As football season inches closer and closer, Buffs fans got a little taste of what is in store with the team’s only open practice/scrimmage this past Saturday. The scrimmage consisted of a rather simple offensive scheme, and just a few drives with the starters in. That being said there was still plenty of intriguing and important moments throughout, and I’ll break a few of them down for you here.
Defense Holds Strong
Colorado figures to have an explosive offense this year, potentially one of the best in the country. It was only natural to think that they would be a step ahead of a talented but raw defense that graduated 9 starters (with several landing on NFL rosters), along with a defensive staff that underwent significant turnover. However, that was not the case. The first team defense was able to stifle the offense several times throughout the day. Rifle’s own Ryan Moeller intercepted Steven Montez very early in the practice, and the D also made two stops in the red zone. Isaiah Oliver played incredible, as he made several pass breakups in coverage. He is an amazing cover corner, and I truly believe he will end up being one of the top defensive players in the country this season. Another player that stood out was Tim Coleman. He was wreaking havoc all day for the offensive line. He ended up with one sack, but he was putting consistent pressure on Montez throughout. The Buffaloes lost their best pass rusher from last year, Jimmie Gilbert, to graduation, and Coleman looks like he is poised to help fill the void left by Gilbert. Rick Gamboa is the clear vocal leader of the defense. He is a fun player to watch, and his instincts are second to none. Look for him to be among the leaders in the conference in tackles. There were no glaring weaknesses on defense for the Buffs, and I think I speak for many fans when I say that I was very impressed by their overall performance.
On offense, Montez rebounded well from throwing the early interception. Phillip Lindsay played only a couple of snaps, and it appears that Michael Adkins has a firm grip on the backup running back position. He looked solid, and he broke off a few impressive runs. Seeing Juwann Winfree in this offense was quite the experience too. He is massive. He high pointed a couple of really nice catches, most notably a touchdown in the back of the end zone from Sam Noyer. The offense was a little stagnant at times, but there should be no cause for concern. The Buffaloes will be incredible on offense in 2017.
Special Teams Rollercoaster
James Stefanou was brought in from Australia this past year to sure up Colorado’s shaky kicker situation. It was a glaring problem last year, and the complete lack of consistency from the duo of kickers caused much frustration. Unfortunately, the 31-year old Stefanou did not do much to alleviate those frustrations on Saturday. He ended the day 2-4 with all four kicks coming from inside of 35 yards. He rung his first two kicks off the uprights, while the next two were made comfortably. It is clear that he has a big leg, but the two misses on what should be basically chip shots is not great. For now, we can chalk it up to it being early in the year, and he still has time to make improvements. It will be an interesting storyline to follow throughout the year though. Despite these early struggles, I still have high hopes that he can become an adequate kicker for the Buffs.
Meanwhile, Coach MacIntyre has been singing high praises for junior punter Alex Kinney. He did not have a very good season last year, and punting killed the Buffs several times in 2016 (and might have cost them an upset in the Big House). On Saturday, he proved Coach Mac’s acclaim of him to be warranted. Kinney only punted a handful of balls with no one pressuring, but the hang time and distance on all of them was very good. Of course, it is meaningless what Kinney does without an opposing special teams unit bull rushing him, but at least we were able to see that the leg talent is there. If Kinney and Stefanou can perform at a Pac 12 level that would be a huge improvement from last year, where seemingly every special teams play scared the bejesus out of me and fellow Buffs fans alike.
Young Talent On Full Display
As expected, the starters only got a few drives worth of reps, so fans were able to get their first look at some of the young Buffs that figure to have bright careers. The Buffs seem to be in good hands at quarterback in the foreseeable future, as Sam Noyer looked really good when he was captaining the offense. The highlight of his day was when he delivered a strike down the right sideline for a long touchdown to Kabion Ento. True freshman Alex Fontenot busted off a long run, and fellow freshman Laviska Sheanault made a really nice and physical catch for a touchdown in the corner of the endzone. Jaylon Jackson looked impressive too, until he sustained an unfortunate and gruesome ankle injury that will sideline him this season.
Colorado also showcased lots of young pedigree on the defensive side of the ball. Most notably was Dante Sparaco who took many reps with the first team defense at outside linebacker and more than held his own. Although this spot will be occupied by Dereck McCartney during the season (who was held out of the scrimmage for precautionary reasons), Sparaco’s run with the starters shows the confidence the staff has in him. I would not be at all surprised to see him get some snaps out there during the regular season. Linebacker Jacob Callier made a very athletic play to intercept a pass, and inside linebacker Jonathan Van Diest also looked at home in the Buffs defense. He will be a phenomenal player one day for the Buffs. I fell in love with the 2016 recruiting class, and seeing several of those players shine in the scrimmage should give CU fans lots of hope for the future.
There was a lot to be excited about following the scrimmage. The defense was really impressive, and again, the offense should be nails this year. 2017 should be an exciting year all around, and it cannot come soon enough. Just over three weeks from now is when it all starts, and the Buffs will get the chance to impose their will on little brother.