Countdown to Spring Practices – Offensive Line

Program Note … CU spring practices open on March 31st. Over the next few weeks, there will be a unit-by-unit preview posted every other day leading up to the start of spring ball.

Previously posted

Related … “CU at the Game Podcast Interview with Tommy Brown” …

— Offensive Line (15) … Returning starter (bold); walk-on (italics):

  • Seniors … Tommy Brown (TR)
  • Juniors … Frank Fillip; Casey Roddick; Josh Jynes
  • Sophomores … Jake Wiley; Gerad Christian-Lichtenhan; Austin Johnson; Noah Fenske; Carson Lee; Alex Harkey (TR)
  • Red-shirt freshmen … Edgar Amaya; Jackson Anderson
  • 2022 Signees … Carter Edwards; Travis Gray; Van Wells

The Stats … 

On paper, the CU offensive line is not in bad position, at least in terms of returning talent. Two starters – center Colby Pursell and left guard Kary Kutsch – are gone, but three starters – left tackle Jake Wiley; right guard Casey Roddick; and right tackle Frank Fillip – return, with the three returning starters each on the field for the final nine games of the 2021 season. Add two transfers – Alabama senior Tommy Brown and junior college starter Alex Harkey – and you’ve got five players who have plenty of starting experience.

If it were only that easy.

And if the returning starters were All Pac-12 quality.

The 2021 stats from the remaining roster:

  • Jake Wiley … 11 starts … 674 plays … 68.4 grade
  • Casey Roddick … 10 starts … 550 plays … 73.6 grade
  • Frank Fillip … 9 starts … 536 plays … 69.7 grade
  • … No other returning player had over 100 plays from the line of scrimmage in 2021 …

Nationally … 

  • Passing offense … 131.2 yds/game … 126th nationally
  • Total offense … 257.4 yds/game … 129th nationally
  • Scoring offense … 18.8 pts/game … 121st nationally
  • Third down conversions … .323 … 119th nationally
  • First downs offense … 173 … 128th nationally
  • Sacks allowed/game … 2.67 … 97th nationally

Comments …  An article in 247 Sports about spring practices for Pac-12 teams had this to day about the CU offensive line …

There’s an argument to be made Colorado had the worst offensive line in the Power Five last year. The Buffaloes ranked 118th nationally in PFF’s pass block metric and 95th in run blocking. That led, in large part, to the Buffaloes ranking 125th nationally in yards per play despite having playmakers like wide receiver Brenden Rice and running back Jarek Broussard. Perhaps unsurprisingly, those two no longer play for Colorado. They’re at USC and Michigan State respectively. It also made it difficult to judge freshman starter Brendon Lewis, who had promising moments despite constantly being under fire.

The numbers cited, plus the national stats listed above, give credence to the notion that CU’s offense wasn’t just bad, it was historically bad. There will be great attention paid to the quarterback battle, along with the search for lead running backs and wide receivers, but it will all be for naught if the offensive line doesn’t show some dramatic improvement.

“Everybody’s gonna start over with a clean slate,” new offensive line coach Kyle DeVan said of his unit. “The guys in my room have been through a lot with the two offensive line coaches this past season. I think trust was a big deal.

“There’s a good foundation, so I wanted to let those guys know I’m here to gain their trust, just like they’re currently here to gain my trust.”

As to the spring? “I want to go out there and experience it first (on the field) and see if maybe my coaching style, my teachings, my technique, are maybe more suitable to some of them that might not have got along with the previous group,” he said. “I’m excited for that and I think those kids are, too.

“All of them want to make Colorado the best it can be and they want to win games and I really appreciate that.”

If the stats are any indication, coach DeVan has his work cut out for him.

Burning questions for spring … 

  • Are the three returning starters set, or is every position open? The two tackles – Jake Wiley and Frank Fillip – return, but both struggled mightily at times last fall. Having starting experience is certainly valuable, but not at the expense of the team. Fillip gave up 8.5 sacks last year; Wiley eight. Fillip gave up 23 quarterback pressures; Wiley 17. No one is going to claim that those are quality numbers.
  • Can transfers Tommy Brown and Alex Harkey contribute immediately? Buff fans certainly hope so. Brown is a senior on his sixth year of eligibility, but wasn’t on the field that often at Alabama. Harkey, meanwhile, was on the field last year, but for a junior college. Both will be watched this spring to see if they can help provide answers for a unit desperately in need of them
  • Are the Buffs done in adding to the roster? Colorado has a grand total of four upperclassmen on the roster. Unlike other units, the offensive line needs to have experience. With a dearth of proven talent on the roster, it would be a surprise if CU doesn’t look to the Transfer Portal to supplement this unit after spring practices have concluded.

