With Mekhi Blackmon and Christian Gonzalez excelling in 2020, there wasn’t a lot of playing time for the rest of Colorado’s cornerbacks.
When Nigel Bethel Jr. did get on the field, however, he played well.
This year, all three are back, along with sophomore Jaylen Striker and a talented trio of freshmen: Kaylin Moore, Nikko Reed and Tyrin Taylor.
“We have probably more depth now than we had a year ago where we were just concerned about who are we going to play at corner,” head coach Karl Dorrell said after Saturday’s practice. “I think now we have at least a solid three deep on both sides.”
Bethel plays a key role in that depth. A transfer from Miami, Bethel sat out the 2019 season due to the NCAA transfer rule – which has since been changed – but made his debut last year.
“I just looked for a better opportunity,” he said of leaving Miami. “I felt like it was a good opportunity to come here and play football.”
Bethel was solid in coverage last year, while also getting his first career interception against Arizona, stopping a Wildcats drive at the goal line.
“My focus is to always be ready,” he said. “Of course I’m thinking about playing time. My goal is always to be ready when they count on me.”
Through the first few practices of the preseason, Bethel has mainly lined up at corner but said he could play nickel if needed. Regardless of where he plays, he makes the group better.
Blackmon battled some knee tendinitis in the spring, but Dorrell said Blackmon “worked hard this summer. … He looks good, very competitive.”
Gonzalez, meanwhile, is a second-year freshman who has star potential.
“He’s a quiet, confident player,” Dorrell said. “You don’t hear much from him vocally, but he’s a guy that’s high on detail, doesn’t like to make mistakes. … Even though he’s a young corner, he’s sharing his knowledge of what he’s learned over the last year.”
Bethel is also quiet, but is going into his fourth season of college football and said, “I definitely feel like a veteran out there helping the young guys, the young corners.”
With the experience of Bethel, Blackmon and Gonzalez and the talent among the freshmen, cornerback might be an underrated position group for the Buffs.
“All we can do is keep working and then show everybody when the time comes,” Bethel said.
Monitoring the air
By Saturday evening, Airnow.gov had Boulder’s air quality index (AQI) number at an “unhealthy” 183. When the Buffs hit the practice field in the morning, however, the air was smoky, but with an AQI number that allowed the team to practice outside.
Still, Dorrell had head trainer Andrew Hamstra monitoring the AQI to make sure it was OK to be outside.
“I was concerned when I left the building,” Dorrell said. “I walked down around nine o’clock and I saw how gray (the air was) and I can even smell the smoke today more than the other days that we’ve had to this point. I was concerned about that but I talked with Andrew and he’s been keeping a monitor.”
According to Airnow.gov, an AQI between 101-150 is less likely to affect the general public and the number remained below 150 while the Buffs were practicing. Dorrell said it was breezy during practice, which helped clear the air a bit.
Saturday was CU’s third practice of the preseason and it was yet another good session, according to Dorrell.
“I thought it was a really good day,” he said. “When you put more information in and you’re still getting a good level of execution, it’s very pleasing to see. I’ve really been very happy with where these guys are. I think mentally, they’re still very, very strong, like if it was still the first day. That’s what I like. … The team is really in a good place, from a mental standpoint. We’re building on that.”
In the ongoing battle for the starting quarterback job, Brendon Lewis and JT Shrout both played well, Dorrell said.
“I thought the quarterbacks looked pretty impressive, both of them making good decisions,” he said. “I didn’t see any poor decisions today.”
While the defense was ahead of the offense in the spring, Dorrell said the sides have been more even through the first few days of preseason camp.
On defense, Dorrell said a defensive lineman tipped a pass that safety Steele Dubar picked off. Safety Anthony Lyle had an interception in 7-on-7 drills.
“We’re in the right places, and that’s when you know your defense is getting better,” he said.
Offensive linemen Casey Roddick, who missed spring practice with COVID-19 issues, was cleared earlier this week and is doing some individual work and he transitions back into football shape. … Chance Lytle, an offensive lineman who suffered a leg injury last season and missed spring is not quite at 100%, but is practicing and “looks good,” Dorrell said. The Buffs are limiting his reps as he returns.