In preseason camp, Colorado coaches and players often commented on the talent possessed by the true freshman trio of cornerbacks.
At times, Kaylin Moore, Nikko Reed and Tyrin Taylor have played like veterans in practice. CU cornerbacks coach Demetrice Martin refers to the group as the “Three Amigos,” and he’s spent the first half of the season focusing on their development.
The spotlight will shine a bit brighter on at least one of the Amigos when the Buffs (2-4, 1-2 Pac-12) visit California (1-5, 0-3) on Saturday in Berkeley, Calif. (1:40 p.m. MT, TV: Pac-12 Network).
Earlier this week, CU head coach Karl Dorrell said that veteran corner Nigel Bethel Jr. will be sidelined for “a while” with a knee injury. Bethel has been the Buffs’ No. 3 cornerback, an important role that will now go to Taylor.
Christian Gonzalez and Mekhi Blackmon are the starters at corner, but Bethel has been on the field for 151 snaps and played well in nickel situations, so he has big shoes to fill.
Taylor leads the young trio with 71 snaps played, with Reed (57) not far behind. Moore has played 13 snaps.
“We’ve had a chance to get them some experience so far this season and it’s good that some of those guys got a chance to play and do some really good things for us in the course of what we’ve done to this point,” Dorrell said. “It’s like the next man up theory. If you lose a guy you feel like the next guy should be ready to do it. … Some of these younger guys are doing that; they’ve had some playing time already, so we hope the transition’s not too difficult for (Taylor).”
Reed and Moore could get more snaps, as well, and Dorrell believes they’re ready.
“All those young guys, they seem like they’re very confident,” he said. “They don’t bat an eye about being competitive and trying to cover and do the things that we’ve asked them to do. It’s a good feeling that we have this year compared to last year where we have more depth.”
That depth has been tested, though. Before the season, the Buffs lost sophomore Jaylen Striker to a season-ending shoulder injury. The Buffs have also lost Chris Miller, a safety who has played corner, to a season-ending knee injury.
Rice gaining confidence
In Saturday’s 34-0 win against Arizona, freshman Brenden Rice had the first big day by a CU receiver this season, hauling in three catches for a career-high 111 yards.
That was, in part, opportunity mixed with Rice’s increased confidence, Dorrell said.
“I think he’s getting more confident and he is getting opportunities to make some plays,” he said. “We’ve made some adjustments in our offense and that kind of utilizes and fits his skill set some.
“He’s very confident, obviously, playing the game. … He made some very impactful plays. That’s going to help his confidence.”
Running back Joe Davis hasn’t suited up since the season opener, and Dorrell said Wednesday that the sophomore from Valor Christian is electing to use this as a redshirt season.
“He feels he wants to get bigger and stronger and we have a lot of depth at running back right now,” Dorrell said. “He has asked for a chance to redshirt and work with the scout team and get bigger and stuff like that. Guys that are willing to do that and want to do that, I would probably go ahead and grant those opportunities.”
During his first two seasons at CU (2019-20), Davis played in 17of 18 games, mostly on special teams. He played in this year’s opener against UNC, getting five carries for 22 yards late in the game.
Given the talent at running back, with Jarek Broussard, Alex Fontenot, Ashaad Clayton, Deion Smith and Jayle Stacks, Davis will look to make more of an impact next year. He’s still got three years to play.
Poplawski moving on
Tight end Jared Poplawski decided last week to end his football career.
A fifth-year player from Scottsdale, Ariz., Poplawski battled numerous injuries throughout his career, including a torn ACL that cut his 2017 season short and injuries that prevented him from playing at all in 2018 and 2019.
The Buffs’ Alamo Bowl appearance on Dec. 29 was Poplawski’s first game action since 2017 – a span of 1,143 days. He played the first five games this season, mostly on special teams. He returned a kickoff for 10 yards at Arizona State on Sept. 25.
Dorrell said second-year freshman receiver Keith Miller III is in a similar position as Davis. Miller has not suited up for any games this year. … Cal coach Justin Wilcox told reporters that he expects freshman cornerback Lu-Magia Hearns to return to the starting lineup. He missed last week’s game against Oregon. Outside linebacker Kuony Deng, however, is expected to miss his fifth straight game with a lower body injury. Deng was Cal’s leading tackler in 2020.