Colorado head coach Karl Dorrell would love to see his offense lighting up the scoreboard next fall, but he has no problem watching the defense get the upper hand at this time.
“I’m actually more encouraged that our defense is ahead of our offense,” Dorrell said Friday after the Buffaloes’ sixth practice of spring drills.
Near the end of the Buffs’ practice at Franklin Field, they held a short, 25-play scrimmage, with an emphasis on red zone situations. During that time, it was clear that the defense won the day.
“I feel like defense is making some really positive strides and coming together and getting better at challenging the offense on every single snap,” Dorrell said. “Offensively we weren’t at our best today, but I think there’s a lot of stuff that we need to continue to fix and work on.”
Outside linebackers Carson Wells and Devin Grant both recorded sacks; Na’im Rodman and other defensive lineman made tackles at the line of scrimmage, and safety Ray Robinson had an interception on a tipped pass to highlight the effort of the defense. The group also had a goal-line stand to force a field goal.
“I thought we came with a lot of energy,” junior inside linebacker Jonathan Van Diest said. “It’s definitely a first scrimmage, but I think our defense is showing a lot of signs of leadership and guys wanting to play. It’s a testament to (defensive coordinator Chris) Wilson and his defense and the scheme we have.
“It’s something that we’ve been able to grasp really well, which helps me play fast. Everyone in the inside linebacker room I can say, as well as just for the whole defense in general, there’s more trust and so we’re able to play downhill, or attacking.”
In addition to Robinson, cornerback Nigel Bethel Jr. had an interception, continuing his solid performance in spring.
“Nigel … has actually done the same things that he did in the fall,” Dorrell said. “He seems like he has an interception every day that kind of falls in his lap and he’s always around the football. I’m very encouraged with where he is and what he’s doing. His confidence is growing.”
The confidence is growing for the entire defense, which has been praised repeatedly by Dorrell this spring.
“In the spring the defense is usually ahead,” Dorrell said. “In places that I’ve been on really good teams, the defense is usually a little bit ahead. When training camp occurs and we kind of compete against each other and towards the end of training camp you start to see the progress that the offense has made and it kind of catches up at that point.”
Of course, it’s very early to judge both sides of the ball, as several key players have been out all spring.
On Friday, the defense played without inside linebacker Nate Landman, defensive lineman Terrance Lang, cornerbacks Mekhi Blackmon and Tarik Luckett and others.
The offense has been without several linemen this spring, including veterans Chance Lytle and Casey Roddick. Backup center Josh Jynes was also out, along with receiver Brenden Rice and quarterback Sam Noyer, the 2020 starter.
“I know we can fix things (on offense) when we get a few players back in the front,” Dorrell said. “We’re really thin up front right now, so that’s been our biggest challenge. That hurts a lot of productivity from an offensive standpoint.”
Quarterbacks Brendon Lewis and JT Shrout split reps with the first team, while walk-on Grant Ciccarone also got some reps with the second unit. Ciccarone, in fact, threw the only touchdown of the scrimmage, connecting with walk-on Michael Harrison in the corner of the end zone.
Other highlights for the offense included nice runs from tailbacks Jarek Broussard and Alex Fontenot and some power running from Jayle Stacks. Freshman receiver Montana Lemonious-Craig also had a good catch.
“I thought Jarek looked good today,” Dorrell said. “He had a couple carries and he popped in there a few times, so it was good to see him do what he normally did last year.
“I just think there was probably a little bit of not in rhythm from the offensive standpoint, in terms of this first time being (in a scrimmage).”
While the defense did get the better of the offense, Dorrell came away from the practice feeling good about the Buffs’ progress.
“All in all, I’m pleased where we are after six days,” he said. “I like where the defense is with what they’re doing there. We’ve just got to continue to get better and get our quarterbacks more familiar and more comfortable with what we’re doing.
“We’ve got a tremendous amount of work to go, but we’ve got nine practices left. There’s a lot to fix, so we can definitely have enough time to fix it.”