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18 Replies to “Countdown to Spring Practices – Offensive Line”

  1. Anyone have a take on how Noah Fenski is doing? He could be a critical piece, if he is the real thing and developing well. But I haven’t heard anything about him since he came here.

    1. The only action of significance Fenske saw in 2021 (29 of his 31 snaps) were against Minnesota, and that was a shut out disaster. Hopefully, he learned from that experience, and will be ready to challenge to be the starting center this fall.

    1. Got it … still strange calling Brown a “junior” though, considering he is already in graduate school, with a degree from Alabama. Brown has already been on a college football team for four years, and yet has two years of eligibility remaining. Strange times we live in …

  2. The comments above are a pretty decent cross-section. The biggest barrier to a 6 win season is the daunting OOC schedule, which if CU was a good team would not be such a huge barrier. I agree with Eric–that KD is the man and unless there is a total meltdown or scandal, he will be at CU’s helm for at least a few more seasons. If anything, I think the Buffs need some stability and as fans we need to ride it out–and that is hard. KD finally has his assistants in place and mostly his recruits. KD has his staff need to gel, get the team to gel, play competitive football and impress the next batch of recruits/transfers. Mostly try and play stretches of good football, sprinkled in with glimpses of great football, and we have to accept a few stinker games. With a young QB there is always a stinker or two on the road. A worthy goal is playing well at home, maybe not winning all the games but being very competitive in all of them, winning 3-4. Not losing to Sac St or being blown out by the lesser Pac12 schools would be a positive sign. It is not like CU is going to win on talent or recruiting alone, as CU has just been down for too many years. IMO, it is sort of a wait and see with fingers crossed. CU can’t blow it up, or have it blown up (i.e. Smell Tucker bolting) every few years and expect success. Mini-MAC had a great season, won Coach of the Year and still could not get the program over the hump.

    Finally, the admin, RG, and the entire football infrastructure need to improve. CU has to compete with NIL. As Fans we should continue to pressure on this. With the NIL/transfer portal and CU’s # of available schollies, I like that CU’s recruiting is in the top half of the PAC12 but not sure that the team improved given all the attrition. Smell Tucker did not work out, but he did revamp the recruiting apparatus, and that seemed to fall off after he left. CU needs to make improvements in those areas.

    1. It was a super late hire and I heard he came highly recommended. That said, it was bad. Like historically bad. But I really like his new hires.

  3. “Not just bad, but historically bad”.

    Of course, ANY improvement (because there is nowhere to go but up) will be hailed as “look, the team is improving, we are getting better, blah, blah, blah.

    3 wins this year, maybe 4 wins next year. Then start over again, and at that point, the pathetic CU administration will promise great things and try to raise hope because now the Pac – 12 has a new TV contract and we will have more $$ to put towards improving the football program. And the faithful will keep tolerating it, convinced that we just need a little more time, and all will be good again. What will the excuse be a year from now? – “Oh we brought in a whole new system and it takes time to implement it and recruit to it” “We will be better in the 2nd year with it”
    Please don’t buy into their garbage .

    1. Tatonka, I think it’s a foregone conclusion Karl’s back after this year. Unless it’s a complete and utter disaster. And, I’m not totally opposed to his coming back. He’s here. He’s a good guy. He knows football. It’s his ball to run with, and at this point, it’s all on his plate. No excuses (except we’re bound to hear some).

      And yeah, the offense has to be better. It literally cannot be worse. Maybe, just maybe, the camaraderie we’re hearing about, and the philosophical alignment of the offensive staff are worth a win or three? Maybe? Gotta have a QB.

      But, my bigger concern is actually the defense. They gave up 30-ish points a game last year, with two NFL linebackers, and two NFL corners, and one pretty good safety, all of whom they’ve got to replace. Now, part of giving up those points was clearly that the offense was zero help. But that’s still some decent talent/personnel to replace. Are the younger guys ready? Are they talented enough? Is there a big drop between #s 1 and 2 if/when injuries happen? We’ll find out.

