Mustafa Johnson is one of the best defensive linemen in the Pac-12 Conference and his goal on many plays is to take down the quarterback.
To do that, he’s got to get within six feet of them.
“Sacking the quarterback and social distancing don’t work for me,” the Colorado senior joked Wednesday during a Zoom meeting with media.
Like players, coaches, administrators and fans around the country, Johnson is curious to see if there will be opportunities to play the game this year.
CU is scheduled to open its season Sept. 5 at Colorado State, but the coronavirus pandemic could impact those plans, as there are still questions about whether it will be safe to play football this fall.
“Honestly, the weirdest thing to me is just the anticipation of what the plan is for the season,” Johnson said. “My thought on it is, if we can’t even really have contact and do stuff with our own teammates, how are we going to get on the field in a full contact sport and expect to not have contact or whatever they’re trying to prevent us from having?”
For now, the Buffs and other teams around the country are in the early stages of returning to campus for voluntary workouts. Athletic director Rick George told BuffZone earlier this week that four CU student-athlete have tested positive for COVID-19, although it’s unknown if they were football players. Dozens of other schools have reported positive tests, as well, with many reporting several.
Despite the concerns, Johnson and CU junior offensive tackle William Sherman said they are eager to play football.
“I’m not nervous (about playing),” Johnson said. “The only thing I’m really nervous about is there’s a higher risk of injuries and stuff like that (after so much time away from the team and field). … I’m not too concerned about the whole COVID part of it.”
Johnson and Sherman both said the Buffs’ players are generally optimistic about the season being played.
“Everybody wants to play,” Sherman said. “We’re here now; we’re working out. We’re trying to be very cautious not to spread it, or to get it. Everybody is hoping that we have a season.”
The CU football team has been split up into small workout groups and each group has been working with a different strength and conditioning coach. Each player had to go through a two-week quarantine before workouts began; players have been tested for COVID-19 twice; and they receive daily temperature and symptom checks.
“I think we have done a really good job of breaking this down into being real cautious,” Johnson said. “The only thing is we’ve got to make sure guys aren’t out hanging out with a bunch of people and doing all that.”
While the players and staff are being as cautious as possible and doing all they can to prepare for the season, it is still possible there won’t be a football season this year.
“We’re all worried about it because, I mean, this is our life,” Johnson said. “We’re here all the time. For the most part, people are optimistic about having a season. I guess that’s kind of where everyone, at least on our team is; we’re still on the hoping side of yes, we’re going to have a season.
“There’s really not a day that goes by that we don’t talk about it, because there’s always new things coming up on Twitter and stuff that we see with the updates of what’s going on.”
It is possible that CU plays the season with no or limited fans in the stands. Johnson said that would be “really weird,” but said it will be like the old days of Pop Warner when few fans watched.
“If we’re out there playing football, we know what we’re here to do, so we’re just going to play ball,” he said.
The coronavirus pandemic has made this a weird offseason for every team, but it’s been even more unique for the Buffs.
After previous head coach Mel Tucker suddenly left the Buffs for Michigan State in February, CU hired Karl Dorrell in late February – about two months after most coaching hires. Just a few days after Dorrell assembled his staff, players were sent home because of the pandemic.
That has left CU with “a lot” to catch up on, Sherman said.
“Time is of the essence right now,” he said. “We’re still trying to learn a new playbook, get familiar with our coaches and their techniques and how they like things done. We still have to get on the field with coach Dorrell. There’s a lot of catching up to do. Even in our program, we have schools in the conference that we need to catch up to, like Oregon and Utah. So, we have a long ways to go.
“Since we’ve been back, we’ve been making good progress. Guys are excited to be back, and we’ve been working really hard, so I’m glad to see that.”