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Colorado Buffaloes Football Spring Report

Colorado Buffaloes Football Spring Report
By TrevMon • Issue #22 • View online
The first of 15 Spring practices starts this Wed, March 30. It is a critical Spring for Coach Karl Dorrell and the program. He has already overhauled the coaching staff with 6 new hires, including 4 out of 5 assistants on offense.
Despite going 4-8 and fielding a historically poor offense, signs of recovery were evident down the stretch. Definitive improvements were made in offensive line and QB performance, several young players flashed, and the effort was there.
Spring Headlines:
  • Dividends from Conditioning Program: Coach Turley’s second year should accelerate returns in injury prevention, agility, functional strength, power. See video
  • New Additions and Attritions: a record 33-34 new players will join the Buffs in the 22 cycle, which corresponds with a record 21 in the transfer portal (including 7 starters). Lot’s of gaps to fill this Spring.
  • Sanford’s New System: Sanford’s offenses have a baseline average rank 32 over six years by advanced metrics. Not too shabby, Buff were in the 100s in same measures last year. The new offense will be more physical, and multiple (pro-style, west -coast, RPO, spread).
We need to be creative to find a niche to win this year, start with making sure we can run the football, and that the passing game complements what we do formationally with the running game. - Mike Sanford

Offense Preview
At times last season, the offense was on on the verge of life support. New Offensive Coordinator Mike Sanford will install a new offense designed to accelerate the recovery.
The Offense returns 64% of its production (FBS Rank 97), and 6 full or part-time starters. Starters and breakout candidates will compete anew this Spring to impress their new assistant coaches and the loan holdover running backs coach Darian Hagan.
By the Numbers:
the bad…
  • Yards per Game: FBS Rank 128
  • Avg Time of Possession: FBS Rank 122
  • PFF Offense: FBS Rank 115
  • Pass Success Rate: FBS Rank 125
  • Third down conversion rate: Rank 119
the good…
  • Red Zone Offense Efficiency: FBS Rank 3
  • Turnover Rate: FBS Rank 4
Biggest Pain Points
The offensive problems were mainly rooted in (i) inexperienced QB combined with (ii) poor pass protection. Both the QB and Tackle rooms were as thin and inexperienced as any in college football. Freshman Brendan Lewis held on to the ball too long (3.18), something that does not work out when your pass protection was the second worst in Power 5 and compounded the problem. Opposing defenses quickly learned they could (i) pressure the QB without blitzing on passing downs, while keeping coverage robust, and (ii) crowd the box on running downs.
OFFENSIVE LINE PREVIEW
The road to recovery starts in the trenches. New Coach Kyle De Vann, who helped Michigan win the Joe Moore award for the nation’s best O-line, is on the job. Coach De Vann needs to fill gaps left by top performers (Purcell ©, Kutch (LG) and transform the group into a cohesive, technically sound and physical unit. The line returns 66% of last year’s production, including starters Frank Fillip (RT,Jr), Jake Wiley (LT,So), and Casey Roddick (RG, Jr). Alabama transfer Tommy Brown (Jr) will be in the mix at Tackle or Guard.
By the Numbers:
  • PFF PASS BLOCK: FBS Rank 118
  • Opportunity Rate: FBS Rank 129 (did the line do it’s job)
  • Power Success Rate: FBS Rank 93 (short yardage)
  • Pass Block Efficiency: FBS Rank 127
Forecast: Partly Cloudy, with chance of sun late Spring
Pain Points: Tackle performance needs upgrade; Center is an unknown
Breakout Watch: Noah Fenske (C/G) can play all positions and will compete to start at C/G. Austin Johnson was in line to start at center before injury in 2019.
QUARTERBACK PREVIEW
Entering Spring Practices, the QB room is in much better shape than where it was at the end of last season. Rather than only two healthy scholarship QBs, the room now has 5, with a sixth (McCowen) joining next fall. Coach Sanford, a former QB, will also manage QB coaching duties.
The QB competition that was ongoing before Shrout was sidelined to injury is re-booted. It will likely wait until Fall to get sorted, as Shrout will be limited participant in Spring. Brendon Lewis now has the most collegiate snaps. Brendon takes care of the ball, he had decent accuracy, and he is a running threat. He will need to get work on release and making stronger passes in the intermediate range. JT Shrout has played in a handful of games in SEC. He possesses a quicker release and stronger arm, but his performance ratings are comparable to Lewis.
QBs development will benefit from competition, and Coach Sanford who has played QB and coached the position. Quarterbacks will likely have more discretion in the new system. The pace of development will be throttled by the adoption of the new offense.
Forecast: Partly Cloudy, with chance of sun by late Spring
Pain Points: Average time to throw (3.19 secs) is much higher than the average sack time (2.7). Need to improve average depth of target (6.8 yds FBS Rank 159) to open up intermediate, explosive passing threats.
