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CU Buffs notes: Karl Dorrell impressed with defensive communication

BOULDER, CO, April 2, 2022:  Defensive Coordinator, Chris Wilson, during the April 2, 2022 University of Colorado Boulder football practice. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff photographer)
BOULDER, CO, April 2, 2022: Defensive Coordinator, Chris Wilson, during the April 2, 2022 University of Colorado Boulder football practice. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff photographer)

Losing star linebacker Nate Landman to injury for the final five games didn’t help the Colorado Buffalos last year.

It may have helped the 2022 Buffaloes, however.

Following Saturday’s practice, the third of 15 spring sessions, head coach Karl Dorrell said the communication on defense has been impressive.

“That was as good as I’ve ever seen and heard,” Dorrell said. “They did a really good job that way, even the second team.”

Landman, now preparing for the NFL Draft, was exceptional with his on-field communication, but without him during the last five games of 2021, others had to step up.

“When Nate was out of the equation, somebody had to take the ownership of that and this started with the inside backers, Quinn (Perry) and with Robert Barnes,” Dorrell said.

It’s not just the linebackers talking now, though.

“Now I’m hearing everybody,” he said. “I’m hearing (defensive) lineman making adjustments when the backfield shifts over and things like that. They’re making calls upfront. Our linebackers are making calls and making sure that everybody’s on the same page and then our secondary. They’re making their calls in unison with everyone. The communication has been tremendous on all three levels.”

Dorrell said communication was “helter-skelter” during his first season at CU, in 2020, but he can now see players and coaches growing together.

“I think our defensive coaches are doing a good job of really helping them understand our package and understanding the adjustments and the nuances with it,” he said.

BOULDER, CO, April 2, 2022: Running back, Deion Smith, during the April 2, 2022 University of Colorado Boulder football practice. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff photographer)

Offensive progression

As the Buffs try to learn the new offense being installed by first-year coordinator Mike Sanford, Dorrell said coaches are throwing “a lot” at the players.

Still, the staff has been limited in what it can do because of a lack of depth in certain areas.

Only six receivers (out of 10 on the roster) are practicing right now and the Buffs have only three scholarship running backs – and five total.

CU likes to use a lot of three and four-receiver sets, but the lack of numbers has led to the Buffs using more two-receiver sets this spring.

“I’m concerned about our depth,” Dorrell said. “We probably have to slow down the pace so that we’re getting quality reps instead of quantity. I have to do a great job with that. But our depth is what it is. I think every team in spring ball across the country doesn’t have full depth. It’s just kind of the nature of where we are right now.”

Despite the numbers, Dorrell continues to praise several players who are stepping up.

On Saturday, RJ Sneed had some great catches in the red zone, while Montana Lemonious-Craig had a nice catch in the end zone. Dorrell also highlighted walk-on receiver Jack Hestera, saying, “He was noticed today.”

Dorrell said tight ends Erik Olsen and Austin Smith both had good plays, while running backs Alex Fontenot and Deion Smith had some big runs.

“Offensively I’m very pleased with the progress they’ve made with a new offense,” he said.

Building momentum

Dorrell has been happy with the first three practices, but the Buffs have 12 more practices over the next three weeks.

“I am pleased – very pleased – with where we are after three days,” he said. “I just told them, their challenge now is how are we going to be able to handle and maintain this progress back to back, because now the practice sessions are Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday. … I want them to grow and mature and understand that process. We can’t have a great day and then the next day be a bad day.”


Sophomores Noah Fenske and Austin Johnson are taking reps at center with the first and second team offenses. Carson Lee is also a center, but working more at guard right now. … Dorrell said junior guard Casey Roddick “looks like a different Casey Roddick. Better athlete, better condition. And he’s moving around so so so much better.” … Tommy Brown, a transfer from Alabama, has been playing at guard. … True freshman early enrollee Oakie Salave’a has been playing at safety. Listed as an athlete, the Buffs signed him knowing he could at quarterback or on defense.

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