      I still see four wins as about their ceiling. More than that, and I’ll be pretty pleased. And that’s sad. Hopefully what I see is proven woefully wrong. But, I don’t see a 2016 type season. Not only did that team have camaraderie, and like six NFL guys on defense, and a decent QB, but it was also senior laden.

      This year’s team may have some good talent, but, they’re all pretty young. And, learning a new style (probably not really new system/scheme, but how they’re coached will be different) which may lead to the usual growing pains, and… losses.

      But yeah. I’ll still support ’em. And if my fears play out like yours, I’ll hope that there’s changes above the coaching staff whenever the next coaching search happens (December 2023). Or? That I’m just wrong, and Karl turns this thing around.

      Go Buffs

      1. Yup it is kinda funny that there will be no new scheme even though Brady says there is one and one that makes sense. Interesting. Inside info.

        Tatonka is always on that track.

        Go Buffs, Beat em When ya can eh?

      2. The defense was on the field so much last year I give them a pass. We played half the year without Landman and won 2 in conference without him. Barnes got significantly better reading the game as the season went on. I talked to Maxie about Woods and he likes him a lot. I think we all might be really happy and there is a chance Perry may have read the writing on the wall before he left. Woods might have started in front of Perry or taken real time away. He was playing more at the end of the season. Gonzo and Blackman are losses without a doubt but remember 2021 when we had two young db’s step up and play well. We have 3 young db’s ready to step in and they played well when needed last year as they got reps with Blackmon loosing games to injury. Wells is hard to replace but I suspect we may be moving to a 4-3 now to get more d line on the field as I think we are going to be strong. I like th3 new d line coach Chatman. He says the talent is there. Just need to get those guys in the right mindset and he has seen it. We may finally see the Lang we always wanted to see and Sami, Rodman and Jordan are all very solid. I am excited to see the new edge from the jc, and I think we have some depth at olb not as good as wells but not bad.

        I don’t think our defense will be as good as the6 we’re last year but they will not have to be as our offense has to be better (and I think they will be).

        1. I agree the d line should be a strength. Same with Barnes. It is the rest and their depth that is concerning. But yeah, a littl offensive production would help a bunch, as well.

          Go Buffs

    2. What are you seeing that makes you so depressed? I am asking honestly. I get I am a bit optimistic but what are the facts that cause you to think we will only win 3 games next year?

      1. Mostly youth, inexperience in key spots, especially on the middle to back of the defense, depth and offensively learning different coaching styles/techniques. Having a qb Will be yuge, but may not be enough.

        I will buy into the new offensive efficiency/explosiveness when I see it.

        Oh, and a very unforgiving schedule.

        Go Buffs

  4. I think the O line is going to really shine this year. I expect a return to the 2020 massive holes and run when we want. Here are the reasons why.
    – Filip and Roddick were hurt last year and basically had no off-season. Both lost a lot of strength last year. They both say they have not only recovered that strength but even now are much stronger than they ever were. They were both maulers during the 2020 season. I expect a return to form.
    – online coach. I can’t say I know the ins and outs of o line teachnique but there was some very direct feedback about Rodrigue. One guy said he had better high school coaches than Rodrigue. The guys like Devan a lot . He definitely knows his stuff and I think his high energy will keep the guys motivated to keep driving
    – offensive scheme. The more I hear about Sanford’s scheme the more I like it. Did you hear Russell’s comment on the podcast? Everything we do has a purpose. Holy cow, of course everything you do has a purpose. If Chev’s offense had stuff that you just “did” or the players did not understand then that was on Chev and may be part of the reason our offense failed.
    – qb play. We gotta get better and we should get better. 3 seconds….. the ball needs to be out in 3 seconds. Lewis held the ball so long. He either fixes it or we have a new qb. There are enough guys in that room I don’t think we will need to experience that ever again..
    – don’t forget about Fenske. I think he may be are starting center. I get the feeling him and Rodrigue did not gel and he was behind pursell. I think we will be in good hands. The guy talked about the extra work he and the others are putting in to make sure they are ready to go.

  5. What is really going to help the O line guys a lot is if Sanford can truly bring a diverse offense with play calling and blocking schemes to match. Hard for me to imagine being a guard/tackle staring at an army in the box that knows the next play is likely going to be a direct handoff or the one in 5 pass play that takes as long for Van Winkle to wake up.

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