Buffs loaded with playmakers on offense

Stars Steven Montez, Laviska Shenault and KD Nixon look to put up big numbers

BOULDER, CO – August 3, 2019: Alex Fontenot, left, catches a pass in front of Jonathan Van Diest during Colorado Football practice and Fall sports media day. (photo by Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

Following an early August scrimmage, Colorado head coach Mel Tucker talked about the depth of talent the Buffaloes have on offense, including 22 different players catching passes.

Twenty-two … in one scrimmage?!

Quarterback Steven Montez and receiver Laviska Shenault laughed when asked if the Buffs really have that many weapons.

“We’ve been knowing they had it,” Shenault said of his teammates making plays. “They’re just showing it now. We’ve been trying to get that out of everybody from day one. They’re picking it up now and they understand what they want.”

During the season, the Buffs may not need that many players stepping up, but they will rely on their stars – led by Montez, Shenault and receiver KD Nixon – to put points on the board.

BOULDER, CO – August 3, 2019: KD Nixon during Colorado Football practice.(photo by Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

In an era of offensive fireworks – nearly half the country (58 of 130 teams) scored 30-plus points per game last year – it’s been a while since CU had offensive that would be labeled as “explosive.”

In the last 17 seasons, only once has CU averaged more than 28.5 points in a season, with 31.1 in 2016. Not surprisingly, that’s CU’s best season in that stretch.

Given the inexperience on defense and the gauntlet of teams on the schedule, the Buffs are likely going to need a major improvement from the 27.1 points per game they scored a year ago if they want to find themselves in a bowl game this season.

To do that, Montez, Shenault and company have spent the offseason learning a whole new offense, directed by first-year head coach Mel Tucker and coordinator/quarterbacks coach Jay Johnson.

“Scheme-wise, I’d say the offense is a lot more advanced than what we’ve had in the past,” Montez said. “It’s a lot more dynamic than what we’ve had in the past. I think we can do a lot of different things but stay relatively in the same play sets. I think w e have a ton of weapons outside, including Laviska, obviously, and I think our O-line has taken huge strides and gotten a lot better this camp. I’m really excited to see what our offense does first game.”

BOULDER, CO – AUGUST 8, 2019: Steven Montez during University of Colorado football practice on August 8, 2019.(Photo by Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

Johnson is Montez’s third position coach – and third play caller – in the past three seasons. Previous coordinators, including Darrin Chiaverini, who called the offense last year and is now coaching receivers, have tried to stress tempo and pushing the pace on offense.

Under Johnson’s direction, the Buffs could look very different from week to week on offense, depending on what’s needed to beat each opponent. They might be up-tempo at times, and other times they might try to control the clock with a grind-it-out run game.

“I really like it and I think it really translates really well to the next level, as well,” said Montez, who is eyeing a shot in the NFL after this season. “Everybody can contribute in this offense and that’s what’s best about it. It’s not just pass first or run first; it’s very balanced and I think everybody can do their part to contribute and make plays.”

Shenault, who racked up 86 catches for 1,011 yards and 11 total touchdowns (six receiving, five rushing) last year, is sure to make a lot of those plays. But, his favorite about the offense might be the fact that he won’t be alone. There may not be 22 guys making plays, but there will be a lot, he said.

“I feel like this is an offense that’s going to open up a lot of things, so I like it,” he said. “It’s different, but I like it.”

A quick look at each position on the CU offense:

Quarterbacks: Montez enters his third and final season as the Buffs’ starter. His numbers have been almost identical the past two years, but it’s not the numbers that matter most. CU would like to see him take another step forward with his leadership, decision making and game management. Sophomore Tyler Lytle and redshirt freshman Blake Stenstrom are the backups, with both making strides during camp.

Running backs: Despite the lack of experience, the Buffs have talent at the position. Sophomore Alex Fontenot, redshirt freshman Deion Smith and true freshman Jaren Mangham all played well during camp. Mangham shows star potential. Redshirt freshman Jarek Broussard could be a factor, as well.

Tight ends: Between graduate transfer Jalen Harris and sophomore Brady Russell, the Buffs have a solid, experienced 1-2 punch. They’ve combined for just nine career catches, but that number should increase dramatically this year. Seniors Darrion Jones and Beau Bisharat – converted from running back – are continuing to develop, as well, and give this spot solid depth.

Receivers: Laviska Shenault is one of the best in the country, but even without him, this group is talented. KD Nixon and Tony Brown combined for 85 catches last year and have improved. Dimitri Stanley has star potential in the slot, while sophomores Daniel Arias and Maurice Bell both had great camps. Jaylon Jackson is talented in the slot, as well, and freshman Vontae Shenault continues to impress.

