CU’s Backup Plan – Offense

Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre has yet to release an updated depth chart, preferring to keep his “pencil depth chart” in place with less than two weeks to go before the opener against Hawai’i.

“We’ve been working with everybody because we have to have backups everywhere,”  MacIntyre said, “but we’ll kind of start narrowing that down, getting a little bit more game specific as we go along.”

Even without the updated depth chart, many of the starters are known. What is good news for the Buff Nation is that the names of the backups are names with experience and talent. “I’m confident in the fact that when we put somebody in depth-wise, they’ve played,” MacIntyre said. “To me, that always makes a difference. You’ve been in a situation before.”

With much of the two-deep in place, we can take a look at how well the Buffs’ depth has improved heading into the 2015 season.



Starter … Sefo Liufau

Backup … Jordan Gehrke. Started in one game (Oregon), and played in three others (Arizona State, USC, Arizona) completing 20-of-44 passes for 170 yards (no touchdowns or interceptions). Gehrke hasn’t out-shone Liufau when he has been given the reins, but he was at least competent, and does bring experience. With Cade Apsay and Steven Montez in the fold, this may be Gehrke’s last season as the primary backup. Backup Grade … B+ (for Gehrke’s experience, and the potential of Apsay and Montez).

Running Back

Starter … Christian Powell

Backups … Michael Adkins … or Phillip Lindsay … or Patrick Carr. With a “running back by committee” approach, it’s hard to question CU’s running back depth. Position coach Klayton Adams said much of his running back rotation “kind of happens because of need . . . if you’ve got a 12- or 14-play drive going you need a fresh guy in there. With six or seven carries in an eight-play span, there’s the opportunity for a turnover. You get a fresh guy in there.

“All these guys have been growing as players and part of our jobs as coaches is to put them in the right situations,” Adams told “Having said that, going into the third year with this group, I think you’re hoping all have become more well-rounded players. You might find you’re able to leave a guy in there a little longer because he’s improved himself and become more well-rounded.”

While the need for better production can be argued, along with the philosophy that one great back would better than four above average backs, there is no issue with depth at the position. Backup Grade … A.


Starter … George Frazier

Backup … Jordan Murphy

Seldom utilized, the fullback position has proven to be a productive one for the Buffs. George Frazier had only ten touches last season (five carries; five receptions) but four touchdowns. Many fans don’t know about Jordan Murphy, but he played on special teams in every game last season, leading the team with 30 points. Murphy was awarded a scholarship for his senior season, and was given the Bill McCartney award this spring, given to the most improved special teams players in the spring.

Frazier and Murphy may not be household names, but they are productive at the position. Backup grade … B.

Wide Receivers

Starters … Nelson Spruce; Shay Fields; Donovan Lee

Backups … Devin Ross; Bryce Bobo; Jay MacIntyre

A great deal has been written about the record-setting year Nelson Spruce produced (106 catches, 1,198 yards, 12 touchdowns), and a fair amount of attention has been paid to the freshman records set by Shay Fields (50 catches, 486 yards, four touchdowns).

The question for the unit is: When teams focus their defenses on stopping Spruce and Fields, will the Buffs have the fire power to turn to other alternatives and remain productive?

“I think we’re going to be more versatile than we’ve ever been,” wide receivers coach Troy Walters told “I think we’ll truly be seven deep this year and be able to put guys into a lot of different situations.”

The proof, of course, will be in the actual game production, but, considering what Troy Walters has done in his first two seasons in Boulder, he deserves the benefit of several doubts. Backup grade … A-.

Tight End

Starter … Sean Irwin

Backups … Dylan Keeney; Hayden Jones

Nowhere to go but up, right?

In Mike MacIntyre’s first season, the CU tight ends caught a total of 19 passes. Last season, the total was the same – 19 – with departed senior Kyle Slavin collecting 11 catches; returning starter Sean Irwin eight.

