From the Inside Out

Colorado picked up its second offensive line commit from the Recruiting Class of 2015 this weekend, when three-star prospect Tim Lynott from Aurora gave his verbal commitment to become a Buff. Lynott joins Dillon Middlemiss from Westminster on CU’s list of future Buffs, giving Mike MacIntyre and his staff not only two offensive line commits, but two of the top four players from the State of Colorado from the Class of 2015. Two of CU’s three other commits – defensive lineman T.J. Fehoko and defensive end/outside linebacker N.J. Falo – are also players who will see much of their careers spent in the trenches of college football.

Getting top offensive and defensive line commits may not always make for splash headlines in the recruiting world, but it is where Colorado needs to start.

If history has proven anything in CU history, its that the Buffs are best when they are built from the inside out.

Colorado has a long history of producing successful offensive linemen. According to CU SID Dave Plati, CU, dating back to the 1991 NFL draft (the 1987 recruiting Class), has had 28 of 37 players who started at least two years along the Buff offensive line either drafted or picked up by an NFL team as a free agent. Included on that list are three players taken in the last four drafts – Nate Solder (1st round, 2011); Ryan Miller (5th round, 2012); and David Bakhtiari (4th round, 2013). Those three, however, are the only three offensive lineman drafted into the NFL in the past 12 years.

The drought is even more pronounced along the defensive front. Since Tyler Brayton was taken by the Oakland Raiders as a first round pick in the 2003 NFL draft, only one CU defensive lineman has heard his name called on draft day (Abraham Wright, 7th round pick by Miami in 2007).

Statistics, as you might guess, bear out CU’s drought in producing success in the trenches.

Since the Buffs last went to a bowl game in 2007, Colorado has ranked in the bottom third in Division 1-A in rushing every season, with four of the past five seasons spent in triple digits nationally. If you can bear to read the numbers, they are as follows: 86th in the nation in rushing in 2008; 113th in 2009; 85th in 2010; 106th in 2011; 109th in 2012; and 108th last fall.

The story is equally bleak when it comes to stopping the run. Even after the move to the “pass-happy” Pac-12, Colorado continued to suffer in rushing defense. The numbers: 86th nationally in 2008; 80th in 2009; 48th in 2010 (when the Buffs ranked 110th against the pass); 89th in 2011; 115th in 2012; and 101st in Mike MacIntyre’s first year in Boulder.

There are other statistical categories – sacks for an against; total offense and defense; scoring offense and defense – which paint the same bleak picture … but you get the idea.

How can the Buffs turn those numbers around?

The first step, of course, is to recruit warm bodies – preferably large warm bodies.

The first two recruits to commit to the Buffs after Mike MacIntyre was introduced as the new CU head coach in December, 2012, were defensive linemen – Timothy Coleman and Markeis Reed. In MacIntyre’s first full Class, the Recruiting Class of 2014, Colorado signed six defensive linemen and five offensive linemen, with those 11 players making up almost half of the Signing Day list of 23 new Buffs.

The influx of players was necessary as Colorado has been (forever, it seems) perilously thin in terms of depth along both lines. Buff fans will recall how there have been several spring games over the past few seasons which were not actually spring games but spring scrimmages, solely because Colorado did not have enough healthy players along the lines to field two teams.

That tide, though, has seemingly turned.

Colorado was actually able to redshirt a number of offensive and defensive linemen this past year. Gerrad Kough, Jonathan Huckins, Sam Kronshage, Colin Sutton and John Lisella along the offensive line, and Derek McCartney, Markeis Reed, and Timothy Coleman along the defensive line, were all able to spend last fall bulking up and learning the CU system, rather than be forced to play against Pac-12 talent four months out of high school.

First step – having enough players to actually field a team – has been accomplished.

The second step in the process is to recruit better talent along the lines.

Taking nothing away from the current players on the roster, but, if the pundits are to be believed, the first full Class recruited by Mike MacIntyre was not an all-star lineup. Of the 11 players signed this past February who are designated to play in the trenches only four – defensive linemen Michael Mathewes and Eddy Lopez and offensive linemen Isaac Miller and Sully Wiefels – were given even three-star designations by Rivals. The remaining seven players were either two-star recruits or were unrated by the service.

Which means that the recruiting for the Class of 2015 has taken a step up, if only in their ratings. Instead of having four of 11 lineman recruits being in the three-star range, Colorado is currently four-for-four in collecting three-star recruits, as Lynott, Middlemiss, Falo and Fehoko are all considered to be three-star prospects.

Slight progress, arguably, but progress nonetheless.

The final step is to see progress in recruiting turn into results on the field.

The problem, of course, is that for teams to have success in the trenches, it takes years to develop adequate depth and talent. Offensive and defensive linemen, with few exceptions, are better off sitting out their freshmen campaigns, and using their undergraduate years to build themselves up, both physically and mentally.

Colorado is building adequate depth along the offensive line, with a good mix of upperclassmen and lowerclassmen in the mix for this fall. The Buffs have only two offensive linemen who are seniors (Daniel Munyer and Kaiwi Crabb), a good mix of juniors with starting experience (Stephane Nembot, Brad Cotner, and Marc Mustoe – plus the addition of junior college transfer Sully Wiefels), and two potential starters who are sophomores (Jeromy Irwin and Alex Kelley). Thrown in the list of red-shirt freshmen mentioned above, to go with the two three-star home grown players already enlisted for the Class of 2015, and CU has the makings of a stable and productive offensive line going forward.

The defensive line is more problematical. Colorado has only one senior along the defensive front – Juda Parker – and has question marks amongst its juniors. Justin Solis and Samson Kafovalu both sat out the spring for academic reasons (if the chatter is correct, Solis is likely to be back; Kafovalu is not), leaving Josh Tupou and Tyler Henington as the only other upperclassmen along the defensive line. Jimmie Gilbert played as a true freshmen this past year, so Colorado is going to have to hope some of its unproven players – sophomores De’Jon Wilson and Leo Jackson (a junior college transfer) or the red-shirt freshmen McCartney, Reed, and Coleman – can show they are ready to face top 25 competition on a regular basis. It may take another recruiting cycle or two before CU’s defensive line depth chart is stabilized.

No one will argue that you don’t need a top flight quarterback and quality “skill position” players to make an offense function properly.

No one will argue that having star linebackers and excellent cover cornerbacks won’t help make a defense stronger.

But it is in the trenches that programs ultimately are built and maintained.

The commitments of Tim Lynott and Dillon Middlemiss are promising for several reasons. Keeping in-state talent home is encouraging. Signing players who have visited and who had offers from schools like Oregon and Arizona State gives CU fans reason for optimism going forward that MacIntyre & Co. can recruit competitively in the Pac-12.

But Lynott, Middlemiss, Falo and Fehoko, while quality recruits, will not – should not – be on the field for Colorado in 2015.

They should be red-shirting, building themselves up as Colorado rebuilds its program …

… from the inside out.



3 Replies to “From the Inside Out”

    1. Another Home Run from both sides of the plate Stuart. Do you actually have time to work or do you have a bunch of para’s doing gopher work? (None of my bid-ness, either. Please excuse a dumb question). Just glad someone of your caliber can stay on top of everything and pass along such insightful and interesting facts. Thanks.

      1. Thanks for the kind words.
        As to the office, I don’t exactly have a large staff. Katie is my secretary, office manager, paralegal, and, the title she prefers, “legal assistant”. Katie’s been with me for over 25 years, so we do have a pretty well-refined system in place (I should also mention that I have a verrrry understanding wife, who doesn’t mind her husband’s obsession).

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