Colorado’s offensive line lacks experience, isn’t completely healthy and is coming off a rough season.
It sounds less than ideal, but with spring football just a week away, co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Klayton Adams can’t wait to get started.
“I’m as excited as I’ve ever been for spring football and a lot of that has to do with how hard the kids are working and the amount of, in my opinion, raw ability that we have, be it inexperienced and young,” Adams said.
Last season, the Buffs (5-7, 2-7 Pac-12) ranked 123rd in the country in allowing 3.25 sacks per game and ranked 102nd with their 3.78 yards per rush average. The line is not completely to blame for those numbers, but certainly the group up front struggled.
“Last year was not good enough on the offensive line because our standard is extremely high,” Adams said. “We want to be one of the best groups in this league, if not the best group in this league. It needs to improve. It needs to improve a lot in our opinion.”
To improve as a group — especially this spring — the Buffs will rely on a lot of new, or at least inexperienced, faces.
Three of last year’s starters — left tackle Jeromy Irwin, left guard Gerrad Kough and center Jonathan Huckins — have graduated, and a fourth — guard Tim Lynott — is still recovering a torn Achilles.
In addition to missing Lynott this spring, the Buffs aren’t sure if they’ll have junior Isaac Miller, redshirt freshman Jake Moretti or true freshman Kanan Ray available.
Miller has spent the past couple of years dealing with a knee injury that’s had him in and out of the lineup, and while his work ethic is off the charts, Adams said, “It’s just a little bit of a complicated injury.”
Moretti, a highly touted member of the 2017 recruiting class, missed all of last season with injuries.
“Jake Moretti is doing absolutely everything humanly possible to get himself ready and it’s working,” Adams said. “He’s rapidly improving his health.”
When healthy, Miller and Moretti and two of the strongest players and hardest workers on the team, and both could vie for starting roles, but Adams added, “We’ll just have to see when we get out there and see how their bodies react to full contact.”
Ray, who signed last month, is recovering from a knee injury and told BuffZone he may not be ready for spring drills.
As for those that are healthy, Adams has been impressed with what they’ve done in the offseason.
Tackle Josh Kaiser, the lone senior and a five-game starter last year, has emerged as a leader and keeps improving.
The junior class is led by Aaron Haigler, who has 16 career starts at right tackle and guard. He had a good freshman year in 2016, bulked up and struggled last season. But, he, too, is emerging as a leader and showing signs of shining again.
“Aaron is starting to understand that last five percent, how hard it is to get there,” Adams said. “(Last season, he) maybe hadn’t totally adjusted to how big his body was at that point. The arrow is definitely pointing up on Aaron.”
Adams also had high praise for junior guard/center Brett Tonz and junior guard Dillon Middlemiss, who will both compete for first-team roles.
It’s the young linemen that really have the Buffs excited, however.
The most impressive of that young group could be redshirt freshman Colby Pursell, who can play center or guard.
“I think if you ask any person on our team or any offensive lineman about Colby Pursell, you’re going to hear the same things: that he’s an absolute machine, in terms of the way he works,” Adams said.
Adams said sophomore Hunter Vaughn “has had his best offseason by far,” and called redshirt freshman Heston Paige “a coaches’ dream, in terms of the way he operates.”
Grant Polley and Will Sherman are redshirt freshmen with a chance to compete for playing time, as well. Casey Roddick, a true freshman who grayshirted last season, has already turned heads in his first few weeks with the program because of his strength.
Finally, there’s 6-foot-7, 310-pound redshirt freshman Chance Lytle, a quiet young man with an opportunity to make some noise.
“He’s maybe one of the biggest people on our team and he has silently pushed himself into a spot that many people probably don’t think about, but in my mind I’m expecting that guy to compete for a starting job,” Adams said.
Of course, at this point, anybody healthy will be competing for starting spots, and that’s the way Adams likes it.
“I think competition is absolutely critical to the offensive line,” he said. “I’m really excited because there’s an optimism and a sense that you’re not 100 percent sure what to expect, but also, it’s like these guys are like clay and you can mold them to exactly what you want when they are so young and so eager and so hungry.”