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CU in ’22: Roster Projections – Offense

The wait is almost over.

The long drought without football that counts – over nine full months for the Buff Nation – will come to an end on Friday, September 2nd, at 8:00 p.m., MT (ESPN) as Colorado hosts TCU.

While there are many unknowns about Karl Dorrell’s third team, much of the lineup is taking shape. Below are my thoughts on which 11 players will take the field at Folsom for the first snaps on offense (projections for the defense to be posted Sunday).

These are just my guesses, and I welcome your thoughts and comments …

Quarterback

1.) J.T. Shrout, Jr.
2.) Brendon Lewis, So.
3.) Owen McCown, Fr.
4.) Drew Carter, So.
5.) Maddox Kopp, R-Fr.

This is a make-or-break season for Karl Dorrell. It’s his third season as head coach, and this is his team. Barring a complete meltdown (2-10 or worse), Dorrell will likely be the head coach at Colorado in 2023. That being said, with the Transfer Portal being the way it is, and CU’s brand as tarnished as it is, Rick George simply cannot afford to have a program which continues to be an afterthought in the national consciousness.

Toward that end, Dorrell has to do what he can to win, and win now. Shrout hasn’t played in two years, but was reportedly on the verge of being named starter last August before he was injured. Brendon Lewis has the experience behind center, but also brings with him the baggage of a failed offense. The blame for CU’s pathetic 2021 offense (129th in total offense, out of 130 teams) does not lie entirely on Lewis’ shoulders, but a shakeup at the most important position on the team may be the injection of energy this offense needs. No inside information here … just a gut feeling.

“Between the top two, it’s really been nip and tuck,” Dorrell said of the competition that has been ongoing through preseason camp. “This is what I thought it would be. It should be that way. They’re both really good players.”

The battle for the No. 3 position isn’t as important right now, but good things are being said about Owen McCown. The true freshman won’t see the field of play in 2022, but his name is worth remembering for 2023 and beyond.

Running back

1.) Alex Fontenot, Sr.
2.) Deion Smith, Jr.
3.) Jayle Stacks, So. (No. 1 Fullback)
4.) Charlie Offerdahl, R-Fr.
5.) Victor Venn, Fr. / Anthony Hankerson, Fr.

This lineup is more set, as Karl Dorrell and running backs coach Darian Hagan have been talking about the “one-two punch” of Alex Fontenot and Deion Smith since last spring. Hagan has talked a great deal about having multiple options: “I think the approach that we’ll take is to feed them and feed them all,” Hagan said. “All of them gotta eat, like the kids say. If they’re all consistent, they’ll all eat.”

But is that the best approach for the team? Would it be better to have a featured back? If that’s the case, it will likely be Fontenot. Hagan said if Fontenot stays healthy, “The sky’s the limit for him because he is a top back; one of the top, I think, in the country when given an opportunity, health-wise.” Deion Smith has certainly earned the right to see some playing time, and Jayle Stacks will be in for short-yardage, but it may be Fontenot’s job to lose.

The other names on the list will have to wait their turn. Charlie Offerdahl was the darling of the spring scrimmage, and Buff fans were excited on Signing Day about the potential of Victor Venn and Anthony Hankerson, but these freshman will likely be situational players in 2022.

Wide receivers

Z Receiver

1.) Daniel Arias, Sr.
2.) Jordyn Tyson, Fr.
3.) Chase Sowell, Fr.

X Receiver

1.) Montana Lemonious-Craig, So.
2.) Maurice Bell, Sr.
3.) Ty Robinson, So.

Slot Receiver

1.) R.J. Sneed, Sr.
2.) Chase Penry, So.
3.) Jaylon Jackson, Sr.

We don’t know exactly what kind of offense CU will be running this fall under new offensive coordinator Mike Sanford, so will go with last year’s designations as far as the wide receivers are concerned.

If R.J. Sneed is healthy, the starters appear set. Sneed’s availability, at least right now, remains an open question. Sneed has yet to return to the practice field, though Dorrell insists he is very close to doing so. Sneed, for his part, says he’ll be ready for the start of the season.

The other two starters also appear to be set, with Daniel Arias getting plaudits from coaches and teammates this off-season, and Montana Lemonious-Craig a returning contributor from last season. This unit would have been much different had Brenden Rice, Dimitri Stanley and La’Vontae Shenault not transferred, but this is CU’s wide receiver room for 2022. Will Lemonious-Craig and Arias step up? Will Sneed live up to his Baylor stats?

To be determined.

For his part, Dorrell isn’t apologetic about losing three of his top receivers to the Transfer Portal. “I think with the new additions, I feel we’re probably better,” Dorrell said. “I hate to say that … No, I don’t hate to say that. We are better. We have the depth. I think the young freshmen that came in are really good players. They are no-names right now.  That’s a fun process to see when they’re no-names and they kind of create their own name on their own. That’s what is going to unfold this fall.

“There’ll be some guys you go, ‘Who’s that guy? And where did they get him?’ It’s going to be those kinds of responses when you see some of these guys play. I feel like that position is the best it’s been since I’ve been here.”

It would also be nice to see senior Maurice Bell return to form. “I was pleasantly surprised,” CU head coach Karl Dorrell said of Bell’s progress in returning from an Achilles’ injury (Bell was injured during fall camp last August, and missed the entire 2021 season). “He’s back to his old self and actually looks better to me than he was before his injury. I’m really proud of him for what he’s come back to and what he is now and we’re hoping he continues that.”

Tight ends

1.) Brady Russell, Sr.
2.) Caleb Fauria, R-Fr.
3.) Erik Olsen, R-Fr.
4.) Austin Smith, R-Fr.

