CU Opens Spring Practices: Coach Prime Takes Center Stage

Shortly after 4:00 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, Colorado head coach Deion Sanders will take to the podium in Room 319 in the Champions Center. He will be flanked by two of his star players, quarterback Shedeur Sanders and cornerback/wide receiver Travis Hunter. Coach Prime’s talk will be well thought out, with his words likely to vary little from what was prepared. News concerning what transpired over the previous two hours, during CU’s first of its NCAA-allotted 15 spring practices, will be secondary to getting out the message.

The room will be filled with media, with far more credentials being doled this spring compared to this time a year ago, when head coach Karl Dorrell met with the press after the first of CU’s 2022 spring practices. Coach Prime’s first quotes about his team may vary little from what Dorrell said on March 31st last spring – “They came together as a team given the transition in the offseason,” Dorrell said. “I felt this team really decided to dig in and invest in each other. It shows in the progress they made in practice today” – but what Coach Prime says will certainly carry more weight, and will be discussed and debated by CU fans starved for a winner.

With practices closed to the media, though, the Buff Nation will have little more information about the status of the overhauled roster than it does now. This will leave the media to continue to debate about just how much better the CU program will be in 2023.

The current speculation ranges widely, from CU being considered a Top 25 program to CU being considered as still having the worst overall roster in the Pac-12.

RJ Young at Fox Sports posted his preseason Top 25, which includes seven Pac-12 teams. This may seem to be a stretch, until you remember that there were six Pac-12 teams in the final AP poll for the 2022 season (No. 8 Washington; No. 10 Utah; No. 12 USC; No. 15 Oregon; No. 17 Oregon State; No. 21 UCLA).

Young has all of the same six in his 2023 preseason … with one addition.

Young’s Top 25:

  • No. 4 USC
  • No. 9 Utah
  • No. 11 Washington
  • No. 15 Oregon
  • No. 17 UCLA
  • No. 19 Oregon State
  • No. 20 Colorado

Clearly, one of these things is not like the others, with Colorado going from 1-11 to not only a winning record, but a national ranking. Of CU, Young wrote:

Along with five-star cornerback Cormani McClain, four-star running back Dylan Edwards might prove to be an important piece to the Coach Prime experience in Boulder this season. However, with talent at the skill positions, spring will be most important for the Buffalo offensive and defensive lines as quarterback Shedeur Sanders gets comfortable playing Power 5 football.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, you find Will Backus at 247 Sports. In calling Colorado “overhyped”, Backus wrote:

Let’s pump the brakes a little bit here. Deion Sanders was a fantastic hire, and he is already getting the attention of some elite talent. But he is also inheriting a complete mess. Discounting the COVID-19 year, Colorado has just one winning season since joining the Pac-12 over a decade ago. While Sanders’ 25-prospect transfer class could plug some holes immediately, Colorado still has probably the worst roster in the whole conference. Yet there are some major pundits that have included the Buffaloes in their way-too-early top-25 predictions. As things stand, Colorado is little more than a paper tiger at this point. With his charisma and ability to recruit, Sanders has all the tools to rebuild Colorado, but making a bowl in Year 1 would be overachieving.

So, are the Buffs a Top 25 team … or still the worst team in the Pac-12?

Likely somewhere in between.

I’ve spent the last month doing deep dives into CU’s 96-man roster. The “Countdown to Spring Practices” series has a unit-by-unit preview for the spring, while Brad and Neil joined me for an hour-long discussion of the questions for spring in Friday’s CU at the Game podcast.

The Reader’s Digest of issues we’ll be covering this spring:

The Buffs are looking a needle in the haystack at quarterback … 

No doubt, Shedeur Sanders can play at the Power Five level. He was a four-star recruit, and had the likes of Alabama, Oregon, Michigan and Florida State offering him scholarships. In two seasons at Jackson State, Sanders threw 70 touchdown passes against only 14 touchdowns, with his completions going for almost 7,000 yards.

No, Shedeur Sanders is not the problem. The problem comes if Sanders gets hurt. Behind Sanders is a sophomore, Drew Carter, who has six career completions, and two true freshmen.

The easy answer is for the Buffs to find an experienced quarterback in the Transfer Portal this spring. The problem is finding a quarterback with experience … who is willing to carry a clipboard for a year or two. The alternative is to find a young quarterback who has potential and is willing to wait … but the Buffs already have two of those in incoming freshmen Ryan Staub and Kasey Weisman.

Locating the perfect fit for a backup – a quarterback with experience who is willing to watch from the sidelines – will be the storyline for after spring practices. In the meantime, Buff fans will spend the next five weeks hoping Sanders doesn’t get hurt in practice, giving the 35,000+ who will be attending the spring game a head-to-head matchup of Drew Carter v. Ryan Staub.

The battle at running back should be intense

Four of CU’s five leading rushers from the 2022 roster return, so there is established talent on the team, with Deion Smith, Anthony Hankerson, Charlie Offerdahl and Jayle Stacks each bringing something different to the table.

Having that many returning players with experience would have made the spring interesting, but the early enrollment of freshman Dylan Edwards will make the spring one to remember. A four-star recruit who flipped his commitment from Notre Dame to Colorado, many will expect Edwards to be in the mix to be named starter coming out of the spring.

With Kentucky transfer Kavosiey Smoke due in this summer – a senior who is coming in to play – it will be put up or shut up for the bottom of the running backs depth chart.

Make hay while the sun shines for the wide receivers

There are currently 13 scholarship wide receivers on the CU roster, and there will likely be some attrition this summer. What will make for some interesting tracking this spring, though, is that five – count ’em, five – of the wide receivers won’t be on hand this spring.