Breakout Watch: Houston transfer Maddox Kopp (RS-Fr) was a player the Buffs liked in high school in 2020. Kopp is 6-5 and athletic with big arm and will compete for the depth chart.
WIDE RECEIVERS PREVIEW
Coach Phil McGeoghan inherits a group that was not only ranked 110 in FBS according to professional football focus, but that lost the top talent (Rice, Shenault, Stanley) responsible for nearly half of last year’s. The room has experience and prospects. Daniel Arias, who led the WRs in snaps (438) and deep targets (8) returns. Sophomores Montana Lemonious-Craig, Chase Penry (led in intermediate targets), and Ty Robinson showed promise as freshman and should be poised to take the next step. Incoming transfer RJ Sneed (Baylor) is the most established veteran and will more than replace lost production. Seniors Maurice Bell and Jaylen Jackson were sidelined by injuries last year and may be out this Spring. Early enrollee Grant Page (Fr), will likely be held out of Spring practice due to injury
Forecast: Partly Sunny
Pain Points: Arias is the only proven deep threat. 
Breakout List: Freshman MLC, Chase Penry, and Ty Robinson should sharpen their skills under McGeoghan
TIGHT ENDS PREVIEW
Brady Russell, who led the team in both receptions and receiving yards last season, is back for his last hurrah. Russell will help develop a group of redshirt freshman (Caleb Fauria, Eric Olson, Austin Smith, Luis Passarello) who have a chance to breakout. Cole Patterson, the new Tight Ends coach and also the passing game coordinator. Tight Ends will be and important feature of passing game.
Forecast: Partly Cloudy, with chance of sun late Spring
Pain Points: Depth. Those behind Russell need to step up.
Breakout Watch: Caleb Fauria, Eric Olson, Austin Smith, and Luis Passarello.
RUNNING BACKS PREVIEW
The Buffs lost former Pac 12 co-player of the year with Jarek Broussard’s transfer to Michigan State. Alex Fontenot is an elusive, strong and experienced back. And Smith performed similarly well with 53 carries last year, some late in the game. Departures also hit depth. Reinforcements will arrive this summer, with Ramon Jefferson, a 2nd team FCS all-american transfer from Sam Houston, Victor Venn (FR), along with the option of Anthony Hankerson (Grayshirt) adding depth.
Forecast: Partly Sunny
Pain Points: Depth, only 3 deep this Spring
Break Out Watch: Stacks
Defense Preview
Last year Coach Wilson assumed Coordinator duties. After an impressive start, things went downhill. They did not get help from an offense that had trouble staying on the field (FBS Rank 126 in top), leaving the Defense unrested, overexposed, which dampened their stats.
The Defense returns 73% of overall production (FBS Rank 83), despite losing six starters. Those returning will benefit from another year of seasoning in Coach Wilson’s system. In general, defense needs to improve in every dimension, physically, technically, smarter and quicker. Wilson has hired Gerald Chatman to coach the DL, and Rod Chance will coach the corners. 
By the Numbers:
  • Allowed an average of 28.5 points per game (FBS Rank 77)
  • 436 yards per game (FBS Rank 101) | 6.1 yards per play (FBS Rank 106)
  • 1.1 takeaways per game (FBS Rank 101)
  • 242 passing yards allowed per game (FBS Rank 79)
  • Sack per game .9% (FBS Rank 127)
  • PFF COV 58.2 (FBS Rank 105)
  • Defense Rush Success Rate (FBS Rank 73)
  • DEF PFF 56.2 (FBS Rank 114)
  • Defense turnover rate (DTO) .10 (FBS Rank 74).
  • Tackling PFF 59.9 (FBS Rank 95)
Pain Points: Pass Rush (need to generate one), Turnover Rate (needs to improve); Coverage (FBS Rank 105) and must replace 3 starters on back 7; Tackling (FBS Rank 95)
Bright Spots: The defense scored 2 defensive touchdowns (FBS Rank 25), and like the offense, performed much better in the Red Zone defense (FBS Rank 18). And despite it all, played hard through the finish.
DEFENSIVE LINE PREVIEW
New DL coach Gerald Chatman inherits a defensive line that returns more production than any other unit on defense (78%). Jalen Sami returns on the interior, and Terrance Lang (DE) are both pro prospects. Na’im Rodman (DL) comes of a solid first year as a starter. Senior Janaz Jordan (DL) has a handful of starts and will be a regular in the rotation. The top tier could be as good as any in the Pac-12.
Whether the bottom tier of the rotation will provide quality depth is a question mark. Jeremiah Doss (Sr) was injured all 2021 and will likely be sidelined this Spring. Defensive end Justin Jackson (Sr) returns, but has not made significant contribution to date. Buffs will need one or more of the three redshirt freshman on the DL to step up. 
