It’s never too difficult to get a smile out of Brady Russell, but there’s an extra bounce in his step this month.
Perhaps that comes from knowing the end of his career at Colorado is near and he’s soaking in the final moments.
The senior tight end is also feeling healthier than he has in two years.
Mentoring a young group of tight ends has been a joy, as well.
Ask him about his role in the Buffaloes’ new offense, however, and he really lights up.
“Oh, I’m loving it,” he said after a recent practice. “We’re getting to do more in terms of blocking and more in terms of catching, so it’s cool getting to experience doing new things. I feel like I’ve done the same thing the last five years. I was dang near just a 250-pound O-lineman at CU.
“Now that I’m getting to explore more and do things outside of just running a flat or sliding across the formation and catching out of the backfield, I’m getting to do a little bit more and incorporate myself and lead — not just by example when I’m blocking, but actually spark the offense a little bit, hopefully. That’ll be a game changer, I hope, for us this year.”
CU hasn’t revealed much about the scheme being designed by new offensive coordinator Mike Sanford and the rest of the staff, but it’s clear that the tight ends are going to have a different role than in the past.
Russell led the Buffs in catches (25) and receiving yards (307) last year, but the numbers weren’t big for an offense that struggled across the board. There is potential for Russell for have an even greater impact this season under the direction of Sanford and first-year tight ends coach Clay Patterson.
“He’s very unique,” said Patterson, who coached at Minnesota the past four years. “I didn’t have anybody like him in Minnesota and he’s a unique talent because he can run like a receiver but he’s taking the challenge I gave him of blocking like an O-lineman. He acted like an O-lineman (in the past), but he didn’t block the way I wanted him to before. He’s really done that now. I really think he’s gonna have a great year this year.”
CU needs better play at quarterback — whether from incumbent Brendon Lewis or JT Shrout — and has to have the offensive line show improvement, but Russell is one of the most important players on the offense.
In addition to a unique skill set, Russell has something no other tight end on this roster has at the moment: experience.
The former walk-on has played in 38 games, with 28 starts. There are seven other tight ends on the roster and they’ve combined for four games played — all by redshirt freshman Caleb Fauria, who has played just seven snaps on offense.
Knowing his own importance to the Buffs, Russell said he had a great summer in preparing for the season.
“I think the biggest difference was I focused on my body a lot,” he said. “My diet was better than it’s ever been and I cut off some fat and did some things better than I have in the past.
“Then a lot of the things that I worked on was multiplicity in my passing game and being able to run different things with the quarterbacks and getting with each different quarterback and running (plays) with them. Lastly, it was just some new steps that coach Patterson has taught me than I’ve done in the past. Working new footwork, blocking. It’s translating really well (to the practice field).”
Beyond the passes he catches or the blocks he makes, Russell has an opportunity to make a significant impact on the rest of the tight end room, which features four redshirt freshman and three true freshmen.
“I told him when I got here, ‘Dude, you’ve had five tight end coaches. This is not my room, it’s your room,’” Patterson said. “‘And when you leave here, how do you want this room to carry on? And how do you want it to be remembered?’ He’s taken that and he takes ownership in that. He buys into the culture that I’ve kind of put in that room and he’s a natural leader. He does it by example, but then he backs it up with his play. And then everybody follows that. It’s not just the room, he leads our football team and I challenged him to do that, too.
“Once you want to do that, you take that role, then every play you better be on point — and he does that.”