Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Strong up front
CU’s 16 scholarship offensive linemen going into the 2017 season:
Seniors: Jonathan Huckins (6-4, 285); Jeromy Irwin (6-5, 295), Gerrad Kough (6-4, 295)
Juniors: Josh Kaiser (6-5, 295)
Sophomores: Aaron Haigler (6-7, 270); Tim Lynott (6-3, 300); Dillon Middlemiss (6-5, 295); Isaac Miller (6-7, 280)
Redshirt freshmen: Hunter Vaughn (6-7, 290)
True freshmen: Chance Lytle (6-7, 290); Jake Moretti (6-4, 270); Heston Paige (6-5, 270); Grant Polley (6-4, 265); Colby Pursell (6-4, 290); Casey Roddick (6-4, 340); William Sherman (6-3, 295)
During the Colorado Football Signing Day Celebration at the Denver Sheraton hotel last week, CU head football coach Mike MacIntyre talked about each of the players the Buffaloes had signed to national letters of intent the day before.
As MacIntyre spoke, highlights of each player were on display behind him. The loudest reaction from the crowd came from watching the Buffs’ new offensive linemen treating defenders like rag dolls.
“That was me (making all that noise),” CU offensive line coach Klayton Adams joked.
Adams certainly wasn’t alone in being impressed by the footage, and nobody would blame him for getting giddy. Between the amount of experienced players returning to the Buffs next fall and the powerful newcomers on their way, Adams has more offensive line talent to work with than CU’s had in a long time.
When the Buffs improved from 4-9 in 2015 to 10-4 last season, the veteran group of linemen played a key role in the turnaround.
“I’ve been really proud of the way they’ve competed week in and week out, and I felt like we got a lot better as the season went on,” co-offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren said before CU’s appearance in the Valero Alamo Bowl on Dec. 29. “Coach Adams has done a good job with that.”
Now coming into his second season as the Buffs’ line coach, Adams is hoping his group takes another step forward.
While three-year starting center Alex Kelley and Sam Kronshage, a part-time starter at tackle, will move on, the Buffs return an experienced group.
Left tackle Jeromy Irwin (26 career starts), left guard Gerrad Kough (23), right guard Tim Lynott (14) and right tackle Aaron Haigler (seven) are all slated to return, along with guard/center Jonathan Huckins.
All five played at least 368 snaps this past season and figure to be front-runners for starting roles this next season.
As he did a year ago, however, Adams will go into spring ball, which begins Feb. 22, with a clean slate.
“It’s the same thing that I told those guys when we started this whole journey last February,” Adams said. “I don’t care how many games you’ve started; I don’t care what position you play. The best five guys are going to play.”
It’s possible the best five aren’t the five who saw the bulk of the time last season. Junior guard Josh Kaiser, sophomores Dillon Middlemiss and Isaac Miller and redshirt freshman Hunter Vaughn will all be fighting for starting roles, too.
“I think everybody needs to have an opportunity to show what they can do,” Adams said.
To give equal opportunity, Adams will move players to different positions to find their comfort zone. He also said he likes to put players in different situations, such as having someone used to playing with the starters line up with the backups; or having someone used to running with the scout team play with the starters.
“All of a sudden you start playing next to a guy that’s started 20 games and you look like a better player, or you start doing some of the things that that guy does,” Adams said.
A year ago, Lynott, as a redshirt freshman, blossomed once he got his opportunity to play next to Kelley. Now, he hopes to be one of the leaders going forward.
“I think our offensive line is going to be pretty good next year and we’re going to carry on the stuff we learned this year into next year and get better,” Lynott said. “I think it’s going to carry on to the freshmen coming in next year as we ll. We’re going to teach them what the seniors taught us and continue that legacy.”
CU should be in good hands up front for a while after signing the best group of linemen they’ve recruited in years. It features two players (tackles Jake Moretti and Grant Polley) rated as four-star recruits and a trio of three-star recruits.
“I’ve got a picture on my phone from this summer of our top five offensive linemen that came to visit us during that (recruiting) barbecue, and all those guys signed with us,” Adams said. “We didn’t really have to go far down the list. It was pretty much, ‘These are the guys that we want, let’s go get after them,’ and we were lucky enough to hit them.”
Whether or not the newcomers are good enough to play right away remains to be seen, but Adams goes into the offseason loving his options. He may not know which five will be in the starting lineup, but he knows the five that start will be good.
“We’re going to put the best five out there, I can promise you that,” Adams said. “The competition is certainly healthy.”
Brian Howell: firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.