Football school helping CU Buffs prepare for spring

Colorado head coach Karl Dorrell focusing on teaching the game to players this winter

Colorado head football coach Karl Dorrell is putting an emphasis on teaching the game to his players this winter.
CU Athletics
Colorado head football coach Karl Dorrell is putting an emphasis on teaching the game to his players this winter.

In preparing for the delayed and shortened 2020 football season, Colorado head football coach Karl Dorrell did all he could to get the Buffaloes ready.

In evaluating last season, however, he realized he wasn’t able to prepare the team as much as he would have liked.

“I didn’t have my first practice until October,” Dorrell said in a recent interview with BuffZone. “We had 24 practices to play a season and we had to be very particular on what we were trying to do, but yet we obviously skipped some steps because of how that season last year all played out. I kind of summarized the season as they did pretty well given the circumstances of how much time we’ve had with them.”

All the delays created by the COVID-19 pandemic limited Dorrell and his staff in what they could teach the players and how much they could evaluate their knowledge and talents. Nevertheless, the Buffs went 4-2 (3-1 Pac-12) and reached the Valero Alamo Bowl – just the second bowl appearance for CU since 2007.

Now in his first full offseason with the program, Dorrell has more time to teach the Buffs, and that’s exactly what he’s been doing.

Last month, CU began a new offseason program called, “football school” – a six-week session designed to teach the players more in-depth about the game, their position-specific techniques and terminology and how that applies to CU’s particular schemes.

“That’s something they look forward to every day, because they feel like they’re being coached at their position in a much more detailed fashion, and not just putting in an installation of a system of plays or a scheme,” Dorrell said.

“They really have embraced it and enjoyed it.”

Prior to being hired by CU 13 months ago, Dorrell spent 11 of the previous 12 seasons as an assistant coach in the NFL. The idea of holding football school came from his NFL days, as it’s modeled after what those teams will do each year to teach their young players.

The six-week football school, which includes lessons four days per week, will lead the Buffs into spring practices, which begin March 29, and Dorrell said, “I think it’s a very good foundation prior to getting on the field.”

Dorrell believes that foundation needs to be stronger than it was last season.

“When I watched all of our season again and how the season kind of marched through those six games, I felt there was a number of situations that occurred where I think we didn’t react well enough, given what we saw in those particular instances,” Dorrell said. “Whether it was a football reaction or whether it was a faulty play that just wasn’t performed properly, I just felt our guys really didn’t understand the complete sense of what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Dorrell said there were a lot of players who displayed a good foundation of knowledge, but there was “on either side of the ball three or four guys that were playing extensively still struggling with understanding completely what we’re trying to accomplish and so I came away realizing that, you know what, maybe we’ve skipped some steps.”

In some cases, players won starting jobs because of their knowledge, and not necessarily their talent. Dorrell’s goal is to get everyone on equal footing mentally so the coaches can truly discover the best players at each position.

“You want your competition by position to be not whether they know the information or not,” he said. “It’s who is the better player or not.

“In theory, you’re trying to create a level playing field in terms of knowledge base and now build your depth on who are the best players and go down from there.”

More than four weeks into football school, Dorrell is pleased with how it’s been received, and he said he anticipates it being a part of the Buffs’ annual offseason program.

“The reason why you have to do it every year is that you do incorporate new players every year, so you have to kind of get them with a really good foundation of understanding what we’re doing,” he said. “The guys that have been in your system for a while and they’re going through it again, they fine-tooth comb everything that they’ve learned, and then they can be much more detailed about it … So there’s still growth to be done, year after year, as you go through this process.”

In time, the veteran players will also be helpful to the coaches in teaching the younger players.

“When they really understand our system in such detail that they can help bring along the younger players, I would say that’s really the goal,” Dorrell said. “That’s the end goal, to make sure our older players are teaching our younger players and getting them caught up.”