The Mel Tucker era officially got underway in December when he was hired as the new head coach of the Colorado football team.
Since that time, excitement has been building within the program for his first season. After months of offseason preparation, Tucker’s debut is on the horizon. His first game, on Aug. 30 against Colorado State, is about four weeks away, and he will open his first fall camp with the Buffs on Thursday.
Nationally, expectations are low for the Buffs (5-7, 2-7 Pac-12 in 2018), but several players are eager to get started with Tucker’s first season.
“I’m super excited,” receiver Laviska Shenault said. “We’re just super excited about this team. I know we’re ready to put in the work and we’re ready to grind.”
During the grind of camp, the Buffs have a lot of work to do in preparation for the season. Here’s a camp primer, with a look at key position battles and players to watch.
KEY POSITION BATTLES
Defensive line: Mustafa Johnson is a star up front, but plenty has to be sorted out in camp. Nose tackle Jalen Sami and end Terrance Lang might be the front-runners to join Johnson in the starting lineup, but they’ll be pushed by a group of six newcomers that includes four true freshman. One of those freshmen, 320-pound Austin Williams, has made a good impression this summer.
Inside linebacker: Nate Landman is the leader of this group – and of the defense – but he needs a new running mate with the graduation of Rick Gamboa. Sophomore Jon Van Diest had a good spring and he knows the defense, but he hardly has the job locked up. Junior Akil Jones is in his fourth year with the program, while junior college transfers Jash Allen and Quinn Perry will push for the job.
Offensive line: Going into camp, there are four players who are likely to start: tackles Arlington Hambright and Will Sherman and guard/center Tim Lynott and Colby Pursell. Camp figures to sort out where they start, however. Plenty of competition will be had all over the line, though, including with Kary Kutsch and Casey Roddick at guard and Frank Fillip fighting for time at tackle.
Running back: There’s almost no collegiate experience in this group, so this will be a wide-open competition during camp. Sophomore Alex Fontenot and true freshman Jaren Mangham both played well in spring and could wind up being the top two going into the season. Redshirt freshmen Deion Smith and Jarek Broussard and true freshman Joe Davis will battle for playing time, as well.
Safety: The Buffs are replacing both safeties from last year. SMU graduate transfer Mikial Onu figures to take one spot, but he has to come in and prove himself for a new coaching staff. Juniors Aaron Maddox, Derrion Rakestraw and Trey Udoffia – a converted cornerback – will battle, as well, along with sophomore Isaiah Lewis. True freshman Mark Perry could beat them all. He’s got all the physical tools to play right away.
Tight end: This is an intriguing position that will be featured in the offense more than in the past. Senior graduate transfer Jalen Harris and sophomore Brady Russell figure to be the leaders of the group, but senior Darrion Jones and sophomore Jared Poplawski have the talent to be factors, as well, if healthy. Senior Beau Bisharat, moved from running back in the spring, is on the smaller side, but could be a matchup problem for the defense.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Buffs with experience that need to take their game to the next level:
CB Delrick Abrams, Sr.: He started eight games as a JUCO transfer last year and might be the best corner on the team. His ability to step up as a lead corner – and stay healthy – could do wonders for the CU defense.
WR Tony Brown, Sr.: Between Laviska Shenault, KD Nixon and all the young talent at receiver, Brown is often overlooked. He’s the lone senior, however, and one of the most steady receivers in the group. Statistically, he could be among the top three.
OLB Nu’umotu Falo, Sr.: He was thrown into the fire as a true freshman inside linebacker in 2015. He’s had a roller coaster career to this point, though, and has never become a regular in the rotation. The opportunity is there for Falo to step up and give the Buffs a lift on the edge.
C/G Tim Lynott, Sr.: The most experienced player on the roster, Lynott didn’t have a great junior season as he was coming off a torn Achilles. Whether he winds up at center or guard, the Buffs need him to be at his best.
S Trey Udoffia, Jr.: During the last two years, he’s played in 20 games with 11 starts at cornerback, with mixed results. Now he’s at safety, where he’s a better fit, and he could give CU a boost in the back of defense.
A few Buffs who have played sparingly – or not at all – in the past, but could make a big impact.
WR Daniel Arias, So.: With his ability, it will be difficult to keep him off the field.
RB Alex Fontenot, So.: Had just 11 carries last year, but should have a more prominent role.
QB Tyler Lytle, So./Sam Noyer, Jr.: One of them will emerge as the top backup and likely will need to be called upon at some point.
DE Terrance Lang, So.: Exceptional athlete with the ability to dominate on the edge.
S Aaron Maddox, Jr.: He’s reshaped his body and will push for a starting job.
OL Casey Roddick, Fr.: Redshirted last year and will compete for starting job.
DT Jalen Sami, Fr.: Finally ready to play and he could be a monster in the middle of the line.
WR Dimitri Stanley, Fr.: Big-play potential from the slot, and possibly as a returner.
ILB Jon Van Diest, So.: Solid tackler who knows the defense and could earn starting role.
First-year Buffs who could turn heads in camp and this season:
ILB Jash Allen, Jr.: JUCO transfer was brought in to compete for starting job.
OL Arlington Hambright, Sr.: Grad transfer projected to start at tackle.
TE Jalen Harris, Sr.: Grad transfer is the most experienced tight end on the roster.
RB Jaren Mangham, Fr.: Impressed coaches in spring with his combination of size and speed.
S Mikial Onu, Sr.: Grad transfer could be a leader in the back of the defense.
S Mark Perry, Fr.: Physically ready to play, and could be a starter right away.
ILB Quinn Perry, Jr.: Like Allen, he’s a JUCO transfer competing for a starting role.
CB K.J. Trujillo, Fr.: At a thin position, he could be on the field a lot.
DL Austin Williams, Fr.: Big man (6-5, 320 pounds) who could be in rotation up front.
CU veterans who haven’t been seen in a while, but could play key roles:
OLB Jacob Callier, So.: Talented pass-rush specialist had his 2018 season cut short with a shoulder injury. He’s had 2 sacks and 14 QB pressures in only 276 career snaps.
ILB Akil Jones, Jr.: Very much a part of the competition to start, he’s played just 40 career snaps on defense.
CB Chris Miller, So.: Arguably CU’s best corner last year, he missed the last five games and all of spring ball with injuries.
TE Jared Poplawski, So.: Played nine games as a true freshman in 2017 before a torn ACL. He then missed last year with a shoulder injury and spring drills with a hip flexor. If healthy, he could be a great addition to the tight end group.