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CU Buffs OC Mike Sanford eager for open competition at quarterback

Brendon Lewis returns as starter, but will battle with several others

BOULDER, CO - Nov. 20, 2021: ...
University of Colorado Boulder’s Brendon Lewis throws to Daniel Arias against Washington during the November 20, 2021 game in Boulder. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

In reviewing film of Colorado’s 2021 football season, Mike Sanford was impressed with quarterback Brendon Lewis.

Certainly, Lewis could have played better during his freshman season, but Sanford, CU’s new offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach, saw intangibles that he liked.

“What I was so impressed with last year when watching the film was his toughness,” Sanford said. “I mean, that is the No. 1 characteristic that I’m looking for in a quarterback. The traits that we’re going to play with here at CU is going to be all about the toughness of that position.

“As challenging as the season was mentally and, frankly, as challenging as the season was physically for Brendon, he never batted an eye. He continued to come back.  He’s a fighter.”

Whether or not those traits help Lewis keep the starting job in 2022 remains to be seen, but Sanford goes into his first offseason with the Buffs believing they have the tools to be better at the most important position on the field.

“We have enough in that room,” Sanford said. “There’s enough clay in that room to be able to build this offense around their skill sets.”

JT Shrout during the University of ...
JT Shrout during the University of Colorado Football Spring Showcase on April 30, 2021.

Meanwhile, head coach Karl Dorrell is banking on Sanford being the guy to mold the clay.

“I think the biggest thing that I drew from (Sanford’s) experience and looking at his body of work was that he’s developed all types of quarterbacks,” Dorrell said. “I would say that all those types of quarterbacks, in his experience I felt like he’s maximized their skill set. They’ve had productive years and have had opportunities to play at the next level.

“In today’s game of football at this level, you have to have a coach that can coach the quarterback and really get the max out of that skill set. (Sanford) has gotten the most out of those players and we needed that type of coach leading our offense here in 2022.”

Since 2015, Sanford has coached three quarterbacks who were NFL draft choices: Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer (2017 second around), Western Kentucky’s Mike White (2018 fifth round) and Utah State’s Jordan Love (2020 first round). He’s also coached Minnesota’s Tanner Morgan, a four-year starter who is returning for a final season next fall.

CU hasn’t had a quarterback drafted since Koy Detmer in 1997. For now, however, Sanford’s primary goal is to simply find the quarterback to lead the Buffs’ offense in 2022.

Lewis started all 12 games last season, but threw for only 1,540 yards and 10 touchdowns, completing 58 percent of his passes. He threw only three interceptions but was one of the lowest-rated passers in the Pac-12 as the Buffs averaged only 18.8 points per game.

This offseason, Lewis will compete with junior JT Shrout, who missed last season with a knee injury; true sophomore Drew Carter; and redshirt freshman Maddox Kopp, an incoming transfer from Houston. True freshmen Owen McCown and Oakie Salave’a are also in the mix, although McCown won’t arrive until the summer and Salave’a could wind up playing on defense.

“That position is always open for competition,” Sanford said. “We’re always going to compete, and always say we’re going to compete with each other, not against each other. I made that very clear to the offensive (staff) … that there’s not going to be kind of a Team JT and a Team Brendon or Team Drew. This is going to be our offense, and we’re gonna work together.”

University of Colorado Boulder quarterback Drew Carter (No. 9) makes a handoff to Deion Smith (No. 20) during a scrimmage at Folsom Field in Boulder on Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

Lewis and Shrout competed throughout the 2021 offseason until Shrout injured his knee in mid-August. From that point, Lewis was the clear-cut option. Now, with Shrout, Carter, Kopp and others battling, Sanford anticipates a higher level of play.

“Based off of what I heard a year ago, when both JT and Brendon were healthy, they were seeing the best out of each other,” Sanford said. “The competitiveness between each other was bringing out the best in Brendon, bringing out the best in JT and that’s what I want.”

Spring practices start in late March, so at this point, Sanford and the staff are throwing a lot at the group so they can learn the offense.

“Ultimately, right now we’re putting a system in place that really could embody the skill sets of somebody who can run tremendously at quarterback or somebody that’s going to be a surgeon at the line of scrimmage and get us to the right plays,” Sanford said. “We’re going to give (Lewis) a fresh start. We’re going to give the entire room a fresh start to go out and compete.

“We have everything that we need in this room to go function at a high level. I really do believe that. Now it’s my job to go train those quarterbacks, to develop their skill sets. I know they’re eager, I know they’re hungry to become better players.”

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