Rating the Colorado Roster – Offensive Line

Note … This is the fourth in a series of weekly unit reviews for the Colorado roster, which will lead us up to the start of Fall Camp on August 4th.

Previous posts: Quarterbacks, Running Backs, Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

Colorado Offensive Line Roster

Players lost: Kaiwi Crabb; Daniel Munyer; Marc Mustoe; Brad Cotner

Seniors: Stephane Nembot; James Carr

Juniors: Jeromy Irwin; Alex Kelley; Shane Callahan; Sully Wiefels; Ed Caldwell; Vincent Arvia

Sophomores: Gerrad Kough; Sam Kronshage; Jonathan Huckins; Collin Sutton; Connor Darby

Redshirt-freshmen: John Lisella; Josh Kaiser

Grey-shirt freshman / Early enrollee: Isaac Miller / Dillon Middlemiss

Coming this fall: Tim Lynott; Aaron Haigler

bold = starter in 2014; italics = non-scholarship player

2014 Statistics for returning players

– Alex Kelley … 988 plays … 57.8 PPP (Plus play percentage) … 19 KD (Knockdown blocks) … 66.7% (highest grade)

– Stephane Nembot … 988 plays … 52.3 PPP … 47 KD … 68.0% (highest grade)

– Jeromy Irwin … 819 plays … 58.9 PPP … 40 KD … 72.0% (highest grade)

– Gerrad Kough … 215 plays … 51.4 PPP … 8 KD … 56.0% (highest grade)

– Sam Kronshage … 84 plays … 37.5 PPP … 5 KD … 47.4% (highest grade)

– Jonathan Huckins … 29 plays … 51.7 PPP … 0 KD … 50.0% (highest grade)

– Shane Callahan … 21 plays … 38.1 PPP … 0 KD … 38.1% (highest grade)

 

Spring/Summer news

Colorado has three returning starters along the offensive line – left tackle Jeromy Irwin, center Alex Kelley, and right tackle Stephane Nembot. With the exception of the Oregon game, which Irwin missed due to injury, the trio were on the field as starters for every game last fall.

Gone, however, are the two starters at guard, Kaiwi Crabb and Daniel Munyer.

The pack seeking to become the starters at guard include juniors Shane Callahan and Sully Wiefels, along with sophomores Jonathan Huckins, Sam Kronshage and Gerrad Kough.

Kough came out of the spring as the odds-on favorite to start at left guard. The sophomore was on the field for every snap of the UCLA game last fall, and had more total plays (215) than any other non-regular starter. Kough also picked up the Joe Romig Award, handed out each spring to the Most Improved Offensive Lineman.

The right guard position remained unresolved coming out of the spring. Sophomore Jonathan Huckins and junior Shane Callahan were listed on the depth chart, with the dreaded “or” between them. Not that it will have any bearing on which player is on the field for the Hawai’i game September 3rd, but Huckins did receive the “Iron Buffalo” award amongst the offensive linemen, presented by position to those who “represent hard work, dedication, toughness and total lifting performance”.

Also, when it came to drafting the teams for the spring game, Huckins was the seventh pick by Gold team captain Marques Mosley, with Callahan selected 11th. So Huckins has that going for him … which is nice.

 

What others say about the Colorado offensive line

Lindy’s … “The Buffaloes need someone to step up in the backfield … Helping the Buffaloes’ stampede is a line that returns three starting upperclassmen in Jeromy Irwin, Alex Kelley, and Stephane Nembot”.

Athlon’s … “The offensive line was a big reason the Buffs ranked 19th in the nation in passing offense. Colorado quarterbacks dropped back to pass nearly 600 times and were sacked only 23 times. Improvement seems to be coming in the running game, but that is still an area of concern. Three starters are back in center Alex Kelley and tackles Jeromy Irwin and Stephane Nembot. Both guard positions will be up for grabs in August with four players in the mix for jobs. Sophomore Jonathan Huckins and Gerrad Kough and junior Shane Callahan had small amounts of playing time in 2014 and won’t be completely green if they earn a job. Sully Wiefels is likely to be the backup center”.

The Sporting News … “(Sefo Liufau and Nelson Spruce) will be more effective if the Buff can find help at the guard spots and if somebody emerges from a serviceable group of rushers”.

The Bottom Line

Colorado set numerous offensive records in 2014 – mostly by Sefo Liufau and Nelson Spruce – and the offensive line did give up only 23 sacks all season (which, considering the Buffs threw the ball 45 times a game, is not a bad percentage).

That being said, overall the Colorado offense was not up to the explosive standards of the Pac-12. The Buffs were 75th in the nation in rushing (154.6 yards per game) and 64th in scoring offense (28.5 ppg.).

Continuity and familiarity are important for good offensive line play. The Buffs have been fortunate the past few seasons in that there have been relatively few injuries disrupting the starting lineup from week to week. That will certainly be a must again this year as Colorado tries to build upon the successes of last season.

It seems like just yesterday that Colorado stole away Stephane Nembot from Washington and Washington State on Signing Day, with the 6’7″ defensive end, originally from Cameroon, coming to Boulder with loads of potential. Moving from defensive end to offensive tackle, Nembot has spent the last three seasons learning the trade of protecting the quarterback, with “potential star” almost always associated with his name.

Well, now Nembot is a senior, and if he is to become the next Buff offensive lineman to find his way to the NFL, this is the season to shine.

The other two returning starters, Alex Kelley at center and Jeromy Irwin at left tackle, are proven commodities, but there is a lack of experienced depth behind them. If Kelley and Irwin can stay healthy this fall, they will form a solid base upon which an improving Colorado offense can build.

The other “star-in-the-making” the Buffs need to shine this season is junior Shane Callahan. A Parade All-American as part of the Recruiting Class of 2012, the Parker, Colorado, native spurned his home state flagship school in order to compete for a national championship at Auburn. After two years on the Plains, Callahan returned to Colorado. There was much celebration in the Buff Nation when the NCAA determined last August that Callahan would be eligible to compete in the 2014 season.

Instead of immediately competing for a starting role, however, Callahan struggled to even get on the field. His only playing time came against USC, when he was on the field for 21 snaps as an injury replacement. The Buffs need Callahan to reach the potential he had four years ago as a high school All-American.

In terms of depth, the Colorado offensive line is getting better, though strides will still need to be made. With only one senior on the roster (Nembot), the Buff offensive line has the chance to be very good this year, and continue to improve in coming seasons.

But we have said that before …

CU Offensive Line Roster Grade … C+. I like the makeup of Colorado’s offensive line. There are three quality returning starters, and several good options to fill the two guard positions. Offensive line coach Gary Bernardi is getting has done well with the hand he was dealt a few years back, and is bringing in some quality recruits to solidify the unit.

The offensive line, though, has to be more than good if the Buffs are to go bowling this fall … it has to be great. Pass protection must continue to be above average, while the Colorado running game must find its legs. If Nembot can become the next draft-worthy Buff offensive lineman, and Shane Callahan can rise to his lofty expectations, this unit could turn into something special.

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One Reply to “Rating the CU Roster – O-Line”

  1. Yo Stuart,

    We know these guys can pass block… but they need to be able push people back on 3rd or 4th and short. Not being able to run it in on four plays from inside the five yard line has killed the Buffs in years past. Until we can win the battle in the trenches in the red zone, it will be hard for the Buffs to compete.
    Let’s hope they are finally strong enough physically to play with Pac-12 caliber teams.

    Mark
    Boulderdevil

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