Colorado head coach Deion Sanders has built the most talented roster in Colorado’s recent history. When he arrived in Boulder, he scratched the entire team and rebuilt it from the ground up. While doing so, he brought in players that have truly stepped up big time while starters have battled injuries.
Freshman wide receiver Omarion Miller boomed in the second half on Saturday against USC, performing so well that he earned himself Pac-12 Freshman of the Week honors for the first time in his young career. Not only was it his first honor, but he caught his first career catch in the third quarter and ended up with seven catches for 196 yards.
Losing combo wide receiver and cornerback Travis Hunter proved to be detrimental to the Buffs against both Oregon and USC. However, Miller demonstrated not only his abilities, but his flexibility to step up when needed most. Without Miller in the second half, the final score would never have been as close as it ended up being.
It would be a huge mistake to ignore Miller’s talents once Travis Hunter is back and rearing to go. Hunter is maybe the best cornerback in the country and a fantastic wide receiver to boot. While Miller won’t take his spot, he will certainly be battling for snaps in that Z receiver spot alongside Hunter. He has the talent, he just needs to be consistent and focused to compete in this elite receiving corps.
With safeties Myles Slusher and Shilo Sanders out with injury, Cam’Ron Silmon-Craig has been a fantastic replacement. With an interception against USC, Silmon-Craig now leads the Pac-12 with 3 interceptions in 4 games. Considering how star-studded this Colorado team is, most people probably didn’t think that Silmon-Craig would be the most promising player on the team this far into the season. But somehow, he is outshining nearly every other defensive player. Don’t expect him to slow down anytime soon.
There hasn’t a lot of information reported about Slusher or Sanders respective injuries, but both were seen practicing this week. With that being said, some would assume that Silmon-Craig would get moved to the back burner. That might not be the case. Silmon-Craig dominated while Shilo and Slusher were out with injury and has arguably been the best all-around defensive player this season. Time will tell what role he plays moving forward — will Slusher move to the outside, or supplant Silmon-Craig at nickel? — but the Jackson State transfer has earned his playing time.
Going into the USC game, Cormani McClain was listed as third on the depth-chart. As a five-star recruit, expectations of McClain were high and people expected him to be a starter pretty soon into his career. Yet Coach Deion Sanders has made comments about his lack of preparation.
During a press conference when asked how freshman can get more playing time, Sanders said, “Study and prepare. Be on time for meetings, show up to meetings. Understand what we’re doing as a scheme. Want to play this game. Desire to play this game. Desire to be the best in this game, at practice, in film room and on your own.”
While this statement is directed toward all freshman, it would help explain the lack of playing time for McClain. He must’ve taken the comment to heart, as he was on the field putting pressure on the USC offense throughout the game Saturday.
Assuming that he continues to attend practices and meetings, McClain has shown that he is ready for the big stage. Similar to Omarion Miller, McClain won’t start over Travis Hunter once he returns. If the freshman hopes to start, he’s going to be compete with starting cornerback Omarion Cooper, who is more experienced and more consistent at this stage in their careers. But the chance is there for McClain to prove his maturity and battle for playing time.
While absences to players like Hunter and Shilo Sanders have been painful, it has shown us that Coach Prime can count on some studs to step up when needed. The Buffs have crumbled without players like Miller, Silmon-Craig and McClain, especially in that loss to USC where their will to win was far more than anyone anticipated. It’s unclear what roles each of these three will play in the future, but that’s a good problem to have when you’re competing at Colorado’s level.