By the Numbers:
  • Avg line yards 2.81 (FBS Rank 100)
  • Standard Down Line Yards 2.67 (FBS Rank 83)
  • Passing Down Line Yards 3.12 (FBS Rank 99)
  • Opportunity Rate 47.5% (FBS Rank 69)
  • Power Success Rate 80.0% (FBS Rank 113)
  • Stuff Rate 18.9% (FBS Rank 51)
  • Sack Rate 2.9% (FBS Rank 127)  
Spring Forecast: Party Sunny
Pain Points: Sack Rate (FBS Rank 127); Depth, lower half of rotation needs to significantly improve 
Breakout Watch List: Ryan Williams name is consistently mentioned by coaches and players alike. Tyas Martin has size (6-2 320) has recovered from major back injury his senior year. Chance Main (listed in Edge) may also play DE. This is a position where the Buffs may seek to add quality depth via transfer.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS PREVIEW
Except for Carson Wells, everyone returns this Spring. Coach Wilson will oversee the outside backers this year. Guy Thomas, who was injured for part of last year, returns with the most snaps (281). Thomas is a physical edge rusher who did well in both pass rush and run defense, but was exposed a few times in coverage. Joshka Gustav is an all around player who missed some action due to injury, but if healthy will play on passing downs, both as a rusher and in coverage. Jamar Montgomery was also injured and had good stats in pass rush. Chance Main (transfer) will likely be a DL/Edge hybrid with a hand in the ground playing on four man fronts. 
Forecast: Mostly Sunny
Pain Points: Pass Rush, only 2 sacks total among returnees; Pass coverage is below par
Break Out Watch: Both Devin Grant (RS-Fr) and Alvin Williams (So) looked like impact players in limited snaps. Grant actually had the highest PFF grade of the position group in a small sample size. Alvin Williams may have had similar PFF grade had he been properly credited for a few more pressures.
INSIDE LINEBACKERS PREVIEW
Despite losing Nate Landman, and the medical retirement of Jack Lamb, Coach Mark Smith returns along with a room returning over half of last year’s production (60%). Quinn Perry managed play calling in Landman’s absence, returns as the leading tackler. Robert Barnes finished strong last season and is should be more competent in pass coverage as a former safety. Marvin Ham also played allot, mostly on passing downs. 
Forecast: Partly Cloudy
Pain Points: Depth - more of an issue since Lamb has retired. Could see an OLB move inside. Pass Coverage- Grades are in the 50s (below average). Grades- overall performance is poor; Instincts - starters need to play smarter, faster. Otherwise, ILB a position of need in the portal.
Break Out Watch: Marvin Ham is athletic and could add strength and weight in off-season. Isaac Hurtado is an athletic linebacker (HS running back) is a JC transfer that is already on campus. Mister Williams was flashing in practice prior to an injury last season.
CORNERBACKS PREVIEW
New Coach Rod Chance takes over a position group that was hard hit by the transfers of starters Christain Gonzales (Oregon), Mehki Blackman (USC). Both are next level cornerbacks. Nigel Bethel (CB) returns as the starting nickel and favorite for one corner spot. Bethel may be held out of Spring because of injury. The other positions are up for grabs for a young but promising group that includes Kaylin Moore, Niko Reed, and Tyrin Taylor (moved to S) did well in their freshman debuts. 
Outlook: Partly Cloudy, chance of sun by late Spring
Pain Points: need starters and depth; lack experienced corners that have covers #1s, #2s 
Break Out Watch: One of the early freshman enrollees (Joshua Wiggins, Jason Oliver) could crack the depth chart. Jaylon Striker returns from injury.
SAFETY PREVIEW
Above average defenses generally have a seasoned Safety position group. The Buffs were already thin at Safety before losing Mark Perry (S). Isaiah Lewis is a returning starter who gets the job done. Coach Maxie will need to find solutions. Trevor Woods, had one start last year, is a likely candidate. Torren Pittman and Tyrin Taylor will also contend for the second starting position. Early enrollee Oakie Salvea may also move to Safety at some point this Spring. Two Freshman, Dillan Dixon, and Xaviar Smith will join the Buffs next Fall. 
Forecast: Cloudy
Pain Points: Depth, experience in the system. The Buffs likely will almost certainly add someone to start or add quality depth in the next portal wave. 
Watch List: Jeramy Mack is a JUCO transfer who looks physical on film.
SPECIAL TEAMS PREVIEW
Ending on a positive note, the Buffs special teams, PC, P, and coverage units were outstanding. Colorado was ranked 24 overall in the Special teams Fremeau Efficiency Index ratings (STR), and its PFF Special Teams Grade (89.2) was the best in the PAC12 (which combines kickoff return, kickoff, punt return, punt, and field goal efficiency into one overall rating). 
Cole Becker returns and highly rated recruit
Ashton Logon is expected to step in as the punter. 
Pain Points: Punting, Logan is in his first year but is one of the nation’s top recruits
Forecast: Partly Sunny, with a chance of more sun
Podcast
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TrevMon
By TrevMon

Notes on the University of Colorado Football Program

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