel Tucker as head football coach in December, he and athletic director Rick George both stated the Buffaloes weren't interested in a slow rebuilding process.

"He doesn't want a honeymoon period and I don't either," George said in December. "He's here to get started. This isn't a learning curve. We're going to get this thing done right now."

Tucker is here because the Buffs have failed to meet expectations the past two years, going 5-7 in back-to-back seasons.

Still, the Buffs have some kinks to work out before hitting the field in the fall, and on Monday they'll get rolling with the start of spring practices. During the course of 15 practices between now and the April 27 spring game, Tucker is hoping to lay the foundation not only with the players, but as a coaching staff - which is working together for the first time.

Colorado head coach Mel Tucker will begin his first season as the Buffs head coach with spring practice on Monday.
Colorado head coach Mel Tucker will begin his first season as the Buffs head coach with spring practice on Monday. (Matthew Jonas / Staff Photographer)

"This is a process; (spring) is really just Phase 2 of what we have to do," Tucker said. "Phase 1 was the nine weeks of strength and conditioning; Phase 2 will be spring ball and Phase 3 will be our summer program, which will be very tough.

"We need to make sure that when we come out of the spring game, we know at every position what every guy is capable of doing and what every guy has to do to get better so we can have a really good summer."

While the Buffs will add several new players in the summer and fall and position battles may continue up to the opening game on Aug. 30 against Colorado State, spring is huge for several players, especially as they get their first chance to impress Tucker and the rest of the newcomers to the staff.

Colorado’s Mustafa Johnson is the only starter returning to the defensive line.
Colorado's Mustafa Johnson is the only starter returning to the defensive line. (Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer)

Here's a look at each position going into spring. This includes only players who are on campus for spring.

Quarterbacks

Steven Montez is a fifth-year senior, two-year starter and within range of the program record for career passing yards, and he will go into spring atop the depth chart. He will have to prove himself to a new coaching staff, however. Montez needs a great spring and to take the next step as a leader. Junior Sam Noyer and sophomore Tyler Lytle have limited game experience, but a great opportunity to make an impression on offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Jay Johnson. Walk-on Josh Goldin will also compete. Redshirt freshman Blake Stenstrom will miss at least the start of spring as he recovers from foot surgery.

Colorado receiver Laviska Shenault had 86 catches for 1,011 yards, 6 TDs in 2018.
Colorado receiver Laviska Shenault had 86 catches for 1,011 yards, 6 TDs in 2018. (Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer)

Running backs

One of the most intriguing position battles this year, as the Buffs have very little experience. Senior Beau Bisharat is the only scholarship upperclassman and leads the group with 57 carries for 249 yards in his career. Tucker loves big backs, so perhaps Bisharat (6-2, 225) can seize the opportunity. Sophomore Alex Fontenot (11 carries for 43 yards) and walk-on Chase Sanders (four carries for 8 yards) are the only other backs with carries on game day. The lack of experience means the Buffs could be leaning on youth. Redshirt freshmen Jarek Broussard and Deion Smith and true freshmen early enrollees Joe Davis and Jaren Mangham will all get an opportunity to impress.

Receivers

CU is loaded with experience and talent here, although the best of the bunch — junior Laviska Shenault (86 catches for 1,011 yards, 6 TD in 2018) is not expected to participate in spring as he recoveries from injuries. Junior KD Nixon (52 for 636, 4 TD) and senior Tony Brown (32 for 333, 1 TD) lead the group this spring, but they'll be pushed by a talented, young group. Sophomores Daniel Arias, Maurice Bell and Jaylon Jackson and redshirt freshman Dimitri Stanley will get plenty of opportunities to shine in the spring, as will walk-on sophomore Curtis Chiaverini. Redshirt freshman Dylan Thomas is out for spring as he recovers from knee surgery.

Tight ends

Tucker is a big believer in the tight end as a receiving weapon, which is a change from the previous coaching staff. CU tight ends have caught only 17 passes in the last three seasons combined, with six last year. Sophomore Brady Russell (five catches for 41 yards) is the top returner after a solid 2018 season, but graduate transfer Jalen Harris (from Auburn) is the most experienced. Senior Darrion Jones and sophomore Jared Poplawski are talented and will push for playing time, too. There are only four scholarship players here, so walk-ons Legend Brumbaugh, Derek Coleman and CJ Schmanski could have an impact.