Offensive line: The Buffs have three returning starters up front, but none of them will be in the same position as last year. Tackle William Sherman has moved from the left side to the right, while Colby Pursell (12 starts at center in 2018) is now at right guard and Tim Lynott (nine starts at right guard) is now at center. All three are solid foundational pieces. The key addition is graduate transfer Arlington Hambright, who takes over at left tackle. Kary Kutsch had a good camp and starts at left guard. This is potentially a solid starting group.

SNAPSHOT: CU offense

Projected depth chart

Position      First team                                               Second team                          

QB              Steven Montez, Sr., 6-5, 230                   Tyler Lytle, So., 6-5, 220

RB              Alex Fontenot, So., 6-0, 195                   Jaren Mangham, Fr., 6-2, 215

TE               Brady Russell, So., 6-3, 255                    Jalen Harris, Sr., 6-4, 255

WR             Laviska Shenault, Jr., 6-2, 220                Tony Brown, Sr., 6-1, 195

WR             KD Nixon, Jr., 5-8, 185                           Daniel Arias, So., 6-4, 205

SL               Dimitri Stanley, Fr., 5-11, 185                Jaylon Jackson, So., 5-10, 180

LT               Arlington Hambright, Sr., 6-5, 300         Frank Fillip, So., 6-7, 290

LG              Kary Kutsch, Jr., 6-5, 310                       Jack Shutack, Sr., 6-6, 300

C                 Tim Lynott, Sr., 6-3, 300                         Josh Jynes, Fr., 6-3, 300

RG              Colby Pursell, So., 6-4, 305                     Casey Roddick, Fr., 6-4, 330

RT               William Sherman, So., 6-4, 310               Kanan Ray, Fr., 6-4, 290

Assistant coaches

Jay Johnson (1st season): Coordinator/QBs

Darrin Chiaverini (4th season): Receivers

Darian Hagan (4th season): Running backs

Chris Kapilovic (1st season): Offensive line

Al Pupunu (1st season): Tight ends

Five to watch

LT Arlington Hambright, Sr.: A graduate transfer from Oklahoma State, he was brought here to help solidify the line.

C/G Tim Lynott, Sr.: Primarily right guard during his career, he could start at center this year. Regardless of his spot, the Buffs need him to be stout up front.

RB Jaren Mangham, Fr.: It’s unclear if he will start, but it is clear he has a ton of talent and could be a main part of the run game this year and for several years.

QB Steven Montez, Sr.: For the third year in a row, he’s running the show. If he takes his game to another level, the offense could be potent.

WR Laviska Shenault, Jr.: In the conversation for the best receiver in the country, he is the top play maker on an offense loaded with them.

2018 Statistics

Rankings                    Avg.                Pac-12             National

Scoring                        27.1                 7                      80

Total offense               392.6               8                      75

Rushing                       143.0               9                      100

Passing                        249.6               4                      46

Passing efficiency       133.64             7                      68

Sacks allowed             34                    10                    102

3rd-down %                36.1                 11                    102

Red zone scoring        84.2                 7                      66

Top returning individuals

Passing

Steven Montez: 258-of-399 for 2,849 yards, 19 TD, 9 INT

Sam Noyer: 8-of-14 for 60 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT

Tyler Lytle: 4-of-5 for 55 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Rushing

Steven Montez: 94 att., 238 yards, 4 TD

Beau Bisharat: 21 att., 143 yards, 0 TD

Laviska Shenault: 17 att., 115 yards, 5 TD

Receiving

Laviska Shenault: 86 catches, 1,011 yards, 6 TD

KD Nixon: 52 catches, 636 yards, 4 TD

Tony Brown: 32 catches, 333 yards, 1 TD

Numbers to know

3 – Players in CU history with two 1,000-yard receiving seasons in their careers: Charles Johnson (1992-93), Rae Carruth (1995-96) and Nelson Spruce (2014-15). Laviska Shenault could join that list.

15 – Combined career rushing attempts for the six running backs on the Buffs’ roster: 11 by sophomore Alex Fontenot and four by walk-on junior Chase Sanders.

33 – Career starts for senior guard/center Tim Lynott (29 at right guard, four at center). That’s the highest total for anyone on the team. Montez has the second-most, with 27.

73 – Sacks allowed by the Buffs in the last two years combined. That’s the highest total in the Pac-12 during that time (California has given up the second most, at 71).

2,912 – Average passing yards per season for Montez the past two years. He needs 2,728 to become CU’s career passing leader. He also needs 15 TD passes to break that career record.