CU Offensive Line – A Disaster … or a potential Asset?

First, the numbers.

Colorado was 109th in the nation last year in rushing, posting only 110 yards per game. The Buffs were also 116th in total offense and 119th in sacks allowed.

It would come as no surprise, then, that CU was 117th in the nation in scoring offense, putting up only 17.8 points per game.

A weak offensive line certainly contributed to these numbers.

Nowhere to go but up, right?

Colorado at least had all five of its offensive line starters coming back, so there was at least some measure of experience with which new offensive line coach Gary Bernardi could begin to build a cohesive unit.

Then the Buffs’ best offensive lineman, junior David Bakhtiari, declared for the NFL draft (going in the fourth round to the Green Bay Packers).

Next, perhaps the Buffs’ second best offensive lineman, junior Alexander Lewis, declared he was transferring to Nebraska (two days, of course, before he was arrested for assault – insert your favorite Cornhusker Lawrence Phillips joke here).

So, to summarize, the University of Colorado had one of the worst offensive lines in the nation in 2012 … and has since lost two of its best players.

Time to fold up the tents for the 2013 season? Just call every game a 45-7 forfeit, and call it good?

Not exactly.

Let’s start with the new offensive line coach … Gary Bernardi, 58, is a veteran of 32 seasons in the Division I-A (FBS) ranks, and is no stranger to the Pac-12, as he previously spent 24 of those seasons at Arizona, Southern California and UCLA. He’s coached in 366 games on college football’s top level, a number that includes 13 bowl games, five of which were the granddaddy of them all, the Rose.

Throughout his professional career, he has been involved with winning programs and successful head coaches, establishing a reputation as a sharp recruiter and developer of all-star offensive linemen, tight ends and wide receivers. Several of his players have been afforded All-American honors and over 20 of his players have gone on to play professional football. He worked on the staffs of several notable coaches, including Larry Smith, Terry Donahue, Bob Toledo and Mike Sanford. With the exception of just one season in his career, he’s always coached the entire offensive line or at least the offensive tackles.

What does Bernardi have to work with? … Taken position by position, there is some talent along the offensive line. The two words which will likely haunt the Buffs this season are “injuries” and “depth”. The Buffs don’t have any of the latter, so they must avoid the former.

Left tackle … Senior Jack Harris is slotted as the starter here, though he didn’t play the position last year (six starts at right guard; five at left tackle). Harris graded out to 80 percent or higher in nine games, with his 84.3 percent figure the third best on the team for the season (690 snaps) … Top game grade was 89.6 percent against Washington … He had 34 will-breaker blocks (similar to pancakes but harder to earn) and tied for the team lead with seven touchdown blocks … Allowed four quarterback sacks and three pressures …Started the first two games in 2011 before missing the remainder of the year with a broken ankle … Has yet to play a full season at Colorado.

Backups … Sophomore Jeromy Irwin, and …. nothing.

Left guard … Junior Kaiwi Crabb steps into the starting position which was supposed to be held by Alexander Lewis. Crabb did not play last year, suffering through a series of injuries. In 2011, as a red-shirt freshmen, Crabb saw action in all 13 games (no starts), playing the last eight games on offense in varying amounts from one to 24 snaps.  He played a total of 77 snaps on the season, and graded out to 67.5 percent.

Backups … Sophomore Jeromy Irwin (yes, the same guy who is currently the primary backup at left tackle); sophomore walk-on James Carr.

Center … Junior Gus Handler. Finally, so good news, as the Buffs have talent and depth at this position. Handler was on the watch list for the Rimington Award (most outstanding center) as a junior in 2012, and should again make the list this year … He started five games at center last season, missing the other seven due to ankle and knee injuries … While he was in there (279 snaps), he graded out to 83.5 percent, allowing a single quarterback sack and only two pressures … Top grade was 86.4 percent against Arizona State, and graded out 80 percent or higher in four of the five games … In 2011, he saw action in all 13 games and started the final ten.

Backups … Junior Daniel Munyer filled in for Handler for much of last season, and could do so again. Sophomore Brad Cotner is also available (starting one game last season at center).