This fall will be the first opportunity for red-shirt freshmen Dylan Keeney and Hayden Jones to see the field of play. Keeney, at about 220 pounds, is 20 pounds lighter than Irwin or Jones, and may prove to be the better receiver of the trio.

“It just depends on how he continues to progress, he’s done a nice job in camp,” Keeney’s position coach, Klayton Adams, told BSN Denver. “You want to work him into the right situations and make sure that he has a chance to be successful. I think it just depends on how much of that type of stuff that we want to do, and the situations that we get into in the games.”

There is certainly better depth at the position than there has been in recent years. We’ll see if it proves to be quality depth. Backup grade … C+.

Offensive tackles

Starters … Jeromy Irwin; Stephane Nembot

Backups … Sam Kronshage; Ed Caldwell

When dealing with the offensive line, the “pencil depth chart” becomes even more fluid, as the CU coaching staff is looking to have its players be able to play multiple positions. This being the case, if a starter goes down, the primary “backup” might actually be the starter at a different position, who slides over to replace the injured starter (such was the case last season, when starting left guard Kaiwi Crabb moved over and started at left tackle against Arizona when Jeromy Irwin was out).

Still, there are listed backups for the tackle positions, and they are sophomore Sam Kronshage and junior Ed Caldwell. Last season, Kronshage was on the field of play for the majority of snaps in the Washington game, and also participated on the field goal and PAT teams. Caldwell, meanwhile, is a walk-on who has yet to see any action (he dressed for two games last fall).

While Buff fans do not have to take it as an article of faith that Kronshage or Caldwell will be the first players in should Irwin or Nembot go down, they do have a right to be crossing their fingers that the starters stay healthy all year. Backup grade … C-.

Offensive Guards

Starters … Gerrad Kough; Jonathan Huckins/Shane Callahan

Backups … John Lisella; Jonathan Huckins/Shane Callahan

Colorado seems to be set at one guard position, with Gerrad Kough the presumed starter at left guard. The right guard position, however, will see rotating starters in Jonathan Huckins and Shane Callahan … at least to start the season. “If we’ve got some guys who can rotate, that are good enough,” said MacIntyre. “As many plays as we run, I think it’s good (to rotate players). Sometimes with the offensive line, you settle in, but if you’ve got a couple of guys who can do some things, it’s always good to rotate them, because you’ll get some nicks and bruises as the season goes along”.

Translation: CU, at least for now, has three guards good enough to fill two positions. That could prove helpful. Backup grade … B.


Starter … Alex Kelley

Backup … Sully Wiefels

Alex Kelley was the starter at center for every game last season, and the junior may be heading for stardom in the next two seasons. Already on the Rimington Award watch list, Kelley is the anchor of the Colorado offensive line.

Behind him on the current depth chart is Sully Wiefels. A transfer from American River College, Wiefels red-shirted last season, and still has two years of eligibility remaining. He did come to CU as the No. 8 junior college offensive lineman in the nation last season, but has yet to show what he can do against Power-Five competition. Backup grade … C.

Colorado scored an average of 28.5 points per game last season, and moved from 87th in the nation in total offense in 2013 to 37th last year. Most of the players from that offensive unit remain, so equal or even better production is not an unreasonable expectation. The Buffs have more than adequate talent at most positions, and, it appears, more than adequate depth at most positions.

We’ll see how it plays out in less than two weeks …


Up next: (Sunday morning) … Part two of CU’s Backup Plan, taking a look at the defense and special teams …


One Reply to “CU’s Backup Plan – Offense”

  1. From Bufftrax …

    After reviewing Ryan Moeller’s H.S. stats with the ball in his hands, it makes me wonder if WR or in the Slot wouldn’t be a potential option for him ?

    Of course, there are a lot of HS stars who “average-out” when compared to their college peers who were also HS “Stars.”. However, you have to trust the evaluation process by the coaches who have a lot more FB experience than yours truly. BUT. Look also at his speed. I’m sure he could stretch the field on a few DB’s….. and, it makes me wonder if he might not be another “Nelson Spruce.”

    Just wonderin’. How about you Stuart ?

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