It’s impossible not to like Mitch Rodrigue. If you asked a cartoonist to dream up what an offensive line coach would look and sound like, you’d get pretty damn close to Rodrigue. The barrel of a man speaks in a Louisiana drawl that immediately makes you like him, even as he’s tearing you a new one for not keeping technique.
Rodrigue came out of nowhere (well actually, he came out of an AD position at a Texas high school) to put together a pretty good unit for the Buffs. Through some pretty terrible injury luck, Rodrigue made sure his guys were more physical and more technical than anyone else’s. This unit worked together and pushed piles. Pass blocking was not their strong suit, but that’s not what they are designed for. One of Mitch Rodrigue’s maxims is “don’t take any false steps.” While many offensive line coaches teach that pass blocking should start with a side step or a reposition, Rodrigue says that any step that’s not going forward is a waste. Personally, that speaks to me. I want the Buffs to run the damn ball, I want them to have a massive line, and I want to push people around. Can we do that this year?
The problems and potential start with the left tackle position. After Will Sherman left for the draft last year, there was no clear replacement at the LT spot. So Karl Dorrell went to the Ohio State Buckeyes to pluck Max Wray. The older brother of a one-time four star recruit for the Buffs, Jake, the tackle was a great band-aid. He got banged up at the end of camp, but Max Wray looks the part. He is all of 6’6 and 300 pounds, and he can really move. He played one game at RT for the Buckeyes last year, and will move over to the left side for the Buffs. Similar to Arlington Hambright, he comes into Boulder ready to roll.
On the right side, we have a interesting situation brewing. Frank Filip is expected to take that position again in 2021 after excelling in 2020. However, he tore his labrum in the spring, so he will likely sit out the non-conference as he recovers. That allows Jake Wiley to step into that spot. Wiley came in as a skinny tall kid from Cherokee Trail High School. Now, he’s bulked up and appears ready to step in as needed. In fact, he’s listed as the starter at LEFT tackle on the opening depth chart (please don’t put much stock in that). Wiley is up past 6’4 standing and he is around 300 pounds. His big gift coming out of high school was quick feet, and we hope that shows up in the games. Filip will be a welcome return, for stability if anything.
The interior of the line is much more set in place. In fact, I think this one of the best line interiors in the country. Seemingly win his 15th year, Colby Pursell is back from injury and anchoring the line at center. Pursell has always had the smarts for the position and he has slowly molded himself into a monster. Over 300 pounds now, with plenty of experience, he is a complete luxury for a team like the Buffs. Pursell should have a big year in 2021, with running mates as big and as old as he is. At left guard, we have Kary Kutsch. The lion-maned man played just about everywhere for the Buffs so far, but he has settled in at right guard. Kutsch has long arms that lock into place when he pulls and identifies that linebacker that needs to be pushed out of the play. He is definitely the best option at left guard, so you have to hope he stays healthy. On the other side of the center you have a revolving door. That sounds terrible, but it’s because there’s plenty of good options. Kanan Ray was an Army All-American out of high school and hasn’t found a home until year. At right guard, he has tackle level feet and plenty of size. Ray also plays with a mean streak that you love to see in your offensive lineman. Casey Roddick has been rehabbing his injury, but he was cleared just before fall camp and has been working his way into the rotation at right guard. Roddick has always had the size (he’s probably closer to 330 pounds), but injuries and movement have been the two issues to worry about with him. As he works himself back from injury, we will see more and more of him this year.
Now, we get to the depth of this line. This year, that should be a strength. Chance Lytle can and has played about every position on the line, and we will see him at right tackle early in the year. Lyle has plenty of size and experience. Behind him, we have exciting young players like Carson Lee and Austin Jackson. Both of those Colorado products can play any position along the middle of the line. Josh Jynes, in his 3rd year, will be back-up at center. All in all, there are plenty of experienced bodies that are ready to step in as needed. Two injuries to the tackles have already occurred, and you have to hope that’s when they stop this year. Health is key for this unit.