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Rooney: Start of return to normalcy the biggest thrill of CU football’s Spring Showcase

Karl Dorrell oversees first spring session 14 months after hiring

CU head coach, Karl Dorrell, during ...
CU head coach, Karl Dorrell, during the University of Colorado Football Spring Showcase on April 30, 2021.

A year ago, Karl Dorrell wasn’t unlike the rest of us.

When the calendar turned to May in 2020, Dorrell was wondering what the future of his job would look like. Not that there was any insecurity to worry about, as Dorrell was hired just two months earlier as Colorado’s 27th full-time head football coach. Yet given the upheaval the start of the COVID-19 pandemic caused just about every work place in America, Dorrell likely spent more time trying to figure out Zoom meetings than diagramming Xs and Os.

Friday’s Spring Showcase offered the first public glimpse of what, hopefully, will be a much-welcomed return to normalcy for CU Buffs football.

With a few fans popping up in the sunny bleachers at Folsom Field almost like the revival of a spring blooming, Dorrell capped his first set of spring practices 14 months after he arrived in Boulder. It was a crisp workout, though one played close to the vest with an injury-shortened roster and situational mini-scrimmages.

Nevertheless, the brief glimpse of normalcy meant far more than the efficient performances of quarterbacks Brendon Lewis and JT Shrout.

“It meant a lot to all of us…particularly with our youngest players,” Dorrell said. “Our guys that are first year players or freshmen players. We had some transfers that came in too from the portal and they’re here. It was really an important step for them to kind of get the teaching medium to grow in our systems. That’s what spring has allowed us to do. I think everyone benefitted because I’m a new coach.

“It’s my first spring, so it’s really their first spring. So now it was really a great melding of sorts, for even me as a coach, for knowing my players better a little bit better in this environment. And our players getting a chance to get in touch fundamentally, really without any rush to it, to really emphasize the technique and details of what the position coaches are trying to do.”

There is little doubt the Buffs will be much further along in implementing Dorrell’s vision for the future of the CU program when the season kicks off on Sept. 3 against Northern Colorado than they were when the delayed, shortened version of the 2020 season finally began in November. How that translates to success in the first “normal” season of the Dorrell era remains to be seen.

What did the spring sessions tell us? The Buffs should boast plenty of talent at running back and wide receiver. Regardless of who wins the quarterback derby between Lewis, Shrout, and incumbent starter Sam Noyer, forced to sit out this spring after postseason shoulder surgery, CU should at the very least be deeper at the game’s most important position than the team has been in recent memory, with weapons at the starter’s disposal.

Defensively, the Buffs look to be solid at linebacker, a stance that will move from solid to stellar if Nate Landman at some point makes a successful return from his torn Achilles. There are question marks, of course, particularly up front on both sides of the ball. Dorrell certainly pushed the right buttons in leading the Buffs to a 4-2 record and an Alamo Bowl berth, yet Dorrell himself noted in the aftermath of that lopsided bowl game loss against Texas just how far CU still has to climb.

No doubt there are many steps that still need to be made between now and Sept. 3. Still, getting back into football’s regular routine was the most important step of them all.

“I thought (Friday) for the most part offensively, we looked pretty sharp. They did some really good, positive things,” Dorrell said. “It wasn’t perfect, but I thought they moved the ball and looked like they can be efficient. We’ve still got a lot of work to go. We know the summer is going to be critically important. But we think it’s a good first step leading into the break.”