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CU@Game CU At The Game: In the Trenches – Offensive Line

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    “Football Games are Won and Lost in the Trenches” – A look at the CU Offensive Line

    Coaching legend John McKay came up with many of the finest lines ever uttered by a football coach (“Well, we didn’t block, but we made up for it by not tackling”). McKay, a World War II veteran, is also credited with the phrase, “Football games are won and lost in the trenches”.

    That kernel of wisdom often holds true, and may well hold true for the 2016 Colorado Buffaloes.

    The Buffs have produced a handful of NFL offensive linemen in the past decade, but haven’t put together a cohesive unit which can dominate a game. Similarly, the Buffs have recruited several top recruits along the defensive line, only to see them to succumb to injury, off-field issues, or just plain ol’ under-achievement.

    This fall, though, there is reason to believe that the Buffs may finally be able to two units which can, as the phrase goes, make the difference between winning and losing.

    Offensive Line

    Last season, the Colorado offensive line, even with physical specimen Stephane Nembot in the lineup, took a step back.

    “Offensively, in 2014, we had the least amount of sacks in the Pac-12”, said Mike MacIntyre. “Last year, we had the most sacks in the Pac-12. A lot of that was predicated to injuries. We had quite a few injuries, the most I’ve ever seen on the offensive line as a head coach”.

    The biggest loss was that of Jeromy Irwin, the stalwart at left tackle, whose loss in the second game of the season brought about a reshuffling of lineups for a unit which never hit its stride the entire season.

    The result? Colorado was 87th in rushing offense and 97th in total offense.

    Now, Irwin is back, and the offensive line is beginning to take shape. While the official lineup may change over the next few weeks of fall practices, some of the players can be identified:

    — Jeromy Irwin will return to his left tackle position. Before being injured, Irwin had played in 23 games, starting 13. “We have Jeromy Irwin coming back who I think is an excellent, excellent player,” said MacIntyre. “He could never really get over 285 [pounds], which you really wanted him in the 300’s. He’s now 308 and doing really well”.

    — At left guard, two juniors – Gerrad Kough and Jonathan Huckins – are vying for the starting position. Both had injury issues of their own in 2016, but Kough managed to start ten games at left guard, while Huckins had eight starts at right guard.

    — The center position was the only one which had the same starter all of last season, with Alex Kelley being involved in almost every snap of the campaign. Kelley has now made 21 consecutive starts … the most of any player on the team. Senior Sully Wiefels is listed as a potential backup here, but could also find his way onto the field at guard. “Because he’s played all three of those inside spots a lot, I want to get him into a position where he can compete for a starting job,” Klayton Adams told CUBuffs.com. “It’s hard because last year, when somebody got dinged up, we’d say, ‘OK, Sully can do that.’ ”

    — The right guard position remains undecided, though the favorite appears to be Tim Lynott. A red-shirt freshman, Lynott appears ahead of senior Shane Callahan in the pre-fall camp “pencil” depth chart.

    — At right tackle, there are several options. If junior Sam Kronshage, who had six starts at the tackle position in 2015, cannot hold the position, it may fall to a red-shirt freshman, with Aaron Haigler, Isaac Miller or Dillon Middlemiss assuming the role. The Buffs may also turn to sophomore John Lisella, who started five games last season at the position, including the last four.

    The off-season appears to have been a positive for the offensive line.

    “Those guys have gained a lot of weight,” offensive line coach Klayton Adams told the Daily Camera. “The guy who has gained the most is Isaac Miller. He’s kind of working through some stuff that he finished the spring with, injury-wise, but I think he’s 285 pounds. Aaron Haigler, I don’t know how much weight he gained, but he looks bigger. Alex Kelley’s body has changed a little bit. Gerrad Kough just continues to look more and more like a Pac-12 offensive lineman that’s played a lot of games. Jeromy Irwin looks great. Shane Callahan’s body has changed some. It’s a testament, No.1, to coach (Drew) Wilson in the weight room, but I think those guys have bought into it and really enjoyed being in there and grinding it”.

    While losing Irwin was a definite disadvantage for the offensive line in 2015, it may bear fruit in 2016. “Last year was a learning curve for some of the young guys, because they did get thrown in there early,” Irwin said. “I think they’ve improved a tremendous amount. It always pays off when you get guys in there early to take reps, because the more experience you get with your technique and everything else.”

    There seems to be a good mix of experience and talented newcomers along the CU offensive line this season. Fall Camp will be about finding the right mix.

    “I told the guys (Saturday) I have a rotation set that I wanted to work for the first five days of camp,” Adams said. “After that, it’s going to slowly start gelling. Ideally, you would love to have a really good idea of who’s going to be working with who about 10 practices in — about two weeks.”

    For the Buffs to be successful offensively, Klayton Adams needs to find a starting five which will not only gel, but become a dominant force.

    Oh, and stay healthy …


    … Coming Wednesday morning … “In the Trenches – Defensive Line” …


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