“Football Games are Won and Lost in the Trenches” – A look at the CU Offensive Line

Coaching legend John McKay came up with many of the finest lines ever uttered by a football coach (“Well, we didn’t block, but we made up for it by not tackling”). McKay, a World War II veteran, is also credited with the phrase, “Football games are won and lost in the trenches”.

That kernel of wisdom often holds true, and may well hold true for the 2016 Colorado Buffaloes.

The Buffs have produced a handful of NFL offensive linemen in the past decade, but haven’t put together a cohesive unit which can dominate a game. Similarly, the Buffs have recruited several top recruits along the defensive line, only to see them to succumb to injury, off-field issues, or just plain ol’ under-achievement.

This fall, though, there is reason to believe that the Buffs may finally be able to two units which can, as the phrase goes, make the difference between winning and losing.

Offensive Line

Last season, the Colorado offensive line, even with physical specimen Stephane Nembot in the lineup, took a step back.

“Offensively, in 2014, we had the least amount of sacks in the Pac-12”, said Mike MacIntyre. “Last year, we had the most sacks in the Pac-12. A lot of that was predicated to injuries. We had quite a few injuries, the most I’ve ever seen on the offensive line as a head coach”.

The biggest loss was that of Jeromy Irwin, the stalwart at left tackle, whose loss in the second game of the season brought about a reshuffling of lineups for a unit which never hit its stride the entire season.

The result? Colorado was 87th in rushing offense and 97th in total offense.

Now, Irwin is back, and the offensive line is beginning to take shape. While the official lineup may change over the next few weeks of fall practices, some of the players can be identified:

— Jeromy Irwin will return to his left tackle position. Before being injured, Irwin had played in 23 games, starting 13. “We have Jeromy Irwin coming back who I think is an excellent, excellent player,” said MacIntyre. “He could never really get over 285 [pounds], which you really wanted him in the 300’s. He’s now 308 and doing really well”.

— At left guard, two juniors – Gerrad Kough and Jonathan Huckins – are vying for the starting position. Both had injury issues of their own in 2016, but Kough managed to start ten games at left guard, while Huckins had eight starts at right guard.

— The center position was the only one which had the same starter all of last season, with Alex Kelley being involved in almost every snap of the campaign. Kelley has now made 21 consecutive starts … the most of any player on the team. Senior Sully Wiefels is listed as a potential backup here, but could also find his way onto the field at guard. “Because he’s played all three of those inside spots a lot, I want to get him into a position where he can compete for a starting job,” Klayton Adams told CUBuffs.com. “It’s hard because last year, when somebody got dinged up, we’d say, ‘OK, Sully can do that.’ ”

— The right guard position remains undecided, though the favorite appears to be Tim Lynott. A red-shirt freshman, Lynott appears ahead of senior Shane Callahan in the pre-fall camp “pencil” depth chart.

— At right tackle, there are several options. If junior Sam Kronshage, who had six starts at the tackle position in 2015, cannot hold the position, it may fall to a red-shirt freshman, with Aaron Haigler, Isaac Miller or Dillon Middlemiss assuming the role. The Buffs may also turn to sophomore John Lisella, who started five games last season at the position, including the last four.

The off-season appears to have been a positive for the offensive line.

“Those guys have gained a lot of weight,” offensive line coach Klayton Adams told the Daily Camera. “The guy who has gained the most is Isaac Miller. He’s kind of working through some stuff that he finished the spring with, injury-wise, but I think he’s 285 pounds. Aaron Haigler, I don’t know how much weight he gained, but he looks bigger. Alex Kelley’s body has changed a little bit. Gerrad Kough just continues to look more and more like a Pac-12 offensive lineman that’s played a lot of games. Jeromy Irwin looks great. Shane Callahan’s body has changed some. It’s a testament, No.1, to coach (Drew) Wilson in the weight room, but I think those guys have bought into it and really enjoyed being in there and grinding it”.

While losing Irwin was a definite disadvantage for the offensive line in 2015, it may bear fruit in 2016. “Last year was a learning curve for some of the young guys, because they did get thrown in there early,” Irwin said. “I think they’ve improved a tremendous amount. It always pays off when you get guys in there early to take reps, because the more experience you get with your technique and everything else.”

There seems to be a good mix of experience and talented newcomers along the CU offensive line this season. Fall Camp will be about finding the right mix.

“I told the guys (Saturday) I have a rotation set that I wanted to work for the first five days of camp,” Adams said. “After that, it’s going to slowly start gelling. Ideally, you would love to have a really good idea of who’s going to be working with who about 10 practices in — about two weeks.”

For the Buffs to be successful offensively, Klayton Adams needs to find a starting five which will not only gel, but become a dominant force.

Oh, and stay healthy …

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… Coming Wednesday morning … “In the Trenches – Defensive Line” …

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8 Replies to “In the Trenches – Offensive Line”

  1. By Neil…..

    Head coach Mike MacIntyre has been asked repeatedly what he expects from this year’s defense, and the answer is almost always the same.

