Offensive Line -
In what may come as a shock to most CU fans after the last 10 years of Buff football, it appears the offensive line may actually be a team strength this year. When you return four out of five starters that’s almost a given. And when two of them are fifth year seniors, it’s even better. The Colorado offensive line continues to improve under the tutelage of Klayton Adams and the strength and conditioning wizardry of Drew Wilson. Last season showed significant improvement over the year before even with two redshirt freshmen playing a significant amount of the total snaps on the season. Those young guys, Tim Lynott and Aaron Haigler, will be bigger, stronger, and more experienced this year. And their older counterparts on the left side of the line, Jeromy Irwin and Gerrad Kough, are both legitimate prospects for post-season all-conference recognition.
That left one of the two most critical positions on the line, center, as the really big question mark this spring. After 15 practices, the answer to that question appears to be another fifth year senior, Jonathan Huckins. Huckins will have to continue to work hard this summer and improve over what he showed last season, but he pulled away from the pack in the race for the center spot this spring. He will try to provide the kind of steady production in the middle that CU enjoyed the previous three seasons with Alex Kelley.
Gerrad Kough sat out the spring continuing to rehab the ankle he injured late last season but at this point there doesn’t appear to be any reason for concern about his return. When healthy, Kough is a very solid guard and teams well with Irwin on the left side. Irwin spent the spring at left guard to prepare him to be the backup there if anything happens to Kough, and left tackle was manned this spring by junior Josh Kaiser and sophomore Isaac Miller. Kaiser’s future is likely at guard but getting those reps on the edge once again provides insurance against an injury to Irwin. But the next man up at left tackle is likely Miller, who slowly worked his way back into the mix this spring.
So what have we learned this spring on the offensive line?
- Huckins is the clear front runner for the starting center position. He had a decent spring going against CU’s huge nose guards and defensive tackles, but it remains to be seen if he will be anything close to as stout in the middle as Kelley was last year.
- Haigler and Lynott were not flukes in playing well as redshirt freshmen last fall. Both looked improved this spring and Haigler appears to be well on his way to playing at 290 next fall after weighing last season closer to 270. These two will be fixtures on the line for the next three years.
- Irwin continues to look like a future NFL lineman and his spring spent at guard will only enhance his value to the Buffs this fall. But he is clearly the Buffs' left tackle again, unless it becomes impossible to keep Isaac Miller off the field.
- Kaiser doesn’t appear to have the athleticism to be a long term answer at left tackle but he could be a solid depth piece at either guard or at right tackle.
- If he stays healthy, Miller could be the real deal at left tackle. Another summer in the weight room should have him heavier and ready to play at the Pac-12 level.
- Colby Pursell was a pleasant surprise at center and could be in the discussion down the road, possibly as soon as 2018 when Huckins graduates.
- Brett Tonz was another pleasant surprise as he switched from the defensive line to guard and proved to be somewhat of a natural at the position. With the summer to work on technique and continue to get stronger, Tonz could be a very valuable depth piece at guard if the Buffs hit some injuries.
- Spring MVP on the offensive line: Tie between Jonathan Huckins, who worked hard and pulled well into the lead for the starting center position, and Brett Tonz, who moved from defense and played well enough to put himself squarely in the mix for playing time.
As a final wrap up to this look at what we learned on offense this spring, it’s fair to say that any optimism fans might have about the Buffs' offense for 2017 coming out of spring ball is warranted. This could, and should, be a very explosive and high scoring offense. With the exception of tight end, every position has players who could be among the best in the conference. And there is a mix of veteran, experienced players, and young very talented players. That bodes well for both the short and long term future on offense. This should be an offense that provides both big plays on a regular basis, and the ability to control the clock and the field for longer drives.