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Three trends from Deion "Coach Prime" Sanders and Colorado's roster rebuild

Jake Schwanitz Avatar
May 4, 2023

After last year’s transfer exodus, Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders has brought in a stampede of transfers and completely reshaped Colorado’s roster.

After 56 transfers out and 37 transfers in, Coach Prime’s first roster is starting to take shape and three separate trends have emerged for the Buffs.

Building Outside-In

Colorado Buffaloes cornerback Travis Hunter (12) before the start of the spring game at Folsom Filed. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Just like how he built Jackson State’s roster, Coach Prime said during his signing-day press conference that he wants to build Colorado’s roster from the outside in. 

It starts with the Buffs’ best player, Travis Hunter. After spending the spring refining himself as a wide receiver, Hunter has the ability to emerge as the Pac-12’s best corner this season. Cormani McClain’s anticipated arrival in Boulder is needed not only because Hunter said so after the spring game, but also because the duo’s lockdown abilities will be the engine behind Colorado’s defense.

The recent commitments of Jahquez Robinson and Omarion Cooper made waves because of their ability as players but also because they fit in alongside Hunter and Cormani McClain to round out one of the Pac-12’s best cornerback rooms. It only makes sense that the greatest corner to ever play the game would ensure his teams boast a similar persona.

On the other side of the ball, offensive coordinator Sean Lewis has called the wide receiver’s the “angels” of his offense and that’s certainly one way to describe how Travis Hunter and Jimmy Horn Jr. played this spring.

Although Hunter is still growing as a wide receiver, he’s already proved to be their best target with Horn not far behind. The scariest part for opposing defenses is the reinforcements Colorado is bringing in at the position. Four-star freshmen Omarion Miller and Adam Hopkins will be arriving this spring as will Xavier Weaver who outproduced Horn the last two years at South Florida. 

Even with all of those players, Coach Prime and Colorado have continued to attack the portal and bring in speedy wide receivers Willie Gaines and Tar’Varish Dawson to bolster the unit’s overall speed. Walk-on Kaleb Mathis also possesses top-end speed and has used that to carve himself a role this spring out of the slot.

And Coach Prime isn’t done yet. Colorado continues to offer big and tall wide receivers in the portal from all over the country to put the cherry on top of this receiving corps with a big possession, red-zone target.

Versatility is everything

Colorado Buffaloes linebacker Jeremiah Brown (42) returns a blocked field goal during the first half of the spring game at Folsom Filed. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

We could start with the perimeter on either side of the ball again here but Colorado’s linebackers have a little bit of everything that will allow defensive coordinator Charles Kelly to line up multiple players all over the field.

Linebackers coach Andre Hart, confirmed during spring practices that Jeremiah Brown will be lining up both off the ball and on the ball this season just like he did last season at Jackson State. Having a player like Brown will allow Colorado’s defense to adjust and shift their defensive front on the fly as offenses go through their shifts and motions. Former Old Dominion defensive end Deeve Harris possesses a similar build to Brown and showed his ability to play in coverage and create turnovers for the Monarchs the last two seasons. He could be the next player to earn off-ball and on-ball opportunities.

Former Alabama linebacker Demouy Kennedy brings a dynamic skill set of speed and athleticism that should allow him to chase defenders down sideline-to-sideline. While Kennedy’s role will be more defined for the Buffs than Brown’s, former Florida State linebacker Brendan Gant should be a player that could be utilized as a safety-linebacker hybrid. Safeties Cam’Ron Silmon-Craig and Trevor Woods are heat-seeking missiles at safety who also have the ability to drop into the box and affect the run game.

Colorado has a type at defensive end that should also be noted. Jordan Domineck, Taijh Alston, Derrick McLendon and Sav’ell Smalls all hover around 6-foot-3, 250 pounds suggesting they could be played on the edge or at the 3 or 5-tech in certain packages.

The pace of Sean Lewis’ offense has been the talk of spring practices but he has also compiled a group of versatile athletes that will line up all over the field.

The speed and skill of Travis Hunter and Jimmy Horn mean they can line up wide, in the slot or carry the ball on designed runs. However, Colorado’s most dynamic and versatile offensive weapon could easily become freshman RB, Dylan Edwards.

Edwards proved his ability to run the ball for massive gains constantly during spring practice but it’s been strongly hinted that he could also see time split out as a receiver. Sean Lewis didn’t show too much of his playbook this spring but with a player that has as much speed and game-breaking ability as Edwards, it’s hard to imagine a situation where we don’t see him line up all over the field this fall.

Experience in the trenches

Florida State Seminoles defensive end Derrick McLendon II (55) rushes off the edge during the second half against the University of Massachusetts Minutemen at Doak S. Campbell Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

The positions hit the hardest by Coach Prime’s roster rebuild are without a doubt the offensive and defensive lines.

The defensive line was Colorado’s weakest unit in 2022 and has been completely torn down and restocked with a bevy of experienced players and graduate transfers.

Incoming transfers Shane Cokes, Taijh Alston, Leonard Payne, Jordan Domineck, Derrick McLendon, Sav’ell Smalls, Chaz Wallace and Deeve Harris have all played at least 20 games in their college careers and proved their abilities on the field.

The same can be said on the offensive side of the ball with Tyler Brown, Savion Washington and Landon Beebe all having played at least 20 collegiate games.

Returning Buffs, Van Wells and Gerad Christian-Lichtenhan are still in the conversation to earn starting roles this fall but judging by the players Colorado has been offering in the portal, more experience is needed.

While both lines will have the benefit of having multiple seasoned players, the chemistry along the lines will be tested as these players learn how to play and complement each other. Having said that, both lines have the luxury of having a baseline of trust knowing that everyone has plenty of live game experience to fall back on.

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