As the Buffs move through two-a-days, things are starting to become a bit clearer about how this team will likely be constructed moving ahead. Today was my fifth practice, certainly not enough to have all the answers, but definitely enough to have a solid perspective on how I view this team. I’ve seen enough reps to comfortably state that my opinions aren’t based on one photo, one play, or one rumor, but hopefully represent what I’ve seen over the course of camp.
This year, the array of information that can be released appears to be more lax than in seasons past, but I’ll still be staying away from giving away specific information such as formations, schemes, etc.
Here are my thoughts on the Buffs preseason camp thus far…
- I took a lot of heat over on Rivals for placing Kenneth Crawley No. 14 on my Countdown of Top Returning Buffs List… and to be honest, I questioned it myself. I have been far from a Crawley supporter in the past, but I took the approach that he’d need to be that improved for this program to take the next step defensively. Thus far in camp, he’s made me look smart. He’s in fantastic shape, has shown improvement in his physicality and tackling, and while he still lacks the ball skills you’d love, he’s improving there too. A lot of people had high expectations for incoming JUCO CB Akhello Witherspoon to take control of that starting CB spot opposite Greg Henderson, but Crawley has separated himself in that battle and currently has a strong hold on the job.
- The most important position on the defense this season? DE. I’m comfortable with the talent everywhere else on the field defensively, but here, we’ve got a lot to prove. As we’ve seen in years past, if we can’t disrupt the passer, everything else is moot. Jimmie Gilbert and Derek McCartney have a lot to prove, especially with Tyler Henington unable to practice throughout the majority of camp. This is a young group overall with Michael Mathewes, Christian Shaver, and Tim Coleman all getting 1st team reps at times throughout camp as well.
- The offensive line appears to have a set starting five at this point. OT Jeremy Irwin appears to have a firm grip on the LT spot even with Shane Callahan being deemed eligible. In fact, Callahan, as being reported throughout the past week, is primarily practicing at RG, and appears to be behind starters Kaiwi Crabb and Daniel Munyer. In practice, the backup RT has been John Lisella, but most are hearing that Callahan will be the first guy off the bench at that spot as well should Stephane Nembot fail to progress. Overall, this group still doesn’t instill a lot of confidence, but they will be improved over last year’s effort unquestionably. Their effectiveness will dictate how successful this offense can be, so keep the fingers crossed.
- Many people pointed to WR as a position of question after WR Paul Richardson left early for the NFL. I can honestly put that issue to rest, as this year’s WR crop is as deep as this program has had in years. Do they have a Paul Richardson? No, but Nelson Spruce is underrated among this fan base, and probably within the conference too. He’s as reliable as they come, whether running routes or catching a tough ball, Spruce is going to turn heads this fall. Bryce Bobo’s eligibility concerns appear to be a thing of the past as well, and you can expect to see him lined up opposite Spruce as the starter when we open up at Mile High in two weeks. The Buffs have accumulated quality depth here as well, as DD Goodson, Devin Ross, and even Tyler McCulloch are all capable of making plays for this team. Shay Fields has come into camp and proven he deserved the 4* ranking he earned in HS. Fields, while slight, is incredibly smooth as a route runner, has plus hands, and above average speed. There’s no question you’ll see him on the field on Saturdays. Additionally, true frosh Donovan Lee is already making waves in this offense, and if the staff so chooses, he will definitely be a factor on the field this season despite his small frame.
- TE Dylan Keeney has been held out of camp with a knee sprain, a disappointing start to his freshman campaign as the Buffs are woefully thin at TE. Sean Irwin and Kyle Slavin represent the only two bodies capable of even seeing the field at the position, and neither possess the big play potential that Keeney flashed in high school. It will be interesting to see which of Irwin/Slavin win the starting job, and if they can maintain it when Keeney is healthy enough to participate.
- QB Sefo Liufau has definitely flashed improved arm strength in camp, but he is also definitely still struggling to throw an accurate deep ball and despite the staff allowing him to run a bit, he’s still far from a threat on the ground. It will be interesting to track how they use his skill set in games, because he’s very comfortable in certain packages, but definitely has glaring weaknesses in his game as well. Opposing teams will game plan around that, can he improve?
- Overall, this is the most physically imposing team I’ve seen in Boulder in awhile. Now, relax, this team has a long ways to go in that area, but they’ve definitely improved. Notable guys like Josh Tupou, Juda Parker, Derek McCartney, Alex Kelley, Jeromy Irwin, Kenneth Crawley, and Christian Powell look far more like football players than in years past, when some were too frail, and others were carrying bad weight. Additionally, quite a few of the freshmen have come into camp looking the part, and the size of the secondary recruits is especially eye-popping.
So where does that leave my prediction for this season? There’s no question this team should be able to compete on a higher level than in years past, but I’m not ready to translate that into more wins. You can expect us to have chances to win and minimize the amount of blowouts, but I fail to see this program as a bowl contender quite yet. For now, I’ll throw out a 4-8 record. As always, I hope to be wrong. GO BUFFS!