Adam Hopkins, Omarion Miller, Isaiah Hardge, Jordan Onovughe and Jacob Page, all members of the Recruiting Class of 2023, won’t be on campus until this summer. Hopkins and Miller are four-star recruits (behind only Cormani McClain and Dylan Edwards in the rankings in CU’s Class), and will be in the mix come this fall.

Which leaves it to the receivers who are on campus this spring to try and make a name for themselves … and survive the inevitable paring of the wide receiver roster.

Will the offensive line be that much better? 

Time will tell, but the CU offensive line could be dramatically better in 2023 than in 2022.

Three starters – Van Wells, Jake Wiley, and Gerad Christian-Lichtenhan – return, but that might not be cause for celebration. When asked about the players coming back, new offensive line coach Bill O’Boyle didn’t mince words. “A lot of work to do,” was O’Boyle’s succinct assessment. “I’m never going to knock any other program, but we’ve got a lot of ground to make up strength-wise. The physical part really has to come along.”

You have to figure that Savion Washington – brought to Boulder from Kent State by his head coach and new offensive coordinator (Sean Lewis) and his offensive line coach (Boyle) – will be a starter. Same for Tyler Brown, who started for Coach Prime at Jackson State.

And that’s before we start talking about the two junior college All-Americans, Isaiah Jatta and Jack Wilty.

The potential is there for the CU coaching staff to piece together a very strong offensive line … but it’s still only potential until proven otherwise.

Can the front seven on the defense defy their resumes? 

At Signing Day II, Coach Prime said that he and the coaching staff were “not done” in bringing in more talent, despite the Buffs already having 11 more scholarship players on the roster than CU will be allowed to have come August.

Other than the search for a reliable backup quarterback, if the Buffs are going to add more bodies to the roster between spring ball and the start of Fall Camp, the front seven of the CU defense is likely a place for the coaches to scan the Transfer Portal.

The Buff defensive line last year was, well, poor, and the majority of the defensive line and linebacker talent from that team are gone. There has been some infusion of Transfer Portal help, but only Shane Cokes from Dartmouth was a reliable starter at his previous school. There is potential, to be sure, in the other transfers, but little in the way of proven success.

Perhaps this spring these players will reward the faith the coaches have shown in signing them.

One way to again be considered DBU … bring in plenty of candidates

When trying to get to 85 scholarship players, it’s hard to make the argument that a full quarter of your roster should be made up by one unit.

And yet, as CU opens spring practices, there are 21 scholarship defensive backs on the CU roster, a full quarter of the number of scholarships CU is allowed to carry into the season.

Now, you can make the argument that CU will be playing in plenty of nickel and dime packages this fall (five and six defensive backs), which means half of the players on the field on defense will be defensive backs.

So … if half of the defense needs to be defensive backs, and half of the team is the defense … a quarter of the team needs to be defensive backs.

That logic isn’t going to hold, though, as there will be attrition in the secondary at the end of the spring.

There is plenty of talent in the defensive backfield, perhaps the most talent on the roster. As a result, it will be interesting this spring to hear about which of the new defensive backs are making a name for themselves.

On Sunday afternoon, Coach Prime will conduct his first post-practice talk with the press. Later this week, offensive coordinator Sean Lewis, defensive coordinator Charles Kelly, and assistant head coach Gary Harrell are slated to take their turns with the media. In all likelihood, despite the added attention being paid to the Colorado football program, very little news of note will be made this week.

But at least we are underway. The Buffs will be practicing with Coach Prime watching.

The Deion Sanders era at the University of Colorado is officially underway …


3 Replies to “CU Opens Spring Practices: Coach Prime Takes Center Stage”

  1. Great article Stewart. I think you are right, so many questions for this team. Can they put it together. I don’t think we will actually get answers out of spring training. We are not really going to know until we suit ‘‘em up against TCU. But I will watch every one of those videos VK doesn’t like and listen to every podcast like I always have. But this year no predictions. Last year I was positive they were going to turn it around. But man, it was a disaster. Some of the worst football I have ever seen. Will this coaching staff change this? Will this coaching staff motivate the players to change it? I see more deer in the headlights in team meetings with Coach Prime than I see people excited to be there, excited to win. They are putting in work in the weight room, and in the strength and conditioning program. You can see that. But are they getting any stronger? hard to tell. We see the same guys on those videos almost all the time. Are these the guys putting the work in and everyone else is gliding through the work outs? It will be interesting to see.

  2. Buffalo Up eh?
    6 am and the boys are up wild eyed for sure.

    Sheesh watching them punish themselves during training forced up the pain level in my ol body as well.

    I’m not predicting nothing.
    Not speculating nothing.
    Not even wishing and hoping and thinking and praying.

    Not reading these articles.

    Did read this one………skimmer…..blah ahah

    Doesn’t matter who whips em up…………………really.
    pundits alll…………………….or not

    Anyway go prime and Buffs. Big day for you all..

    Buffs win Buffs win……………..then I’ll read the summaries

    Note: Prime snippets are cute. Prime extended snippets with that stupid music are not. Very little creativity coming out there. Repetition by the son. same song. same group of people, hanging in the office/champion center. Oh boy a new car. Don’t watch em anymore. By the way the white socks thing happened when he first got here. Not like yesterday.

    Lil basketball

    Yo but after missing, okay not, all the pundit puke, gonna be at the spring game
    waiting patently.

    Go Lady Buffs. Now duke the dukies eh?
    And boy buffs …semis at least…..

    Okay in the battle of the game mind and mouth of az and his famous farm buildings and growing up learning the game and always ranting of the “little mill” that could fly………………………………………..I gotta put this az training video in again

    notice the young look of that boy………………………….Go az

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