Colorado held it’s 2018 fall media day on Sunday. Here’s what stood out to us.
Takeaways from Buffs Media Day
1. New Philosophy in the Secondary
Colorado opted to do something in the offseason that not many teams do when they hired former Buff Ashley Ambrose to be their cornerbacks coach. The move allowed the Buffs to split up the coaching responsibilities in the secondary between Ambrose and second year passing game coordinator ShaDon Brown.
As someone who has played cornerback both collegiately and in the NFL - and coached them his entire career - Ambrose is also someone who can take some of the pressure off of Brown. After all, Brown is a jack-of-all trades, having played the linebacker position in college and coached it as well.
“It’s very beneficial to have two coaches in that secondary room because a lot of times you’re playing five DB’s out there, and so you have the corner’s and the safeties and their skillsets are so different and what they have to work on is individual and the expertise in that area,” Coach MacIntyre said.
The move seems to benefit the Buffs as it allows them to give position specific coaching to cornerbacks and safeties in the secondary, which in many cases doesn’t even happen at the next level. Ambrose can break down the x’s and o’s of the position, while Brown can focus on the logistics of the secondary as it pertains to the rest of the defense. Overall, this should be a move that benefits the Buffs.
2. Drake Brings Change of Tempo
The Buffs achilles heel all of last season seemed to be their rush defense. A large part of that started up front with a defensive line that was plagued by lackluster play and inconsistency. Colorado decided to change the tempo in Boulder by bringing in one of the best up-and-coming young coaches in the offseason in 32-year-old Kwahn Drake.
Sitting at 25 years younger than his predecessor, Jim Jeffcoat, Drake is a guy that brings an unparalleled sense of passion, energy, and enthusiasm to the table. Just watching Drake coach his guys up in practice, you can see the light in his eyes that allowed him to rise up the coaching ranks so quickly.
“It’s the fundamentals and the details really,” Drake said. “The biggest thing is it isn’t about last year, it’s about now. It’s all about us, focusing on the details and getting those guys fundamentally in the best position right now. We train to a standard - not wins or losses - so making sure we get the little things right. Making sure guys hands are right, their eyes are right and just doing the little things.”
Early indications are looking up for Drake, at this point it’s just about proving himself capable of turning this unit around once the season kicks off in a few weeks.
3. Defensive Line Still Wide Open
While we’re talking about Drake (no not the rapper), playing time on the defensive line is still up for grabs. As it stands right now, there is no set rotation or definitive starters at any of the positions along the line. Nose Tackle Javier Edwards - who came into camp this year in much better shape - and Senior Chris Mulumba are penciled in as starters for the moment, and expected to take the next step as seniors. However, how long they hold down a starting job and how many snaps they play is still open.
Redshirt freshman Terrance Lang and transfer Mustafa Johnson have both made large strides in their game since spring ball, and true freshman highly coveted recruit Israel Antwine should be in the mix as well.
Overall this a unit that should see a lot fluidity and improvement over the course of the season that comes from the high level of competition at the position. If they’re able to play up their potential, the pass rush and run defense will be much improved in 2018.
4. Wideout is Absolutely Loaded
Even though the Buffs lost three starters at wide receiver to the pros, it doesn’t seem like they’re lacking on talent. While most of the guys in line to start this year aren’t proven at the position, all signs are looking up for the group to take the next step as a whole. Both KD Nixon and LaViska Shenault have excellent football instincts and IQ - something that was put on display today through several highlight reel catches during practice - and senior JuWann Winfree seems primed for a breakout season.
One of the things that’ll be crucial in maximizing their usefulness will by the play calling of Darrin Chiaverini in his first year calling the shots. Chiaverini - who’s made a mark at his alma mater in Boulder for his excellent recruiting ability and creative play ideas - has relied a lot on seasoned SEC offensive coordinator and current quarterback coach Kurt Roper for advice. One of the things that he’s learned about play calling is that it all starts up front on the offensive line.
“We have talent on the field, and now it’s our job as coaches to get them going doing the right things,” Chiaverini said. “Working with (Coach Roper) has been awesome, he knows what’s been good for him, what’s been bad for him, especially with protection. That’s what’s important and that’s where I really lean on him a little bit, like hey ‘how can we protect Steven a little bit better?’
5. Mac Looking to Improve
While it’s expected that players make adjusts from year-to-year, it’s often forgotten that coaches are supposed to improve too. Reflecting back on last season, Coach MacIntyre wasn’t shy when talking about his shortcomings and areas where he could improve. In doing so, he tried to relate his own situation to media members and people across other industries.
“All of y’all that do your jobs, when you write your articles, when you prepare everything, you put pressure on yourself to be the best you can be. And you look at something and say I can do this better or you may talk to a colleague in the business and get an idea from them, so you always want to get better,” MacIntyre said.
As he enters his sixth season in Boulder, he acknowledged that there were times when he looked in the mirror, talked to other people in the profession, and thought about different ways he could actively improve his coaching. With such a abundance of talent across the board, and years of head coaching experience under his belt, it’s only expected that Coach Mac gets better from here.
6. Steven Montez Maturing Exponentially
A lot of the early buzz at training camp has been around quarterback Steven Montez, and for good reason. He plays the most important position on the field, has a year’s experience as the starter under his belt, and was paired with Eli Manning and Thad Lewis’s quarterback coach. One of the most popular sayings of spring ball from MacIntyre was that the redshirt junior graduated from “Algebra to Calculus” during the offseason. Not only has Montez matured on the field, but off it as well.
If the Buffs are going to improve in 2018, Montez will have to be a large piece of the puzzle. Part of his improvement has revolved around slowing the game down and not trying to be the hero every play, something that Coach Chiaverini has noticed him doing thus far:
“Last year what you would see (Steven) do is if number one wasn’t open, he’d still hang on number one and try to force the ball, try to back shoulder and make a great throw, instead of going number two or three in his progression reads” Chiaverini said. “This year, I’ve been pleased with how fast he processes things and makes decisions now.”
With the amount of talent Colorado has on offense, Steven just has to keep up the good work and good things will happen.