Let the #NewEra begin. With the 2016 season in the rearview mirror, the defending Pac-12 South Champion Colorado Buffaloes open their 2017 campaign Wednesday with the first of fifteen spring practices. The Spring session culminates with the Spring Game on March 18 which can be seen on Pac-12 Networks.
Here are five players to keep an eye on this Spring:
STEVEN MONTEZ, QB
Under most circumstances, when a college football program loses their all-time leading passer to graduation you’d expect their offense to take a hit the following year. That won’t be the case with Colorado in 2017. The Buffs return 9 starters on offense giving “incumbent” starting quarterback Steven Montez plenty of weapons to work with. The sophomore from El Paso, Texas finished 2-1 as a starter last year filling in for oft injured starter Sefo Liufau with wins over Oregon and Oregon State. Montez (1,078 pass yards, 9 TD, 5 INT in 2016) is a gunslinger who might be more talented than Liufau, however it’ll be interesting to see if he can assume a leadership role this season. Montez will be pushed by redshirt freshman Sam Noyer and true freshman Tyler Lytle this spring.
JUWANN WINFREE, WR
With their top five receivers returning from last year’s squad, (Devin Ross, Shay Fields, Bryce Bobo, Jay MacIntyre & Kabion Ento) the Buffs might have one of the best receiving corps in the nation in 2017. But perhaps the most talented wideout returning didn’t even catch a pass in 2016. Former Maryland & Coffeyville Community College star Juwann Winfree missed last season with a torn ACL suffered in practice last August. The 6’3 wideout from Englewood, N.J. had 55 receptions for 837 yards and seven touchdowns at Coffeyville in 2015 before transferring to Colorado. Per ESPN Senior Writer Ted Miller, Steven Montez lauded Winfree as “an absolute animal” when referring to his offseason workouts.
JAVIER EDWARDS, DT
New Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers coach D.J. Eliot will have his hands full trying to replace eight starters on a Buffs defense that ranked 19th in the nation in yards allowed last season. Blinn College (Texas) standout Javier Edwards should help fill a void up front where the Buffs lost all 3 starters. ESPN.com ranked the 6’3, 330-pound defensive tackle the No. 30 junior college prospect in the 2017 class. In eight games for Blinn College last season, Edwards finished with 24 tackles, 2 sacks and 3.5 tackles for losses.
DANTE WIGLEY, CB
Despite losing cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie and Ahkello Witherspoon plus safety Tedric Thompson, the Buffs secondary may not suffer as much as you think. Junior Isaiah Oliver (25 tackles, 13 pass break-ups, INT in 2017) is back, as is senior free safety Afolabi Laguda, who started all 13 games and finished second on the team with 80 tackles. Junior college transfer Dante Wigley, who was originally recruited by Georgia Tech could also provide some help. Wigley played in all 10 games for Holmes Community College (Mississippi) last season helping the Bulldogs to their first NJCAA bowl game in 28 years. 247Sports.com ranked Wigley as the No. 4 junior college cornerback.
DAVIS PRICE, K
Colorado placekickers struggled last season going 16-for-26 (61.5%) on field goal attempts. After senior Diego Gonzalez suffered a torn Achilles against Michigan, the kicking duties fell upon Chris Graham and Davis Price. Graham was a little more consistent, however Price, a walk-on from Evergreen, Colorado might have the strongest leg to grace Folsom Field since Mason Crosby. Against Oregon State last season, Price drilled a 54-yarder on his first career attempt, the longest field goal in the nation by a freshman in 2016. If Price (4-of-6 FG, 26-of-27 PATs in 2016) can improve his consistency, the Buffs will have another solid scoring option in 2017.