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Colorado Football 2019 Offense Preview

What will the offense look like with a new coordinator?

NCAA Football: Arizona State at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Since it’s inception, Colorado Football has won a conference championship in every decade (if we don’t count the 1950s, which we shouldn’t because it undermines my point). CU is a generally consistent program by cycling quickly through the inconsistency. The down cycles usually lead to rebounds with a coaching change or an uptick and recruiting.

Except for recent history. Recently, Colorado has been consistently bad. Since 2005, they’ve been to two bowls. Since 2005, they’ve had one winning season. Bad hire after bad hire, along with a conference change and budget constraints, meant that CU has been less than their normal selves.

This is the last year. This is the last year CU has to win a conference championship in the 2010s. Will it happen?

No, but it should be a fun year, nonetheless. Now that we’ve covered the historical perspective on this year, let’s look at the now. There is a new coach in Boulder for the first time in 6 years. His name is Mel Tucker, and he has aced his first impression. He’s hitting every new coach cliché that you’d like to see. CU will be better conditioned, faster, more physical. They will be aggressive on defense and push the issue on offense. Every new coach in every new coach press conference says something along those lines. Tucker might mean it this time. He quickly added some beef along the lines, he’s using the tight end (!!!!), and he brought in his guys to run Nick Saban/Kirby Smart’s defense, which is definitely athletic and attacking.

The best part about this season is I have little idea how it will go. It’s a tough schedule, but a new coach is a variable added to the equation that is just impossible to account for. For the first time since I starting writing, I don’t have a pattern of behavior to blanket over the schedule. There is no familiar-looking CU team for me to look for. It’s all new. I can make some guesses, like Laviska Shenault being good, but I can’t do much more past that. It’s all new, and therefore, all fun! Let’s dig in.

Quarterback

It’s an offseason of uncertainty for the Colorado Buffaloes. Lots of unknowns, lots of questions. It should be applauded, lauded, and praised, then, that CU has such a sure thing on the offensive side of the ball. Mel Tucker gets to walk in to Boulder with a fifth year senior at QB who has started multiple years. And that quarterback gets to throw to the best WR in the country (fite me, Bama). For a team and a program that seems to be on shaky ground, there is comfort in those two pillars. Stability. You could build a small, single-family cabin with those two pillars.

At this point in his career, Steven Montez is who he is. He has been full of potential for five of his five years as a college quarterback. The potential is still there, and who knows, maybe his third QB coach in three years will unlock some potential. But unfortunately for Montez, it’s also his third QB coach in three years. That instability has to hurt. Learning his third offensive scheme in three years has to hurt. Montez has been given no favors. He also hasn’t risen to his supreme talent level.

Montez is a good quarterback. At times, Steven is a great quarterback. He can make every throw in the book, he takes a lot of hits, and he can make plays with his legs. But, for some reason, it seems like he does all that at 80%. He can make every throw, but he never has a game when 100% on. He takes a lot of hits, but then he gets spooked in the pocket. He can make plays with his legs, but then he scrambles on consecutive plays when he doesn’t have to. It’s the small things that haven’t pushed him to a new echelon. Will Jay Johnson and hard work take him there? I’m skeptical, but he has every ability to do it.

Running Back

Let’s move to the biggest question mark on the offense, running back. Pretty much all experience is gone. Travon McMillian is in the NFL. Kyle Evans is somewhere being awesome. Beau Bisharat is now a tight end. That leaves less than 10 carries returning, all from Alex Fontenot. The sophomore is listed at number one on the depth chart for the season opener, for good reason. He can read the blocking, pick up pass protection, and do everything reasonably well. Fontenot can definitely burn, but it’s hard to know exactly what he provides.

Jaren Mangham, the number two back, is a little definitive. He is 6’2, over 200 pounds, and has some speed. Mangham will wear down defenses. Even as a true freshman, he is physically built for contact. The Ham Champion will run over some people and I would bet he takes the starting job sooner rather than later. Deion Smith is another interesting proposition. Smith is tall and lean and glides up the field. He is smooth and fast and has some nice hands out of the backfield. If Fontenot is a classic horse, Mangham a rhino, and Smith a gazelle, then Jarek Broussard is a lightning bug. He’s the shortest of the bunch, at 5’9. But he is quick as hell and catches passes naturally out of the backfield. Broussard may not play as much as the other three, but he is a great change of pace.

Wide Receiver

Wide receiver is more than Laviska Shenault. We already know what he can do. The man has his picture in the dictionary under, “what if Von Miller played wide receiver?” I have a weird dictionary. Shenault has been covered, successfully by the media and unsuccessfully by the opposing players. It’s hard to add anything to the symphony. He is good, unbelievably good, and I hope to God he stays healthy.

We should talk about the other guys. KD Nixon has had a great two years, and his third should build on his strengths. He has always been a bit of a contradictory player. He has slot receiver height and boundary receiver weight, and he always seems to be open 40 yards downfield. Nixon has the versatility to line up inside, outside, and even in the backfield for the Buffs, and he has taken on a vocal leadership role for this wide receiver group. He may be 5’8 on a good day, but he is tough to bring down and quick as lightning. I expect him to get a lot of run this year.

Dimitri Stanley appears to have seized the slot receiver role, which is great news for CU. Stanley has elite athleticism (as shown by him being named the starting punt returner) and is sure-handed down the middle. If he can provide half of the security blanket that Jay MacIntyre did, he will be a success, because he has game-breaking speed.

Senior Tony Brown can be forgotten in this young and exciting group, and also because he’s so consistent he’s almost invisible. You can count on Brown to catch four balls and gain 50 yards every game, with those catches leading to first downs. That’s important. He is a deep threat and a great possession receiver, and someone with his reliability and catch radius can help any team. In this new scheme, two or three receivers will be the norm, so now we get to the platoon of backups.