Brady Russell would be forgiven for asking: Where did everybody go? Last year, the team was inundated with tight ends. A year later, the likes of Matt Lynch, Nico Magri, Alec Pell and C.J. Schmanski are all gone, and it’s Brady Russell and a room filled with red-shirt freshman. Brady Russell is the clear starter here (and, from what Russell and other players are saying, CU’s leading receiver from last year will be even more involved in the offense), so deciding which player will be No. 2 on the depth chart is anyone’s guess.

The only thing that is certain about the freshmen is that one or more of them will be playing this fall. “We talk about our room having a ceiling and a floor,” tight ends coach Clay Patterson said. “Our ceiling is way up here because that’s Brady; he set it really, really high. We’re only going to be as good as our floor. We’ve got to close that gap and I’ve challenged those guys to do that because we can’t have Brady do every single thing every play.”

Offensive line

Left Tackle

1.) Jake Wiley, So.
2.) Gerad Christian-Lichtenhan, So.
3.) Travis Gray, Fr.

Left Guard

1.) Tommy Brown, Jr.
2.) Austin Johnson, So.
3.) Luke Eckardt, R-Fr.

Center

1.) Noah Fenske, So.
2.) Austin Johnson, So.
3.) Van Wells, Fr.

Right Guard

1.) Casey Roddick, Jr.
2.) Austin Johnson, So.
3.) Alex Harkey, So.

Right Tackle

1.) Frank Fillip, Jr.
2.) Gerad Christian-Lichtenhan, So.
3.) Casey Roddick, Jr.

The CU offensive line for most of last season was as follows: LT – Jake Wiley; LG – Kary Kutsch; C – Colby Pursell; RG – Casey Roddick; RT – Frank Fillip. So, at least on paper, there are only two slots to fill, with Wiley, Roddick and Fillip back. The left guard position has been reserved for Alabama transfer Tommy Brown since he signed with CU in January, but Brown is another player nursing an injury which dates back to the spring. Brown insists that if these were the old days, he would already be playing, and that his return to the lineup is just a matter of gaining full medical clearance … but Buff fans will be relieved when Brown is actually back on the field, instead of talking about getting back on the field.

The center position is important to the harmony of the offensive line, and remains an open question. Noah Fenske and Austin Johnson are the candidates, and one will have to win the starting position, so that the line can begin to function as one organism. Whichever players doesn’t earn the starting role will immediately become the first backup in the interior of the line, which gives CU at least six good options for the starting five.

Even with returning starters, though, the offensive line has much to prove. One of the weakest units on a weak team, the offensive line has been preparing for the upcoming season with a chip on its shoulder.

“There’s a new culture, there’s a new identity being brought by coach (Kyle) DeVan and I think that his mentality and his work ethic has been exemplified through all of us,” Casey Roddick said.

Offensive coordinator Mike Sanford agrees. “I see a totally different level of confidence in that group since January,” Sanford said. “You can tell they are what you want in an offensive line group. They are extremely tightly knit. So, it is fun to just watch how that translates into just better play on the field, better communication on the field.”

Fingers crossed …

In all, Colorado could have at least six returning starters on offense for the opener against the Horned Frogs (seven if Brendon Lewis is the starting quarterback). In the skill positions, Brady Russell (28 career starts), Alex Fontenot (14) and Daniel Arias (13) all have significant starting experience, while along the line Casey Roddick (18 career starts), Frank Fillip (17) and Jake Wiley (12) return.

Experience helps, to be sure, but this was also a group which put up historically poor numbers in 2021.

“We have a lot of talent on this roster,” offensive coordinator Mike Sanford said. “Not a lot of people outside of this building are giving us a lot of respect for the talent we have. We believe in the kids that are in this room. So we wanted to praise the model. When they do what we’re asking them to do, we want to praise them for that. When they make great plays, we want to praise him for it.

“That is by nature, how I’m wired.  I’m probably, to a fault at times, the ultimate optimist.”

Yes, it was Darrin Chiaverini’s offense, but until or unless these players show they are not the same unit as last year (98th in the nation in rushing offense; 126th in passing offense; 129th in total offense; 121st in scoring offense), skepticism will remain the word of the day.

Only two more weeks until we find out …

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7 Replies to “CU in ’22: Roster Projections – Offense”

  1. Welp the ol qb situation

    HCKD said in the early training camp that BLew was the starter, cause of last year and he would have to be beaten out. Yes a qb battle and it is supposedly “even”…………what will be the deciding factor.

    Hmmm

    Buffs

  2. Offense looks well positioned for next year….hope they can surprise some this year. Would like to see Shrout start for a number of reasons.

  3. 13 days to the opener. A scrimmage today. I think that HCKD will (or at least he should) name the QB starter early next week (probably won’t do so publicly though), because I don’t think there will be another scrimmage and it is time to prep the team with the guy who is gonna start the TCU game. As the Talking Heads sang:
    This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco,
    This ain’t no fooling around
    No time for dancing, or lovey dovey,
    I ain’t got time for that now

    Time for HCKD to get this team ready to win game 1. We ain’t got time for the same old BS of the last decade and a half.

  4. HKCD will make the right choice at QB

    Here is why:

    “Why all the changes?” he said. “First and foremost that was my worst season as a head coach; it’s never going to happen again.”

    Buffs

  5. I’m just curious of Karl’s approach to the starting QB. Does he use the secret approach (at least for us outside the program)? Or, does he do like so many other coaches are doing w/ their QB “battles” this year, and just publicly name the guy sooner, rather than later?

    Sounds like he’ll take the more secretive approach, but who knows? Either way, the countdown to game-day is on. And that’s a good thing.

    Go Buffs

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