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Depth at RB key to CU Buffs offense

Running backs coach Darian Hagan feels confident in multiple players to lead ground attack

BOULDER, CO - April 23, 2021:  Colorado Buffaloes running back Alex Fontenot, left, takes a handoff from quarterback Brendon Lewis during a football spring scrimmage. (University of Colorado Athletics)
BOULDER, CO – April 23, 2021: Colorado Buffaloes running back Alex Fontenot, left, takes a handoff from quarterback Brendon Lewis during a football spring scrimmage. (University of Colorado Athletics)

Having multiple running backs that are dangerous weapons might be viewed as a luxury, but to truly have one of the top rushing attacks in the country, it’s difficult to ride one star.

Colorado has a history of talented running backs, but it’s been a while since the Buffaloes have had as many at one time as they do right now.

“I think it’s a necessity,” CU running backs coach Darian Hagan said Wednesday after the Buffs completed the 14th of their 15 spring practices.

BOULDER, Colo. – April 7, 2021: Colorado running backs, from left to right, Jarek Broussard, Ashaad Clayton, Jayle Stacks and Joe Davis during the Buffaloes’ spring football practice on Wednesday in Boulder. (University of Colorado Athletics)

Last season, sophomore Jarek Broussard was named Pac-12 offensive player of the year after a stellar campaign. He was third in the country in rushing yards per game (149.17) but didn’t get a lot of help.

Despite being a smaller running back, at 5-foot-9, 185 pounds, Broussard was second in the country in rushing attempts per game (26.0), as he was basically a one-man show in the backfield. Quarterback Sam Noyer was the Buffs’ second-best runner, as CU’s other running backs averaged a combined 16.7 yards on 8.0 carries per game.

“Toward the end of the year, Broussard got down to like 178 pounds,” Hagan said. “Playing against Texas and Utah, they were putting the wood to him and he laid the ball on the ground a couple of times. I think that was because he lost a lot of weight. He was a guy that we were really, really comfortable with getting the ball to.”

Typically, the best running teams are comfortable using multiple backs. CU’s history has included groups such as Chris Brown, Bobby Purify and Cortlen Johnson in 2002; Rashaan Salaam and Herchell Troutman in 1994; Salaam and Lamont Warren in 1993; and Eric Bieniemy and J.J. Flannigan in the late 1980s.

The Buffs might finally have that type of group again. In addition to Broussard, Alex Fontenot is back after missing 2020 with an injury. He led the Buffs in rushing in 2019. They also have Ashaad Clayton, who was a four-star recruit in 2020; Deion Smith returning from a knee injury; and a versatile duo in Joe Davis and Jayle Stacks.

This spring, Hagan has seen the group take a step forward.

“Now Ashaad knows what he’s doing,” Hagan said. “Alex is a returning starter, so he knows what he’s doing.

“We have the luxury of just rolling guys out and when guys get tired, don’t worry about looking over your shoulder; tap your helmet and come on out.”

It’s not only a talented group, Hagan said. It’s a hungry group.

“All of them are eager to prove what they can do,” he said. “I tell the guys all the time, what you put in is what you get, and these guys are putting in phenomenal effort. Their study habits have gotten way, way better. You walk into my room and you can just roll the dice and just say, ‘Whoever plays the best is gonna be out there and get the most reps.’

“All those guys are really excited. I’m excited; our team is excited for them. The offensive line loves blocking for those guys.”

BOULDER, CO – April 19, 2021: Colorado Buffaloes linebacker Robert Barnes during spring football practice. (University of Colorado Athletics)

Barnes showing improvement

CU is hoping Robert Barnes, a transfer from Oklahoma, can make a big impact on defense. The former safety is playing inside linebacker and has had a good spring.

“His footwork and his speed are tremendous,” Smith said. “He’s got such length and power when he’s out there. He was more powerful than I thought he even was as we got out and began to practice.”

For Barnes, it’s been an adjustment to a new position, but he’s progressing well.

“There was a comfort level and a growth progression that was required for him, but he’s probably taken more steps forward than anybody, but he started further away than everybody at the same time,” Smith said. “I’ve been very pleased with his progression. … He’s got still a ways to go, but Robert has come leaps and bounds from the first practice.”

Back in the mix

Deion Smith missed the 2020 season with a knee injury and hasn’t practiced for much of the spring. He’s been doing some individual drills lately, though, and looking good, Hagan said.

“Unbeknownst to him, I had been catering those drills strictly for him to get his confidence back,” Hagan said. “When we come back in June I think he’s going to be cutting loose and he’ll be ready to go.”


CU will take the day off Thursday and then host its Spring Showcase on Friday at 9 a.m. at Folsom Field (TV: Pac-12 Networks). … CU had about 500 tickets available for the general public and they were all claimed by Tuesday afternoon.