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CU Buffs’ Karl Dorrell takes big picture approach to spring

Offseason focus has been on roster development, building foundation

BOULDER, CO - April 12, 2021:  Colorado head coach Karl Dorrell watches his team during University of Colorado football practice. (University of Colorado Athletics)
BOULDER, CO – April 12, 2021: Colorado head coach Karl Dorrell watches his team during University of Colorado football practice. (University of Colorado Athletics)

When the Colorado football team opens preseason camp in August, there will be a sense of urgency to get ready for the 12 games on the schedule.

Right now, however, the focus is on teaching and developing, and continuing the building of the foundation of the program under head coach Karl Dorrell

Following the whirlwind of 2020, Dorrell and his staff have done their best to take a big-picture approach to develop the entire program.

“To me, the number one goal (this spring) is getting our young players reps to get caught up to what we’re doing and also watching how they’re development goes and being able to teach fundamentals and being able to help bring those guys along,” Dorrell said Friday after the Buffs completed the 12th of their 15 spring practices.

University of Colorado Athletics
Several young Colorado players, such as running back Ashaad Clayton, have had significant time to develop their game this spring.

Given the injuries, this spring is hardly a fair preview of the fall. The Buffs have 11 players who have missed all of the spring because of injury, including last year’s starting quarterback, Sam Noyer, and two-time All-Pac-12 linebacker Nate Landman.

CU had 37 players make at least one start on offense or defense last year. Seven have moved on from the team, while at least 14 others have missed all or part of spring.

Missing so many key players gives Dorrell and his staff no choice but to hand reps to less experienced players, but that’s important for the development of the entire roster.

“My focus is on the young players, getting them reps, seeing how they’re developing, how fast they’re coming along,” Dorrell said. “I know what the older players can do. It’s more seeing what those younger players can do that can add to our depth for the fall.”

Dorrell didn’t have that opportunity last year. Officially hired as head coach on Feb. 23, 2020, Dorrell barely had time to assemble his staff and quickly meet his players before the COVID-19 pandemic canceled spring ball and pushed the start of a shortened season back to November.

The Buffs did most of their offseason work through virtual meetings and had a few weeks of practice to get ready for the season. Remarkably, they exceeded expectations by going 4-2 and reaching the Valero Alamo Bowl.

Since returning from the holiday break in January, the players and coaches have had more time to get to know each other.

“Last year, we’d be on Zooms at home, didn’t get to train, really,” defensive lineman Jalen Sami said. “This year, having the actual offseason and then having the new strength and conditioning staff with coach (Shannon) Turley and those guys, it’s definitely been an improvement and adjustment that I feel is for the better for this team and for myself as an individual.

“Coach Dorrell has the right staff here to help us to win championships. We’re doing that day by day, brick by brick and stacking days to get better.”

Following the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 29, Dorrell made a point to turn the page to 2021 and, in a way, hit the restart button on his tenure. The unique nature of 2020 didn’t allow the staff to develop relationships, evaluate players or teach the game the way he wanted.

The first four months of this offseason have already been an improvement.

“It’s been very beneficial,” junior tight end Brady Russell said. “We got a new strength coach this offseason, too, so we’ve had a lot of different things to adapt to and learn about our new system. On top of (spring workouts) this year, we had football school where we were learning every detail, in and out, of our offense and (defense).

“It’s been interesting because it also made us get closer with our coaches and our coaching staff. … We’ve got to know our new coaches, we’ve got to invest some time into each other. It’s helped us grow closer in our relationships and whatnot with our coaches a lot, which is very important.”

Throughout spring ball, there have been days when the offense or defense have struggled, and Dorrell admits that can be frustrating for the competitive coaches on either side of the ball.

Taking a big picture focus, however, has allowed Dorrell to remain encouraged by the Buffs’ day-to-day progress.

“As a head coach, I know that’s part of the process and that’s part of getting caught up,” he said of the inconsistent results. “Given where we started and where we are now, I think our younger players have a better feel because they’re playing faster.

“The whole goal is to make sure that those young guys feel like they’ve had a productive spring, that they’ve learned a lot, and then they can carry that into the summer.”