Three weeks before the season opener, Colorado head football coach Karl Dorrell still has plenty of position battles to settle.
The Buffaloes’ first-year coach has no complaints about the level of competitiveness, however.
On Saturday, the Buffs held their first full scrimmage of the preseason. The session was closed to media and fans, but CU ran 72 plays from scrimmage (103 counting special teams) over a 90-minute period at Folsom Field.
“I think the tape will tell us a lot more, but I did see some really good play,” Dorrell said. “Our first and second teams are really, really close in terms of there’s really not much of a drop off in those areas. I didn’t see anything that’s night and day difference in the other. The competition is fierce.
“You don’t want your second teamers to be that big of a drop off from your first teamer and that’s what is nice. We have some good solid depth in our program.”
Saturday marked Dorrell’s first practice at Folsom Field since he was hired in February, and he said it brought back memories from when he was a CU assistant in the 1990s.
“I love this stadium,” he said. “I’ve loved it for years, when I was here coaching. When I walked out there before practice, it was just such a fun feeling being in that stadium. The grass is in great shape. It was good to get our players in that environment, getting a feel of what it’s going to feel like when we play Nov. 7.”
The wait had not been as long for the players, but it felt long because of the coronavirus pandemic delaying the season. Spring practices, traditional fall camp and the early games of the season were all canceled, meaning Saturday was the first football activity on Folsom Field since the Buffs beat Washington, 20-14, on Nov. 23.
“It felt pretty good,” sophomore safety Mark Perry said. “We’re getting back to football. It’s been a while. Guys are getting banged up because we haven’t hit people in about nine, 10 months, but we’re getting better, though. I think we made a lot of improvements since the end of last season, so we’ll for sure get a lot better. Being on Folsom Field today was big. We hadn’t been there in 10 months.”
It’s a new-look team with Dorrell now leading the squad and he was pleased to see the depth of the roster on display Saturday.
Dorrell highlighted running backs Jarek Broussard and Joe Davis and receivers Vontae Shenault and Montana Lemonious-Craig as stepping up and playing well.
At quarterback, senior Sam Noyer and junior Tyler Lytle continue battling for the starting role, while freshman Brendon Lewis is running the third team offense.
“Both Tyler and Sam did some really good things,” Dorrell said. “I thought Brendon came in and did some nice things too.”
Dorrell said a review of the film will give coaches a better idea of how the quarterbacks did with their execution of each play, but he came away encouraged – despite not revealing any separation among Noyer and Lytle.
“I thought both of them had some real positive signs in generating offense, moving the offense,” he said. “I thought they did a nice job with the operation of the offense, all three of the quarterbacks. I was really, really pleased by that. I felt all three of those guys functioned very well today.”
On defense, the Buffs have some clear starters, such as Nate Landman at inside linebacker and the defensive line trio of Mustafa Johnson, Terrance Lang and Jalen Sami. Battles continue in other areas, however, including with the defensive line rotation.
“We’ve got some young D-linemen that are really starting to step up and have some really good production behind Mustafa and Terrence and Jalen,” Dorrell said. “Those guys are developing, they’re getting better.”
In the secondary, CU is loaded with inexperience and players coming off injuries. That group has showed up well early in camp, though. In particular, Dorrell said Nigel Bethel, a sophomore who transferred from Miami last year, has played well.
“I think our secondary is getting better,” Dorrell said. “I saw some really nice plays there in the secondary today.
“We had a couple of guys with interceptions. Nigel had an interception today, which was a good thing for him. He’s been doing that at least once or twice this week, so he’s been in the right position a lot of the time, so that’s really good, too.”
Dorrell said the Buffs ran through several different situations and went through much of the game process. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a good first scrimmage, he said.
“I’m very pleased with where we’re at after eight practices with what we’re able to get done today,” he said. “It was a really good snapshot of where we are in terms of how much they know. Now it’s tightening things up and getting it honed in and getting our systems in high detail for us to be very proficient in what we’re doing. It was a very good day.”