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CU Buffs football notes: Veterans seizing opportunity in spring

BOULDER, CO - April 9, 2021:  Inside linebacker Jonathan Van Diest during University of Colorado football practice on April 9, 2021. (University of Colorado Athletics)
BOULDER, CO – April 9, 2021: Inside linebacker Jonathan Van Diest during University of Colorado football practice on April 9, 2021. (University of Colorado Athletics)
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Much of Colorado’s focus this spring has been on developing the young talent on the roster, but there are a number of veterans who have benefited from the 13 practices the Buffaloes have conducted so far this spring.

CU will conclude the spring with its annual spring showcase on Friday at Folsom Field (9 a.m., TV: Pac-12 Network), and head coach Karl Dorrell said Monday that there are quite a few players — both young and veteran — who have taken a leap over the past several weeks.

For many young players, this spring has been an opportunity to get practice reps that haven’t been available in the past. For some veterans, however, it’s been an opportunity to seize a bigger role.

Among the veterans taking advantage of the spring is inside linebacker Jonathan Van Diest. A junior, he’s started seven games in his career but has been a backup for most of the past year and a half. With Akil Jones graduating and Nate Landman injured this spring, Van Diest has been with the first-team defense.

“I think he has a real good grasp of what we’re trying to do defensively, so he is helping other people get lined up and checking calls and making sure it’s the right calls,” Dorrell said. “I think he’s done a great job in pass coverage too. He’s had his hands on a lot of footballs. He’s doing a really nice job of just reading the quarterback and being around the football.

“He’s got all of these reps and it’s really helping his game. It’s really helping him be confident and also helping to get some of these younger players lined up.”

Guard/tackle Kanan Ray got his first career start last season against Utah. Entering his fourth season, he’s looking for a bigger role and has had a good spring when available. (He’s currently out because of COVID-19 contact tracing).

“When he was in there, he’s doing some really good things,” Dorrell said. “I think he’s not completely over his knee that he had some surgery on prior to the season last year. He’s still really recovering from that; you can still see there’s some limitations of strength that he has in that knee, and there’s nothing wrong with it. He’s just got to get physically stronger. I think when he’s been in there, he’s been very positive.”

Dorrell and the staff like Ray’s versatility to play guard and tackle and see him playing a key role in the fall.

Safety Mark Perry is still a young player, but entering his third season with the program, and Dorrell said the spring has been big for him, as well.

“Mark Perry’s had a great spring,” Dorrell said. “He’s getting hands on the football, he’s taking great angles in the back end and really doing a good job pursuing the football.”

Throughout the spring, Dorrell has praised other veterans, as well, including running back Alex Fontenot, receiver Daniel Arias and cornerback Nigel Bethel Jr.

Preparing for showtime

Friday’s spring showcase won’t be a full scrimmage because the Buffs are shorthanded in some key spots. It will, however, be the Buffs’ first time playing in front of an audience since last season. A limited number of fans will be allowed to attend, and the showcase will be on the Pac-12 Network.

The coaching staff is using this week to help the players put on a good show Friday.

“That’s really what the refocus is, kind of going back and cleaning up the whole course of what’s happened this spring so that we finish this spring feeling like we got a great foundation,” Dorrell said. “I thought today was a good step in that direction. Good day to start the week.

“The goal is to try to look like a very good, polished team by Friday on both sides of the ball, so that would be a good showcase for people to see.”

Notes

Although Friday’s showcase is in the morning, the Buffs have been practicing from 4-6 p.m. throughout the spring. Dorrell said that was done to give the players some rest after they had to get up early throughout last fall for morning COVID-19 tests. In the fall, the Buffs will return to morning practices. The Pac-12 is hoping to play some games at 10 a.m. MT and Dorrell said, “I want to make sure our team is always in rhythm to play early, just in case we’re playing well and we get some TV slots where ESPN picks us up, and we’re playing (at 10 a.m.) and it’s no sweat off our backs to be able to do something like that.” … CU will take Tuesday off and practice Wednesday.