Every year, the start of spring football practices brings some energy and excitement to the Colorado football program.
That’s no different this year, but the Buffaloes, who open spring on Wednesday, also know how important these 15 practices are for a program coming off a 4-8 season.
“We’ve got a lot to prove,” head coach Karl Dorrell said Tuesday. “Obviously, we have a bad taste in our mouth from last season. It wasn’t the type of season we were expecting, so we definitely have some work to do and (the players) understand that. They’re ready to get to work and really start developing and getting this team to be as good as they can be.”
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Since the Nov. 26 season finale at Utah, the Buffs have gone through significant changes.
Twenty players from last year’s roster have put their names in the NCAA transfer portal since late November, with 13 of those finding new teams. The Buffs also had several other players graduate or medically retire.
CU signed 30 new players, 12 of which are on campus and ready to compete this spring. In addition, Dorrell, going into his third season as head coach, overhauled his coaching staff, replacing six of his 10 assistants.
Since January, however, the Buffs have been settled into an offseason routine and Dorrell feels good about the foundation that was set leading into spring drills.
“We feel like these last couple of months have been really, really productive months for our team,” he said. “We had some really good skill development both from a player perspective and from a physical development perspective. … I feel like our team is in much better shape. Probably the best we’ve looked since I’ve been back here at Colorado, so I feel really good about the start of this session, compared to last year at this time.”
Dorrell said the Buffs have had a “very competitive offseason” and he hopes that competition continues into the 15 practices.
“We want this spring to be a very competitive spring practice for all positions,” he said. “A lot of people are competing for depth chart (spots). … We want to develop our systems on both the offense and defense and special teams, going back to square one and teaching the basic fundamentals and principles of all three of those areas.”
With several new coaches, a new offense and tweaks on defense this will be an educational spring, but Dorrell believes a lot of the adjustment has been done.
“(The new coaches have) had meetings and had walkthroughs and have done some things with the current team, so that bridge should be pretty much crossed other than really just getting more familiar with the coaching styles and getting more familiar with what that looks like on the field,” he said.
Dorrell said the focus for veteran players will be to “refine their development,” while the staff will aim to get youth up to speed and “close the gap” between young players and veterans.
Through it all, the Buffs will be working on changes to the offense and defense after last year’s disappointment.
“We’ve made some tweaks to our systems on both sides of the ball; the biggest one is offensively,” Dorrell said. “It is a new offense so that’s going to be completely new. I think defensively there won’t be as many changes as what the offense has dealt with. There has been some certain tweaks that we’ve done within our system that we felt are going to help us in 2022, so we’re anxious to get to work on all of those things.”
Under the direction of new offensive coordinator Mike Sanford, the Buffs will spend the next 15 practices figuring out what their identity could be next season.
“I think we’re all kind of curious to see how that will end up after 15 practices,” Dorrell said.
He added that the Buffs have an idea of what they want to do on offense, but spring practices will help the staff determine the strengths and weaknesses of the players as they look to establish their identity.
“We want to create balance. We want to be able to throw the ball much, much better than what we’ve done,” he said. “We want to improve our running game. There’s definitely a lot of areas offensively that we want to make sure that we address, but I think the identity part will define itself at some point. It’s hard to say what that is right now.”
With the season opener more than five months away, CU still has summer workouts and preseason camp on the horizon, as well. Wednesday’s practice starts an important phase of the offseason, however.
“The bottom line and the finishing goal of spring is to make sure that we come away from spring feeling like we’ve got a really strong foundation set with our offense and defense and special teams,” Dorrell said. “Kind of a snapshot of what we think we can continue to build from going into summer and into fall camp.
“I’m cautiously optimistic about how I feel we’re going to have an excellent spring, but we still have to put that into action.”
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