    “Our defense made a big jump last year, which I thought we would,” MacIntyre said at CU’s Media Day. “We had a lot of guys coming back, and now we have all the same guys coming back. We also add Josh Tupou and Addison Gillam back into mix. I expect us to be really good on defense.”

    “/Leavitt, though, isn’t much for preseason hype or expectations.

    “We should be better, but we haven’t played a down,” Leavitt said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. We have to get better every day. Schematically, we’re working on some things. We want to put our guys in position to make plays, but they have to be willing to put in the work. We’ve got a lot to accomplish before we even think about playing a game.”

    Those two quotes are the biggest difference between Leavitt and Mac2.

    Mac always has reasons (mostly after the fact) and excuses as to what happened and should happen.

    Leavitt. No so much if at all.

    I like Mac2, but man own up man, you are the $2,000,000 man.

    Now excuses. No more almost got the win. No more. Just win.

    Uh oh now is the time for the HC to take responsibility for the wins and losses of the Mighty Buffalo

    Realistic rather than wishful thinking.

    Funny, he had a lot of guys coming back last year on the O and he didn’t expect the big jump. Same for this year. Interesting very interesting.

  2. I cannot tell you how often I watched one of our lineman pull and then round the corner and not be able to find anyone to block. If it hadn’t resulted in so many bad plays it would have been comical. During the spring game I reliably saw the pulling lineman not only pull faster but I saw them engaging defensive players. And even engaging them effectively. I believe this will significantly help the run game.

    I believe the addition of Chev to the mix is more important that the team is letting on. After watching the spring game (too many times to count since I am dying for a lack of football) and watching the recent open practice I noticed a couple of big changes that may seem subtle but are actually huge. Sefo is getting the ball out of his hands in 3 seconds or less. Go watch some games from last year. Count from the snap of the ball until Sefo actually throws it. I hit 4 seconds way too often. Asking our lineman to block for that long consistently is a recipe for getting your quarterback knocked out of games. In the spring game with Montez, and in the recent practice open to the public I was counting and Sefo and Montez were reliably getting the ball out in 3 seconds or less. The routes have changed, the receivers are perhaps a little faster and Sefo is throwing as the receiver breaks instead of waiting for them to come out of the break. All of this leads to much more efficient pass offense.

    1. Gee, with Chev helping as co-OC (my guess is 60/40 Chev), Lindgren can actually spend more time coaching the QBs. What a concept!

      With Wilson returning S&C to Olympic lifts (the only way to truly build strength) the OL comes in bigger and stronger! Another great concept!

    2. Yo Rob, I hope you are totally correct with that look see. This is year 4 and there are no excuses. First six games they have to be at a minimum 3 and 3. Winning 4 of the last 6 is not an impossible task (5 out of 6 are winnable) and they should be wound up to kick some arse.

      Ah the ol koolaide factor is running strong. Chev is a difference maker. Hagan is a difference maker. And Adams may be the biggest difference maker.

      Quite a makeover for the offense. Only two originals left. One moved to a lesser position (should have been let go) One demoted to a “CO” (Last year here.) Chev wants that job. And will probably get it.

      Buffalo up

  3. Injuries to the Oline is a valid excuse. Last year it was. This year it should not be. Lots of experience here.

    I thought it interesting that Sully is being pushed by Adams to become to focus on one position and try to become a starter. Interesting. Bernardi never gave him that chance. And as Adams said, he was just a “fill-in” when needed.

    Also Kelley needs to be pushed. His low snaps most of last year caused a lot of plays to never get off the ground. Bernardi never let anyone else look at that position. Adams will not allow that and will start the best 5 and if you been at that position for 3 years and get beat out. Well tough.

    Also Lisella playing last year was a stretch by Bernardi. He had options but didn’t take them. Now Lisella is fighting against RSF to be a starter.

    I like this Adams guy at this coaching position. Perhaps we really will see the best 5 start while sending messages to the rest of the oline. New Sheriff in town.

    All of this bodes well for the Buffs oline and the Mighty Buffs. With the most important change being moving Bernardi out and Adams in.

    Buffs

    1. Yo, VK, have to fully agree with you on the change at OL coach(gritting my teeth). Just the fact that there will be no more playing favorites, adds to the competition, which will sharpen everyone’s game!

      Consider too, that that they will be working against a very good D in practice and consider that Adams himself recognizes the difference Drew Wilson has made as S & C coach and this line is now promising!

  4. Yo Stuart,

    I think the offensive line will appear much better than it has in years. For one, Sefo is finally healed up from those little injuries that should have sidelined him long before the Lisfranc injury. His mobility last year was horrible.

    And the loss of “physical specimen” Nembot will only help the passing game. Truth be told, he was a horrible pass blocker because he could not be effective moving backwards (which is absolutely required to be a good pass blocker).

    Lastly, having DC as co-offensive coordinator should help immensely because he will likely push Lindgren away from being the most predictable play-caller in the Pac-12.

    If all this comes true, the offensive line will “magically” become much better.

    Mark
    Boulderdevil

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