After a busy offseason filled with players leaving, players joining the herd and numerous coaching changes, the Colorado football team is ready to hit the practice field.
Head coach Karl Dorrell is preparing for his third season with the Buffaloes and he’ll get it started with the first practice of spring on Wednesday. That will kick off 15 workouts, capped by the spring game on April 23.
Coming off a 4-8 season, Dorrell and the Buffs have some pressure to turn things around in the fall and that makes this an important spring. Many starting positions won’t be settled until August, but several areas of the team need to make some significant progress this spring. It’s also a big month for several individuals. So, with that, here’s a spring football preview:
Keep an eye on …
1. Offensive changes — Six of Dorrell’s 10 full-time assistants are new to the program, including four of the five coaches on offense. The Buffs had one of the worst offenses in the country last year, so CU is banking on offensive coordinator Mike Sanford and offensive line coach Kyle DeVan to make a significant difference. Sanford and the Buffs have to make a lot of progress as an offensive group. DeVan is already building a good rapport with his linemen and now must translate that to the practice field.
2. Who’s out? — It’s unclear how many players won’t participate as they recover from injuries. CU is already shorthanded in some areas, but there are a few players to watch, in terms of their health. That starts with quarterback JT Shrout, who flashed his strong arm at CU’s pro day, but he may not be a full participant coming off a knee injury. Receivers Maurice Bell, Jaylon Jackson and Grant Page; defensive lineman Jeremiah Doss; outside linebacker Joshka Gustav; inside linebacker Jack Lamb; and cornerbacks Nigel Bethel Jr. and Jaylen Striker are also among the group coming off of significant injuries from 2021.
3. Newcomers — Between high school recruits, junior college and four-year transfers, CU has added 30 players, 12 of which are on campus this spring. Transfers that could make an immediate impact are tackle Tommy Brown (from Alabama), defensive end Chance Main (Incarnate Word) and receiver RJ Sneed (Baylor). Maddox Kopp (Houston) could also make some noise in the competition at quarterback.
Players to watch …
TE Caleb Fauria: Senior Brady Russell leads the tight end group, while Fauria is one of several freshmen. In practices last year, he showed the ability to make plays after the catch. If he has improved his overall game, he could be on the field regularly.
OLB Devin Grant: Injuries led to him finally getting a chance to play late last year and he flashed his potential and was impressive at times. The Buffs have big shoes to fill as Carson Wells has graduated. Grant has an opportunity to make some noise this spring.
ILB Marvin Ham II: With the graduation of Nate Landman, the Buffs need some players to step up in the middle of the defense. Ham is now in his fourth year with the program and it’s an important spring for him if he wants to be a starter in the fall.
WR Montana Lemonious-Craig: He’s just a sophomore, but already in his third year with the program and he’s got leadership qualities and exceptional talent. He’s one of the top breakout candidates for a team that lost several receivers to the transfer portal.
QB Brendon Lewis: Regardless of Shrout’s health, this is a huge spring for Lewis. He started all 12 games last year as a freshman, but struggled throughout the year. He also had some good moments and clearly has a lot of talent, but he has to show a good deal of growth in his game this spring.
S Toren Pittman: Senior Isaiah Lewis should have a starting role locked up, but the other spot is wide open. CU doesn’t have much depth at safety, so the opportunity is there for Pittman, now in his third year, to make an impression.
CB Nikko Reed: He’s explosive as a returner, but also got an opportunity to play quite a bit at corner at the end of last year and he played well. Now a true sophomore, CU needs him to play like a veteran.
OL Casey Roddick: Health issues prevented him from playing last spring and summer. Despite not having an offseason, he played fairly well at right guard. He’s now getting an offseason, has reshaped his body and is as confident as he’s ever been. Likely a guard, he could also factor in at center.
RB Jayle Stacks: During his two seasons in Boulder, he has flashed in practice, but has yet to get much of an opportunity on game day. That could change with a new coordinator.
DL Ryan Williams: As a true freshman last fall, he turned heads among the coaches and veteran players. With a year under his belt, he could factor into the mix up front this spring and this season.
Quick look at each position …
Quarterback — Lewis and Shrout are joined by returning sophomore Drew Carter, Kopp and incoming freshman Oakie Salave’a, who could ultimately move to defense. All of them have a fresh start with Sanford taking over as the quarterbacks coach.
Running back — CU has just three scholarship backs this spring, with senior Alex Fontenot, junior Deion Smith and Stacks. After losing Jarek Broussard to a transfer, all three have a big opportunity to impress coaches and earn more playing time.
Wide receiver — Despite some offseason attrition, the Buffs have several intriguing players here, including Sneed and Lemonious-Craig. Seniors Daniel Arias, Bell and Jackson bring experience, while Chase Penry and Ty Robinson look to build off strong debut seasons.
Tight end — It starts with Russell and he’s backed up by four talented freshman: Fauria, Erik Olsen, Louis Passarello and Austin Smith. CU needs a couple of those freshmen to step up.
Offensive line — A coaching change has done wonders for the mindset of the linemen. This group has also put in a lot of work in the weight room this offseason, as Brown, tackles Frank Fillip and Jake Wiley, Roddick and center/guard Noah Fenske look bigger and stronger than in the fall.
Defensive line — There’s a lot of experience back, with Justin Jackson, Janaz Jordan, Terrance Lang, Jalen Sami and Na’im Rodman. There’s also intriguing young talent that needs to develop.
Outside linebacker — Guy Thomas should be back from a foot injury and he could be the leader of a group that has a lot of potential, but a lot to prove, with Main, Grant, Jamar Montgomery and others.
Inside linebacker — Robert Barnes and Quinn Perry are both back after a lot of experience last year, while Ham, Isaac Hurtado and Mister Williams are looking to make a push for starting roles.
Cornerbacks — Last year’s starters (Mekhi Blackmon, Christian Gonzalez) transferred, so it’s wide open this spring. If Bethel and Striker are healthy enough to play, they’ll lead a young group that includes Reed and Kaylin Moore and two high school recruits who enrolled early: Jason Oliver and Joshua Wiggins.
Safety — There are only four scholarship players this spring, led by Lewis and Pittman. True sophomores Tyrin Taylor and Trevor Woods are both talented playmakers who gained valuable experience last year. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Salave’a move to safety this spring.
Specialists — This spot is settled, with sophomore Cole Becker at kicker and true freshman Ashton Logan at punter.