Although the Colorado football team was one of the biggest surprises of the 2020 Pac-12 season, head coach Karl Dorrell didn’t exactly come out of that campaign with a sense of accomplishment.
Yes, the Buffaloes went 4-2 (3-1 Pac-12) and reached a bowl game for only the second time in the last 13 seasons, but the season ended on a sour note. CU was outscored 93-44 in back-to-back losses to Utah and Texas, serving as a reminder that plenty of work is still to be done.
“I’m very driven and passionate about getting this thing right,” Dorrell said in January. “I think the pivotal years for that to happen, for it to change and be set in foundation and done, is these first couple years. That really sets the trajectory of where you’re going, and there’s still a lot of work to do.”
CU will begin another step in that process on Monday when spring practices get underway. Over a five-week period, the Buffs will conduct 15 practices, capped by the spring showcase on April 30. It will be the first spring session under Dorrell, who was hired on Feb. 23, 2020, but had spring practices canceled last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since the Dec. 29 Alamo Bowl loss to Texas, Dorrell and his staff have been working on changes to their offensive and defensive schemes in an effort to put the players in position for success in the fall.
“We worked hard on really creating some different schemes for us defensively and we’re trying to create a player-friendly defensive scheme package for our players to understand,” Dorrell said. “That was a goal that we’re trying to set for ourselves for defense.
“Offensively, we’ve made some tweaks too, with adding more formations and motions and doing more adjustments and shifts, stuff like that which we didn’t really do much of. We were very vanilla offensively last year in terms of movement and shifting, things like that.”
In addition to tweaks in the schemes, the Buffs will have a new look with personnel, as well.
Chris Wilson begins his first season as defensive coordinator, replacing Tyson Summers, who was fired in January after two seasons. CU also promoted safeties coach Brett Maxie to defensive passing game coordinator and hired Mark Smith to coach inside linebackers – the position previously coached by Summers.
The Buffs were decent on defense a year ago but hope to take a step forward this year.
“I take great pride in, obviously, having really good leadership; being able to identify situations; and then the organizational piece,” Wilson said. “So much of it is knowing what to do, but not only what to do, when to do it. The next most important thing in my mind is the evaluation and the identification of our best players and that’s the thing that I think sets good teams from average teams.
“The next point is the development part of that. I’ve got to do a great job of developing the guys, especially these young guys.”
This spring will be critical for the development of youth and identification of the top players on defense.
Offensively, the Buffs have a new tight ends coach (Bryan Cook), but the focus of this spring will be on the quarterback position.
Senior Sam Noyer started all six games last season and was voted second-team All-Pac-12 by league coaches. He battled a shoulder injury, however, struggled in the second half of the season and had off-season surgery. He’s still recovering from that surgery and won’t participate in spring drills.
That leaves the door open for freshman Brendon Lewis – who led the Buffs to three touchdowns in his debut against Texas – and incoming freshman Drew Carter. It’s also an opportunity for Tennessee transfer JT Shrout, who has one career starter under his belt.
Dorrell and his staff are promoting competition at every position, however. The staff put the team through “football school” this winter to lay a foundation of knowledge that they hope puts everyone on equal ground mentally. The next five weeks will take it to the next level.
“Going into spring practice, we get to practice that foundation,” Dorrell said. “We get to kind of start developing some of the players and the depth at positions, things like that, so that we can get guys feeling comfortable and confident that they can compete. That’s what you want.”