Although the main acquisition of the offseason has yet to practice this month, the Colorado Buffaloes are starting to see their offensive line come together.
On Saturday, head coach Karl Dorrell said he’s pleased with the progress of the line as the Sept. 2 opener against TCU quickly approaches – despite Alabama transfer Tommy Brown sitting out the first 16 practices of preseason camp to this point as he recovers from a knee injury.
“We’ve created enough depth and versatility I would say,” Dorrell said.
Dorrell has spent much of his coaching career in the NFL, while first-year offensive line coach Kyle DeVan has played and coached in the league in the recent past. Both are familiar with an NFL roster that has limited numbers, making position flexibility vital.
“That’s something Kyle and I share a background with … creating versatility within your system,” Dorrell said. “The NFL carries normally seven offensive linemen into games on Sunday, so there’s a lot of guys that have to play a lot of positions. Kyle has trained a lot of our guys to play multiple positions so it gives us a lot of flexibility, so whenever there are injuries, we can be able to quickly make an adjustment.”
To that point, tackle Frank Fillip and guard Casey Roddick, returning starters on the right side of the line, have spent much of camp on the left side. Austin Johnson and Noah Fenske are competing for starting roles at center and guard. Fenske has been mainly at center, with Johnson at right guard with the first-team offense. CU also got tackle Jake Wiley back from a concussion this week. Last year’s starter on the left side, he’s been working on the right side, as well.
That group has taken a lot of the first-team reps and played well, Dorrell said. He added that true freshmen Van Wells (center) and Travis Gray (tackle) are both doing well.
“Overall, I think that O-line position, we feel really a lot better about it now than we have in the last couple years,” Dorrell said.
They’ll feel even better on Monday when Brown will be able to practice for the first time since April.
“I’m excited about that,” Dorrell said. “Tommy being back at it on Monday, that’s a bonus right now.”
By returning Monday, Brown will have only about a week and a half to get ready for a game and Dorrell is hoping that’s enough time.
“We’ll see,” Dorrell said. “This has happened to him before at Alabama, so he feels he’s got a pretty good mechanism about getting back. I think we’re in good enough shape in case he doesn’t, but he thinks he has a really good chance to get back and I do, too.”
Hestera making plays
CU is loaded with talented players on scholarship at receiver, but walk-on Jack Hestera continues to push for a role in the offense.
A redshirt freshman with a family history at CU, Hestera turned heads in the spring and continues to do this month. On Saturday, he had a 22-yard touchdown and caught a few other passes.
“A guy like that, you can’t deny his ability,” Dorrell said. “He had a little bit of a slower start in camp but he’s kind of revved up and he’s tuned in pretty good now to be where he’s almost in game shape, ready to go.”
Hestera played at Ralston Valley High School before transferring to Cedar Park (Texas) High School for his senior year in 2020. That fall, he caught 53 passes for 1,061 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Hestera’s uncle, Dave, was an All-Big Eight tight end for CU in the early 1980s and his father, Dan, was a member of CU’s 1990 national title team.
Making a push
True freshman quarterback Owen McCown is listed at 175 pounds and might need some work in the weight room to be ready to play. But, he continues to impress with a strong arm and ability to move the offense.
McCown threw a pair of passes to Ty Robinson for first downs, tossed a touchdown pass to Jordyn Tyson and ran for a score as he pushes for the No. 3 spot on the depth chart.
“I think he’s playing well,” Dorrell said. “He’s in the discussion being in that third position role. Drew Carter’s competing in there, too, and Maddox Kopp.”
Like Brown, the Buffs are expecting receiver RJ Sneed to practice on Monday. The Baylor transfer hasn’t practiced this month, but went through individual drills Saturday. … Dorrell said defensive lineman Na’im Rodman “has had a great camp.” Rodman made a few plays against the run Saturday. … Kicker Cole Becker was held out Saturday because of a sore hamstring from kicking all week. Dorrell was pleased, however, with Cristiano Palazzo, a walk-on transfer from Oregon who connected on a pair of field goals. … Kopp threw a pair of touchdown passes – to walk-on tight ends Brady Kopetz and Cole Boscia – in goal-line situations.