Colorado head football coach Karl Dorrell knows there could be some hiccups along the way, as the Buffaloes attempt to navigate a truncated football season during the coronavirus pandemic.
The past few days have given the Buffs’ first-year coach a sense of normalcy, though, and that was heightened a bit on Tuesday when team got into full pads for the first time.
“That’s how I felt when I was walking off the field today is that I have a positive impression that football, this is how it’s supposed to look; this is what it’s supposed to feel like,” Dorrell said after Tuesday’s practice, the Buffs’ fifth of the preseason. “That first day of pads was a very productive day and a lot of stuff we did.”
With the season opener just a few weeks away, on Nov. 7 against UCLA at Folsom Field, the Buffs are taking steps each day to get ready. Tuesday was a big one.
“When you’re in pads for the first time, it tells you a lot about the temperament of your team,” Dorrell said. “Who’s going to strike somebody, who’s not; things like that. But for the most part today, I think all of our kids have been very competitive.”
Nose tackle Jalen Sami said despite some unique challenges compared to previous years – the team is staying at a local hotel to try to prevent COVID-19 cases, players get tested every morning, and they’re in full academic mode – the team is enjoying being back on the field.
“It feels great to put on pads and be out there with the boys again, doing drills, hitting each other, playing football,” he said.
Dorrell and the Buffs coaches are easing the team into physical practices. While they were in full pads Tuesday, they had one live period, he said. The coaches want to get the players physically ready for games, but are also trying to limit the wear and tear on their bodies as they get back into football shape.
“I think it’s really critically important for us to determine how much of a physical contact we do, and also balancing that with our health and keeping the progress going forward for our success on November 7, so we are being very mindful of that,” he said. “The players have done a great job, just taking care of themselves in between practices. We’re trying to really preach that – the hydration piece and also to see them do all the rejuvenation things. So far, so good.”
In a typical year, the Buffs open preseason camp in early August. At that time, they’ll be finishing up some summer school work, but then have a couple weeks off from class before the fall semester, allowing them to focus fully on football.
This year, they’re already more than a month into the fall semester, so it’s an all-day grind, starting with COVID-19 testing at 6 a.m., practices and meetings in the morning and then afternoon or evening classes, tutors, homework, etc.
“When you have football, you get back later and you’re so exhausted you fall asleep at nine o’clock no problem,” junior quarterback Tyler Lytle said Monday.
Dorrell said he’s been proud of how the players have handled the schedule.
“Even though we have them in a hotel and kind of trying to create a camp environment, they still have a lot on their plate and their attitude has been fabulous,” Dorrell said. “They know that it’s double duty from their standpoint; it’s not just all football, they’ve got school to take care of. And they’ve handled it really, really well.
“I think our guys are excited about playing and doing what’s necessary for us to be successful, at least making those steps that way. They are balancing it pretty well.”
Dorrell helping receivers
As head coach, Dorrell spends time with each position group during practice, but as a long time receivers coach, he’s often pulled in that direction.
“That’s just a natural draw, right?,” he said. “I kind of gravitate there. I played the position, I’ve coached it for most of my career. So, yes, there is a natural draw to that. They know that and they want me there. I want to be there to have some impression on them, so I get involved in their individual periods, working on technique and fundamentals. I do that with a number of position groups, but it does start with them.”
Despite losing their two most productive receivers from last year, Laviska Shenault and Tony Brown, Dorrell is impressed by the talent in that group, which is led by offensive coordinator/receivers coach Darrin Chiaverini.
“We’re so deep at that spot,” he said. “There’s a number of guys that can be helping us this year. We got to narrow that down at some point, but it’s a good problem to have. It’s a great problem to have.”
Dorrell said he’s been getting on the cornerbacks to play tougher and on Tuesday, “I saw a lot of corners step up and make some really great tackles today. I think our team overall is learning how to play in pads and understand the expectations that go with it.” … The Buffs worked on several situations Tuesday, including second and third down transitions, red zone offense/defense and having the offense trying to work out of being backup near its own goal line. … After five consecutive days of practice, the Buffs will take the day off Wednesday.