Right guard … If Gus Handler can stay healthy, Daniel Munyer will stay put and be the starter at right guard. Munyer, though, did miss most of the spring with a fractured fibula, though he should be a full go by August. In 2012, Munyer started all 12 games – six at right guard and six at center, the latter due to injuries … Played the most snaps of all the offensive linemen with 785, and with 653 plus-plays, graded out to 83.2 percent for the season … Graded to 80 percent or higher in nine of 12 games, with a high of 88.6 percent against Stanford … He led the team in will-breaker blocks (essentially pancakes-plus) with 49, and tied for the lead in touchdown blocks with seven … He was not called for a penalty and allowed only two-and-a-half quarterback sacks and three pressures.

Backups … Red-shirt freshman Alex Kelley and red-shirt walk-on freshman Vincent Arvia.

Right tackle … Sophomore Stephane Nembot (6’8″, 305-pounds) is less than three years removed from being the last-minute steal from the Recruiting Class of 2012 … as a defensive end. Nembot played in 10 games on offense at right tackle last season, starting seven, and appeared in two others on the FG/PAT unit on special teams … Played 422 snaps from scrimmage, and had 30 will-breaker blocks (highest percent of those to snaps on the team) … Had five touchdown blocks … He graded out to 74.6 percent for the season, and has the potential to be the next great CU offensive lineman.

Backups … Sophomore Marc Mustoe and sophomore walk-on James Carr.

Any help coming in August? … Normally, offensive linemen make up the filler of a given recruiting Class. Normally, offensive linemen are all but guaranteed to sit out their freshmen seasons, as they bulk up in preparation for facing the strength and speed of collegiate defensive linemen.

But these are not normal times.

One offensive lineman, Gerrad Kough, was a grayshirt from the Class of 2012, enrolling this January. Kough, however, missed the spring with a foot injury.

Other recruits who signed this February could be asked to play earlier than expected include: Gunnar Graham (6’5, 305); Jonathan Huckins (6’3″, 310); Sam Kronshage (6’5″, 275); and Colin Sutton (6’5″, 295). (The Buffs did receive a commitment from a fifth offensive lineman, John Lisella, but Lisella will grayshirt, and join the team in January, 2014).

So, Colorado has the makings of a decent offensive line, but only one of the five listed starters was in the starting lineup for all 12 games last season. The backups behind those starters have very little playing experience. If the Colorado offensive line suffers any significant injuries this fall, it may not make much difference who the quarterback is, or whether the Buffs are adjusting to the new offensive scheme.

It will be another very long season …

4 Replies to “CU Offensive Line – Who’s Left?”

  1. Couple of things working in CU’s favor:

    1)No stupid NFL influences on the OL/S&C staff. Balcken expected the kids knew what to do to get in shape and stay healthy;he was there to maintain, not teach and build. Forman starts with teaching and uses techniques to build body symmetry, an injury avoidance measure. Bernardi will not beat the hell out of his starters by giving practice reps mostly to the 1’s. Further, no complex NFL schemes and calls, OL can play instead of think, which slowed them down and confused them last year.

    2) As Neuheisal reported when he was commentator for the Spring Game, this staff runs three times the number of reps in the same amount of time as Neu’s teams used to run one set of reps, just as a matter of good organizational practice. No worthless standing around watching and goofing, while somebody else learns.

    Hey, Stu how about an in-depth interview with Forman to learn the methods he uses to strengthen players and prevent injuries. He took Stanford’s techniques and successfully transplanted them to SJSU. I want to hear what he’s doing for the Buffs.

    1. Almost forgot one thing: TWO bye-weeks this season, effectively mid-season R&R (rest and rehab) and teaching mini-camps rolled into one, but twice!

      Three games-bye-three games-bye-balance of season.

      1. Good points. One other potentially mitigating factor is that, with the new style of offense, the linemen will not be required to hold their blocks as long, hopefully mitigating any disadvantages of size and strength.

        We’ll see about an interview with Foreman. Most of the coaches are out doing high school evaluations in May, and then they get there only real vacations in June. But as the season gets closer, I’m sure we’ll see features on most of the new staff.

        1. Thanks. Don’t forget Forman as S&C coach, is the one coach allowed regular contact with players over the summer. He’ll be in Boulder as he is not an on-the-road recruiter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *