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CU Buffs developing, but lacking continuity on offensive line

Injuries impacted Colorado line in 2020 season and this spring

BOULDER, CO – October 16, 2020:  Offensive line coach Mitch Rodrigue, center, instructs his group during Colorado football practice. (Courtesy photo/University of Colorado)
CU Athletics
BOULDER, CO – October 16, 2020: Offensive line coach Mitch Rodrigue, center, instructs his group during Colorado football practice. (Courtesy photo/University of Colorado)

The Colorado football team never found continuity on the offensive line last season, and that has remained a challenge during spring practices.

“This spring has kind of been a continuation of what we faced all year long during the season,” CU offensive line coach Mitch Rodrigue said Wednesday after the Buffs’ completed the 11th of their 15 spring practices. “We’ve got so many injuries from last season and then compounded by the injuries that we’ve had in the spring. We’re just really thin.

“We’ve been having to play musical chairs, which is not really good for anyone, because you don’t have any continuity, but we’ve been fighting through it. It’s given us an opportunity to play people at different positions, so that’s been the positive.”

Already without four linemen going into spring, the Buffs lost projected starting left tackle Frank Fillip to a labrum injury recently.

“He tried to push through it, but as a left tackle, when you have a left labrum (tear), it’s not a good situation,” Rodrigue said. “He was unable to punch with his left arm and be as effective as he usually is, but he did get some good work there and he showed us that he can handle the left tackle position. There’s no doubt about it.”

CU played just six games in the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic and had four different line combinations. The original starting five played together just twice: in the first and last games.

This spring, CU has been without Chance Lytle, who started three games at left guard before a season-ending injury, and Casey Roddick, who started five games at right guard and one at left guard. Roddick is dealing with a medical issue this spring.

The Buffs have also been without freshmen Austin Johnson and Nikko Pohahau this spring, and have missed others at various times.

Colorado lineman Gerad Christian-Lichtenhan, center, runs drills during practice on March 31, 2021.

Standing tall

Although the Buffs have been shorthanded up front, Rodrigue said the situation has benefitted some young players. In particular, freshman tackle Gerad Christian-Lichtenhan – nicknamed “Tank” – has taken advantage of the opportunity, as he’s playing left tackle with Fillip out.

“Not only has he been playing left tackle but he’s been playing left tackle with the one group, and the two group because he’s the only tackle we’ve got,” Rodrigue said. “He’s getting double the amount of reps, but I would say that he has benefited most from the adversity that we’ve faced.”

At 6-foot-10, 330 pounds, Christian-Lichtenhan is the tallest player in CU football history and Rodrigue is seeing the young tackle develop.

“We’ve got to get him to bend, that’s the No. 1 thing,” Rodrigue said. “He’s got to bend at his ankles and his knees and his hips. He’s got to realize that he’s not going to face anyone that is as tall as he is. The work in the weight room and developing his core and strengthening his core, he’s starting to play a little lower, but that’s a process that’s going to take a while.”

Leader emerging

Left tackle William Sherman was the leader of the offensive line last year, but he’s now preparing for the NFL draft. This spring it has been junior center Colby Pursell stepping into that role.

“He has developed into a good leader, both on the field and off the field and I’m really excited about going into this next season,” said Rodrigue, who added Pursell is having a “fantastic” spring.

Rodrigue also had praise for left guard Kary Kutsch – the lone senior on the line – and freshman right tackle Jake Wiley.

“I’m pretty happy with him in the run game, but as far as pass protection, he’s got to develop a little more and I’m fine with that,” Rodrigue said. “He’s got all summer long to get that right and he is going to get some good competition here. So it’s just making him better.”

Home cookin’

Freshman running back Ashaad Clayton, who is from New Orleans, recently said he was homesick last season, particularly for crawfish and other Cajun dishes.

It has helped to have Rodrigue, a native of Thibodaux, La., on staff, but Rodrigue is closing the kitchen to the talented running back, at least for now.

“I fed him a couple different occasions, but to be honest with you I told him that we’re not going to feed him anymore,” Rodrigue said. “I fed him gumbo, I’ve fed him some crawfish stew, but he’s not getting any more because he don’t return his bowls. I’ve got my wife on me because she don’t get her bowls back. So Ashaad’s gotta learn to bring his bowls back washed and he’ll get more food. Right now he’s shut down.”

Note

After taking Thursday off, the Buffs are scheduled to conduct a closed scrimmage on Friday. … Fillip and Sherman were the only CU offensive linemen to start all six games at the same position last season. Roddick also started all six games.