Daniel Arias is most likely the first off the bench. You may remember him from the Washington game, where his first collegiate catch was a touchdown. He is massive, at 6’4, and can run easily. Arias will compete hard on special teams and will likely get a large amount of snaps on offense. A lot of people have money on him being the next WR to break out for the Buffs.

I could so much further down the line to talk about CU wide receivers, which is a testament to Darrin Chiaverini’s recruiting, but I’ll end at a personal favorite, Maurice Bell. The man keeps showing out during scrimmage or live period action. He is so freaking smooth. Bell offers something a little different than the rest of the group. While there are freak athletes, burners, and technicians, no one moves better than Maurice does. Everything looks effortless. He glides in and out of routes and every step has a purpose. Watch for him to steal playing time this year.

Tight Ends

WORDS CANNOT CONTAIN HOW EXCITED I AM THAT I CAN SPLIT THE TIGHT ENDS IN TO THEIR OWN PARAGRAPH. I’ve had to tack them the past few years a cheap knock off of the offensive line, but no longer. Mel Tucker has brought them back, in a big way. The depth chart for the tight end position goes 5 SCHOLARSHIPS DEEP. This is unheard of. You will see a lot of this position in 2019.

Brady Russell, even with increased competition, kept his starting spot. He is exactly what he looks like – 6’2 and strong as hell. He blocks like an ox, he runs like an ox, and he catches like an ox with good gloves. He’ll line up as H-back, tight end, and even fullback in this offense, and he’ll do well at both. He’s a well-rounded weapon for this team.

The presumed starter this offseason, Jalen Harris, grad transferred from Auburn and he’ll play almost as much as Russell. He has a more traditional frame, standing at 6’5 and around 250 pounds. He was a blocker at Auburn, but part of the reason he’s at CU is for the chance to catch more balls. I would bet he shows up quite a bit in the red zone. Harris is athletic, solid, and should line up in-line most of the time.

Third in line is Beau Bisharat, the most experienced running back on the roster and now the most-experienced H-back on the roster. He will be in-line and in the backfield, and his nice size and speed should be great for pass catching out of the backfield. And who can forget his lead blocking for Steven Montez and Sefo Liufau under Brian Lindgren? He should be solid.

Jared Poplawski and Darrion Jones are both unknowns. They are both tall, receiving threats that should show up in the red zone. Anything past that will be a pleasant surprise. I’m just glad that CU has real tight ends and a tight end coach.

Offensive Line

Now we get to the most important unit – the offensive line. Before we go any further, let’s all reckon with a simple fact about 2018: The Colorado Buffaloes offensive line was not good in 2018. Last year was a mixture of young talent and old mediocrity, combined with an O-line coach that had great theories but few answers led to problems. There was a lot of mix and matching. None of those mixes or matches worked for very long. But be happy! 2019 has a whole different vibe.

Klayton Adams is gone, replaced by Chris Kapilovic. Kapilovic is about as proven as you can get for an offensive line coach, and comes to Boulder after 7 years of coaching UNC’s lines to great success. Now that Larry Fedora is fired and Mack Brown brought his own guys, Chris Kapilovic is available and Mel Tucker snapped him up. He immediately bulked up the offensive line and is apparently much more fiery compared to the previous coach. Does that mean that the line play will immediately jump to average? Probably not, at least not on its own. Luckily, the talent has jumped, too.

Arlington Hambright is a godsend at LT. A fifth-year senior who has taken live snaps for a Power 5 program and not messed it up just waltzed into Boulder. That’s proof God is on the Buffs’ side. He instantly shores up that spot and allows William Sherman, who filled in admirably as a true freshman, to move to the more natural right tackle position. The 6’3 OL has gained 25-30 pounds since last year and hopefully has retained all of his special athleticism. He should be an upper-level Pac-12 starter at that spot and will pave the way for whatever running back gets the carries. The interior of the line is much more solid.

Colby Pursell has moved from center to guard, and has similarly bulked up after being a little light in his redshirt freshman year. He should be a consistent player for CU that can shuffle on the inside as needed. Tim Lynott moves to center after fully recovering from his Achilles injury, and his last year should be a good one. He is always been a barrel-chested behemoth, but now his size at center should let him bully some dudes around. His snaps in the past have been shaky, so we’ll see if he has progressed to a competent level.

Finally, after a lengthy battle for the opposite guard spot, Kary Kutsch has won and will be taking the first snaps on August 30. He played some last year, mostly against New Hampshire, and he has more than enough size for the job. The worry with Kutsch is his athleticism and if he can handle the more athletic DL he comes across. Backing him up is Casey Roddick, a promising player who grayshirted to drop some weight before coming to Boulder. He has slimmed down, muscled up, and will be a plus relief player. It’s a much rosier picture.

Offensive Coordinator

Now, let’s talk a bit about scheme. It’s Jay Johnson’s first year at the helm. He has previously called players for Minnesota and Louisiana Lafayette, and I have looked for any available clip I could find for his offense. We know a few things that will change:

  • Tempo will vary
  • Run game will be used more
  • Tight ends are very important

All of this is music to my ears. Looking at Johnson’s past, he often puts one or both tight ends along the line or in the backfield. This gives him more size and versatility, and can mask the play a bit more. It does, however, sacrifice speed and space (who cares, I love my extra blockers). Johnson thrives with a mobile quarterback that can act as an extra runner at times (check), multipurpose weapons on offense (check), and a physical offensive line that can lean on teams (yikes). I would bet that CU slows it way down this year and plays some Barnett-ball. Man I’m excited to run over teams again.