Offensive line

Improvement and development with this group is an essential task in spring, as the line has struggled the past two years. There is some experience, though, as senior Tim Lynott has more career starts (33) than any player on the roster. He's played guard and center and will compete at both spots. Sophomores Colby Pursell (12 starts at center in 2018) and William Sherman (nine starts at left tackle) will look to take the next step after solid freshman seasons. Sophomore Frank Fillip and junior Kary Kutsch also had at least 64snaps last year and will push for top spots.

It's a clean slate for new line coach Chris Kapilovic, however, so several players have an opportunity to step up this spring, including senior walk-on Jack Shutack, junior Hunter Vaughn, sophomores Chance Lytle and Heston Paige and redshirt freshmen Josh Jynes, Kanan Ray and Casey Roddick. One of the most intriguing players of spring could be junior college transfer Va'atofu Sauvao, who was brought in to compete for a starting job. True freshman Austin Johnson also already turned some heads in the weight room. Senior Brett Tonz has starting experience at guard and sophomore Jake Moretti is one of the most talented linemen on the team, but both are recovering from injuries this spring.

Defensive line

This was one of the top units of the 2018 season, but only one starter — junior Mustafa Johnson — returns. He was one of the most dominant players in the Pac-12 last year and will look to get even better this spring. Sophomore Terrance Lang has had a really good offseason and aims for a great spring. In terms of experience, that's about it for the Buffs this spring. Redshirt freshmen Tava Finau and Jalen Sami have a great opportunity to impress new coach Jimmy Brumbaugh. The 6-6, 320-pound Sami could make a push for the starting nose tackle job. JUCO transfer Jeremiah Doss is also on campus this spring and junior Terriek Roberts gives the Buffs depth. Five new players will be added to this group in the fall.

Inside linebackers

Junior Nate Landman is one of the best linebackers in the Pac-12 and will clearly lead this group into spring. The task is finding someone to play next to him. Junior Akil Jones (40 career snaps) and sophomore Jonathan Van Diest (23 snaps) have a great chance to step up this spring. CU will also have sophomore Chase Newman and walk-ons this spring. Depth is an issue for now, but three players, including two JUCO transfers, will arrive in the summer.

Outside linebackers

New position coach Brian Michalowski has plenty of talent to work with this spring, including seniors Nu'umotu Falo, Davion Taylor and Alex Tchangam and sophomores Jacob Callier and Carson Wells. All of them have quality game experience. Taylor is the best athlete of the group and could get a look at safety. True freshmen Alec Pell and Joshka Gustav are also on campus and will compete in spring. Pell is versatile enough to play inside if needed.

Cornerbacks

There's no lack of experience, but this is a group that has to take a step or two forward. Seniors Delrick Abrams Jr. and Dante Wigley and juniors Mehki Blackmon, Ronnie Blackmon and Trey Uddofia have all played a lot of snaps for the Buffs, but starting positions are wide open. Junior Kevin George and freshman L.J. Wallace are also hoping to get into the mix. An injury will keep sophomore Chris Miller - arguably the Buffs' best corner - on the sidelines in spring and true freshman K.J. Trujillo is limited by injury.

Safeties

In addition to losing both starters to graduation, the Buffs will go through spring without junior Aaron Maddox, who projects as a potential starter. Senior walk-on Lucas Cooper and sophomore Hasaan Hypolite are also limited because of shoulder injuries. That lack of depth is part of why Taylor could see time here. Among the healthy, junior Derrion Rakestraw - a former receiver and corner - has a great opportunity to impress and take a lead role this spring. Sophomore Isaiah Lewis and freshman Ray Robinson will get plenty of reps, as well.

Special teams

CU has a ton of experience here. Junior James Stefanou has been the primary place-kicker for two years, senior Alex Kinney has four years of experience at punter (he returns for a fifth year after missing most of 2018 with injury), senior Davis Price has handled kickoff, place-kicking and punting duties at times in his career, and J.T. Bale enters his third year as the snapper. Even at backup the Buffs are solid. Freshmen Tyler Francis and Evan Price were a combined 6-for-7 on field goals - and 10-for-10 on extra points - when Stefanou got hurt last year, and junior Sam Loy was Vanderbilt's punter for two years (2016-17) before transferring to CU last year.

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