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CU Buffs defense making early impression

Head coach Karl Dorrell pleased with defense through three spring practices

BOULDER, Colo. - April 2, 2021: Colorado safety Isaiah Lewis during spring practice on Friday in Boulder. (University of Colorado Athletics)
BOULDER, Colo. – April 2, 2021: Colorado safety Isaiah Lewis during spring practice on Friday in Boulder. (University of Colorado Athletics)
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It’s still early in spring practices, and the first game is still five months away, but Colorado head football coach Karl Dorrell is already impressed with the Buffaloes’ defense.

On Friday, the Buffs held their third practice of spring — their first in pads — and the defense made its mark.

“I think the defense got after (the offense) just a little bit more than what the offense did against the defense,” Dorrell said. “That’s usually a positive sign, particularly in spring practice. Your defense is usually ahead of the offense.”

That’s certainly understandable this year, as the Buffs are inexperienced at quarterback.

On defense, meanwhile, CU is introducing a new scheme, with new terminology, yet the group is off to a good start.

“They like our scheme,” Dorrell said. “It’s more player-friendly. We’re not having as many checks. Once you guys get a chance to watch the scrimmage … you’ll notice that even in practice, you’re seeing so much more communication, where they’re confident with the calls that they’re making. That’s something that I think last year, it was gray. You’re seeing a lot of assertive calling and adjustments on the defensive side. Guys stepping up, great verbal communication, and guys are lining up and doing pretty well. So I think defensively it was a really positive step forward for a new scheme.”

First-year defensive coordinator Chris Wilson had the goal of making the defense more player-friendly, and so far that’s paying off.

“Oh yeah, definitely,” safety Isaiah Lewis said. “We’ve got a lot of guys stepping up in key positions. … Everybody’s a little more bought in, just from the simplicity of it and being able to execute at the highest speed that we do. It’s definitely a little more simplified, but I feel like it’s the intensity that’s making a big difference for us.”

That intensity showed up on Friday, as the Buffs put on pads for the first time since the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 29.

“It seemed like our tackling technique and fundamentals, if you judge how it started last year and where we are now, completely different,” Dorrell said. “I mean, completely different with guys really understanding how to squeeze space, how to utilize where your help is.

“I felt really good today. I felt that this practice showed a lot of improvement, even from what we did in the bowl game. It’s a really good start defensively.”

BOULDER, Colo. – March 29, 2021: Colorado receiver La’Vontae Shenault during the Buffaloes’ first practice of spring on Monday. (University of Colorado Athletics)

Making strides

Receiver La’Vontae Shenault has a few off-the-field traffic incidents in the past year, but he’s also flashed his tremendous talent.

In the early going of spring, Dorrell said he’s seeing some maturity in the redshirt freshman, who was suspended twice last season but caught 17 passes for 193 yards in the four games he played.

“I would say it’s an ongoing process, but he’s getting so much better,” Dorrell said of Shenault, who was recently recognized by the team for his academic work. “He’s growing up. Vontae is a very passionate kid. He’s doing a lot of really positive things right now. He’s doing great in school; he’s having his best semester he’s had since he’s been here in school, so that’s a big positive.”

Dorrell also said Shenault is stepping up as a vocal leader in the receiver room.

“He’s doing a great job this offseason, in training,” Dorrell said. “He looks great and he’s practicing great. There’s a positive vibe that he’s going through right now. We’re hoping there’s a consistency that he can develop and maintain for the rest of his career. If he does that, he has a chance to be special.”

New addition

CU recently hired a new dietitian for football, as Colby Wolf joins the program after a similar role at Wyoming. Wolf replaces Tim DiLeo, who left the program earlier this year.

“I think having a nutritionist specifically focused on football is important,” CU athletic director Rick George said. “At some point, we’re hoping that we can get back into eating in person so we can do a better job of educating student-athletes on what they’re putting in their bodies, whether they need to gain weight, lose some weight, whatever that scenario is. … (Wolf) sees the student-athletes when they come through. She can talk to them about what they’re doing and, as we get hopefully opening up a little bit more, I think there will be a big impact on that, but she’s terrific and she’s already got a great relationship with our student-athletes. I think it’s going to really help us in ensuring that our student-athletes are in the right framework from a nutrition standpoint.”

Notable

CU is off for the weekend and will return to the field on Monday. … The spring showcase is slated for April 30 at 9 a.m. at Folsom Field.