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CU position preview: Line holds key to success of offense

Fall camp will feature competition at all five spots up front

Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado’s Colby Pursell, right, and Tim Lynott, left, will compete for the starting job at center during fall camp. Both are capable of playing center or guard for the Buffs.
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With all the firepower on offense this season, the Colorado football team could be explosive.

The Buffaloes feature one of the best players in the country in receiver Laviska Shenault; a senior, third-year starting quarterback in Steven Montez; an exceptional amount of talent at receiver behind Shenault; and a stable of young running backs short on experience, but not talent.

For the offense to reach its potential, however, the Buffs will lean on their offensive line. Leading up to fall camp, which starts Aug. 1, BuffZone.com is previewing each position group for the Buffs. In this installment, the focus is on the offensive line.

How good is this group?

“That’s a tough question,” first-year Buffs line coach Chris Kapilovic said. “You’re looking for consistency and we didn’t show that yet (in spring). I thought there were some positives signs. It’s hard for me to answer that question. Hopefully I’ll know more halfway through camp where we’re at.”

Kapilovic acknowledged that it’s tough to gauge the line when going against teammates, and that he’s also not sure what to expect out of the Pac-12 from week to week. But, going into camp, he likes the potential of several players and enjoys the fact that there will be competition at literally all five positions.

“Competition makes everything better,” he said. “When a guy knows that somebody can take his job at any time, that’s motivation.”

At center, sophomore Colby Pursell returns after starting all 12 games a year ago. He played a team-high 830 snaps and was the only lineman to start all 12 games. He was injured early in spring and has been good to go the past few weeks, but has to hold off senior Tim Lynott for the job.

Lynott has 33 career starts, with 29 at right guard and four at center (in 2017). He has been at center almost all offseason and was recently named to the watch list for the Rimington Trophy, which honors the nation’s best center. But, he’s not guaranteed to be snapping the ball this season.

“That’s not a decision that has been made yet,” Kapilovic said. “We have to see what makes us better.”

Regardless, Kapilovic goes into camp knowing there are two centers he can trust, and it’s a good bet that Lynott and Pursell will both be in the starting lineup – with one at center and the other at guard.

“You would assume that if both guys continue to do well and be the people they are, they should be (starters), yes,” Kapilovic said.

Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic helped teams to bowls in eight of the last 11 years.

On the outside, the Buffs return sophomore William Sherman, who started the final nine games at left tackle and was arguably the team’s best lineman by season’s end. He has become bigger and stronger this offseason, while impressing Kapilovic.

“(Sherman) has done a nice job of being a leader and working,” he said. “Every time I’m out there, he’s probably the hardest worker on the field.”

Whether Sherman plays on the left or right side has yet to be determined, however, because of the boost the Buffs get this season from Arlington Hambright. A graduate transfer from Oklahoma State, he started five games at left tackle for the Cowboys before an injury.

“I think he brings some experience to the table that other guys may not have,” Kapilovic said. “Just watching him move around, his feet are extremely quick. He moves at a different pace than a lot of the other guys, which is good to see. There’s also an intensity to him. He kind of understands what it takes to win. I’m anxious to see what he can do when we get the pads on.”

Sophomore Frank Fillip could make the competition at tackle interesting, however. A two-game starter last year, he took some time off over the winter and had a late start in spring, but he’s now at 290 pounds and continues improving.

“I’m hoping Frank continues to get better and he gets to the point where there’s serious competition, or a little bit of rotation,” Kapilovic said.

At the other guard spot, junior Kary Kutsch and redshirt freshman Casey Roddick appear to be the front runners going into camp.

“That’s going to be a great (battle) and both guys are capable,” Kapilovic said. “Both guys lacked consistency throughout the spring. For you to win that job, you’re going to need to bring it every day and be consistent. I’m hoping one of them does that and makes a clear cut winner, or they both do and they both play, which is not a bad thing either.”

Several others, including Chance Lytle, Hunter Vaughn, Kanan Ray and true freshman Austin Johnson, could earn playing time with a great camp, as well.

While plenty of position battles will take place and a load of questions remain about this group, Kapilovic believes the potential is there to have a good season.

“I think if we can stay healthy and if the guys can find a way to play hard and with some intensity every snap, I think we’ll be OK,” he said.

Position: Offensive line

Returners (2018 statistics)

Frank Fillip, So., 6-7, 290 (2 starts, 209 snaps played, 2 sacks allowed, 3 penalties)

Kary Kutsch, Jr., 6-4, 310 (64 snaps)

Tim Lynott, Sr., 6-3, 300 (9 starts, 644 snaps, 4 sacks allowed, 1 penalty)

Chance Lytle, So., 6-7, 320 (2 snaps)

Jake Moretti, So., 6-4, 280 (2 starts, 65 snaps, 1 penalty)

Heston Paige, So., 6-5, 300 (8 snaps)

Colby Pursell, So., 6-4, 305 (12 starts, 830 snaps, 4 sacks allowed, 5.5 penalties)

William Sherman, So., 6-4, 310 (9 starts; 750 snaps, 5.5 sacks allowed, 4.5 penalties)

Hunter Vaughn, Jr., 6-7, 310 (4 snaps)

Jack Shutack, Sr., 6-6, 300 (walk-on; 4 snaps)

Additions

Arlington Hambright, Sr. , 6-5, 300 (graduate transfer from Oklahoma State)

Austin Johnson, Fr. (true freshman)

Josh Jynes, Fr. (redshirted last year)

Nikko Pohahau, Fr. (true freshman)

Kanan Ray, Fr. (redshirted last year)

Casey Roddick, Fr. (redshirted last year)

Va’atofu Sauvao, Jr., 6-3, 310 (JUCO transfer)

Valentin Senn, Fr. (true freshman)

Jake Wiley, Fr. (true freshman)

Dominick Cate, Fr. (walk-on; true freshman)

John Deitchman, Fr. (walk-on; redshirted last year)

Spencer Short, Fr. (walk-on; true freshman)

Losses

Aaron Haigler (graduated; 8 starts, 636 snaps, 3.5 sacks allowed)

Josh Kaiser (graduated; 10 starts, 585 snaps, 3.5 sacks, 2 penalties)

Brett Tonz (graduated; medical retirement; 6 starts, 569 snaps, 6.5 sacks, 4.5 penalties)

2019 outlook: The Buffs lost three veterans who combined for 24 starts last year and 45 for their careers. Despite that, this group could be better because of the young talent ready to emerge. In fact, the Buffs need the group to be better. Last year, CU was 11th in the Pac-12 in allowing 2.83 sacks per game and 10th in averaging 3.8 yards per rush. Hambright, Lynott, Pursell and Sherman are likely to be starters, but fall camp will determine their positions. Kutsch and Roddick are hoping to turn good springs into even better falls and fight for a starting job. Fillip will push for playing time at tackle, with Lytle, Ray and Vaughn doing the same. Lytle and Ray could also slide inside to guard for depth there. Johnson, who enrolled early in January, has been impressive and could get into the mix, as well. He’s been versatile, including snapping the ball a bit this summer. Continued health issues could prevent Moretti, a former four-star recruit, from contributing this season.