The Colorado Buffaloes are in the midst of their pre-season Fall Camp. It’s a time of year for optimism, health and hype, especially since the Buffs have a few positive coaching changes. Here are three things to watch for as we head into the 2022 season.
1. Passing Game Leap
If you watched the 2021 Buffs, I’m sorry. It’s not an exaggeration to say that if not for the halcyon days of Jon Embree, it would have been the worst offense in the last 40 years of Colorado football. Thankfully this program is in a better place than in 2012, even if the best players from the offense (and defense) left for greener pastures with fatter NIL deals.
If there’s reason to be optimistic about the 2022 offense, it’s that Mike Sanford will be calling plays instead of Darrin Chiaverini. Sanford will provide a functional and consistent offensive gameplan, something his predecessor did not. (With all due respect to Chiv, a tremendous recruiter and culture-setter, but never grew into his role as OC. We wish him nothing but the best at UCLA.) The hope is that he provides a stable foundation for the skill players to grow together.
Word from Fall Camp is that sophomore QB Brendon Lewis looks significantly better than he did a year ago and that he’s favored over JT Shrout for the starting job. Lewis showed flashes of a good dual-threat QB and now the camp talk is that he’s looking more consistent and composed. If the coaches put him in a position to succeed and the offensive line is solid, Lewis should take steps forward as a passer.
Lewis (or Shrout) would surely benefit from a breakout among the receiving corps. Apart from veteran tight end Brady Russell, there are no proven contributors for the young QB to rely on. That could be a blessing in disguise, as the wide open depth chart could foster healthy competition between names such as Daniel Arias, RJ Sneed, Montana Lemonious-Craig, Chase Penry and even freshman Jordyn Tyson.
2. Get Healthy, Stay Healthy
The same as every year, injuries happen and the team will have to be prepared to fill in the gaps. But not every summer do the Buffs lose more than 20 players to the transfer portal. Colorado’s depth is solid, especially if the freshmen are as good as the reporters say they are, but there are some key areas where that could be challenged.
Running back is the big one. This time last year the Buffs had Pac-12 OPOY Jarek Broussard, veteran back Alex Fontenot and promising freshman Ashaad Clayton, Broussard is at Oregon, Clayton is at Tulane and Fontenot didn’t quite look the same after a 2020 hip injury. There’s been talk that Fontenot looks more like his old self, but the Buffs are still going to need another back to step up. That will probably be Deion Smith with some short yardage appearances from Jayle Stacks (aka baby LenDale). Or maybe RB coach Darian Hagan will strike gold yet again with an undersized freshman like Victor Venn or the star of Spring Camp, walk-on Charlie Offerdahl.
There are some individual players who need to prove their health. High profile transfers RJ Sneed (WR) and Tommy Brown (OL) are coming off minor procedures, the latter being very important because of the team’s lack of depth on the offensive line. The one I’m keeping my eye on — the one many think will be a breakout star this season — is safety Trevor Woods. Lauded as the “QB of the secondary” by Dorrell, the sophomore has been limited in practices but hopes to return to full action soon. If there’s a reason he changed his number from 42 to 43, I’m guessing it’s because this defense needs a Troy Polamalu flying around.
3. Manage (Low) Expectations
Yes, the Buffs were really bad last year, and yes, they most of their best players either graduated or transferred, and yes, their schedule is brutal, and yes, there will be pressure on Karl Dorrell if the team looks as hopeless as they did in 2021. But this season is not about the wins and losses — it’s about positive growth, optimism for the future, and a good culture being built. If the team is competitive and plays hard no matter their record, the fans will back the team and be patient.
Now, there is room for breakout performances, maybe a home upset or two, if things go right. That’s the fun thing with low expectations: as long as things are looking up long-term, anything negative is expected and anything positive is a treat.