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Every single position room has been improved by Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders and his staff in their efforts to completely rebuild and retool Colorado’s roster in one off-season.
Given who he was as a player, it’s not surprising that Coach Prime said he wants to build his team from the outside in. While those positions will be what determines the structure of both the offense and defense, this exercise is meant to determine which positions are the deepest, most experienced and most talented for this year’s Buffs.
It was made clear during and more so after spring football that Colorado was looking for a complete tight end that would be as impactful in the running game as they would be in the passing game. Louis Passarello earned his number and started in the spring game but tight ends coach Tim Brewster has recently stated that Michael Harrison may be the answer for CU at the position. Michael Harrison has been on Colorado’s roster since 2020 and has played wide receiver that entire time until now.
Elijah Yelverton is a former three-star recruit who committed to Iowa and should compete for playing time along with 2022 three-star recruits Erik Olsen and Caleb Fauria. With just over a month to go until the season begins, it’s anyone’s guess how the depth chart shakes out at this position.
Demouy Kennedy will be the x-factor at linebacker for the Buffs and could elevate this unit by himself with his performance this season. Given what we’ve seen from the speed analytics coming out of Boulder, Kennedy has the potential to be a black hole in the middle of Colorado’s defense where it seems like the ball finds him play after play. LaVonta Bentley is the early leader to lineup next to Kennedy behind CU’s defensive line but Brendan Gant’s arrival could certainly change that. Jeremiah Brown followed Coach Prime and linebackers coach Andre Hart to Colorado after being a disruptive and versatile player at Jackson State.
Behind those top four, we have some questions that need to be answered. Will Marvin Ham be the next man up in the linebacker rotation? Could true freshmen Victory Johnson, Kofi Taylor-Barrocks and Morgan Pearson be early contributors? The answers to those questions will determine how deep Colorado is at linebacker.
Tyler Brown arrived in the spring and has held down left guard while continuing to get better throughout the summer. It would be a surprise to see anyone other than Gerad “Tank” Christian-Lichtenhan and Savion Washington starting at left and right tackle given their outstanding size. Center and right guard are up for grabs later this summer and the competition between Van Wells, Jack Bailey, Landon Bebee, Reggie Young, Kareem Harden and Isaiah Jatta will be one of the battles to watch in camp.
Overall, Colorado has plenty of experience along the offensive line it’s just a matter of finding their best combination of five to protect Shedeur Sanders. Finding those five and placing them in their correct positions could be a process we watch unfold throughout the season.
Shedeur Sanders is the most important player on the football team and Colorado’s success in 2023 will largely fall on Sheduer’s shoulders. At Jackson State, Shedeur was a walking flamethrower who threw for 70 touchdowns and only 14 interceptions on 68% completion. Sean Lewis’ offense was designed for a quarterback like Shedeur to make quick, accurate decisions with plenty of options to attack every inch of the field. His presence amplifies Colorado’s quarterback room significantly and could bring one of the most high-powered offenses Boulder has seen since CU joined the Pac-12.
However, when it comes to the entire position room the Buffs do not have a player that has taken a snap of FBS football. Incoming freshmen, Kasen Weisman and Ryan Staub, both showed promise to become Power 5 quarterbacks with their high school film but would be a lot of learning and developing on the fly if forced to play this season.
Travis Hunter and Cormani McClain are one of the most talented and highly-touted cornerback duos in the history of college football and CU fans get to watch it unfold right in front of them. Omarion Cooper and Jahquez Robinson were both four-star recruits out of Florida and will be the next guys up if Hunter or McClain are off the field. Ole Miss transfer Kyndrick Breedlove is the next man up and is another player that has shown tremendous speed throughout the summer and spring. After him, it’s up to the other true freshmen.
2023 three-star recruit Carter Stoutmire has a great opportunity to see the field and gain valuable game experience early but the Buffs have to resort to walk-ons after him. Isreal Solomon is a preferred walk-on who was a highly productive defensive captain for IMG Academy and is on the list to be one of the surprise players this fall.
Alton McCaskill was one of the most impactful commitments Coach Prime was able to net this off-season. Coming off an ACL tear in April 2022, McCaskill is healthy and ready to build on his incredible 2021 freshman season. Kavosiey Smoke is a strong second option who averaged over five yards per touch in his five-year career at Kentucky. Together, McCaskill and Smoke form one of the best tandem of backs in the Pac-12.
Anthony Hankerson proved he belongs on this roster and will offer another punishing yet nimble set of legs. Dylan Edwards projects to be an all-around weapon in Sean Lewis’ offense and has the potential to be one of the most explosive young players in the country. Colorado’s running backs room is multi-dimensional, tough and explosive. Power running will be one of Lewis’ calling cards every game this season.
The defensive line struggled to stop the run and rush the passer all season last year and was one of the rooms Coach Prime targeted in the portal the hardest. Transfers Jordan Domineck, Shane Cokes, Taijh Alston, Derrick McLendon and Chazz Wallace are proven, experienced and hungry to improve their draft stocks dramatically. Sav’ell Smalls, Chance Main, Bishop Thomas and Zach Blackwood all have breakout potential given the aforementioned talent they will get to play alongside.
Not only did Coach Prime and his staff go out and recruit a strong core of transfers along the defensive line, but he also brought in SEC-level depth on the interior and on the edge in Arden Walker, JJ Hawkins, and Amari McNeil. Similar to the offensive line, it may take some time to find the best combination of dawgs in the defensive trenches but the talent level of this group is undeniable.
Colorado’s best defensive player from last season is back in Trevor Woods and the surrounding talent in this room has been multiplied tenfold. Cam’Ron Silmon-Craig and Shilo Sanders are in Boulder to continue the tear they were on in Jackson and have provided a much-needed competitive fire for the entire team. Rodrick Ward was an outstanding safety at Southern Utah last season that could be a swiss-army knife for defensive coordinator Charles Kelly’s defense. Travis Jay and Vito Tisdale are both coming off of injuries but were on their way to becoming starters for their former teams when healthy.
The competition for Colorado’s starting safeties this summer could go multiple directions but nearly any combination of the players mentioned above will be an improvement on what the Buffs were fielding last season. While Colorado will have two safeties named starters, the rotation is deep and Coach Kelly will surely move all his safeties around the field in multiple personnel packages.
The Colorado Buffaloes are completely stacked at wide receiver. Travis Hunter and Jimmy Horn Jr. are primed for breakout seasons and could cement themselves as one of the best one-two punches in the country. Xavier Weaver, Javon Antonio have fit right into Coach Prime’s program and Tar’Varish Dawson is producing staggering speed numbers. Willie Gaines was an explosive deep threat for Jackson State last year and former Baylor Bear, Jaylen Ellis has track speed as well. All these players will see the field in some capacity this season and that’s not even mentioning the talented group of freshmen and walk-ons.
Six scholarship wide receivers committed to Colorado in the three-month period Coach Prime and his staff had to recruit the 2023 class. Incoming four-star wide receivers Omarion Miller and Adam Hopkins have already showcased their talent in the indoor facility; it wouldn’t be a shock to see either or both of them on the field early and often.
Walk-ons Kaleb Mathis, Cole Boscia and Chernet Estes consistently made plays throughout spring practice and have the talent to keep up with the rest of the group. The wide receivers are the “angels” of the offense Sean Lewis will run in Boulder this and he will have an abundance of riches on the perimeter.