Typically, Big 12 coaches don't like to play an offensive lineman in his true freshman season. But due to the fact only seven players return from last season along the offensive trenches (just four with game experience), it's likely one or more rookies will have to be ready to go come September.
"We're going to need them at some point in the season," said senior lineman Edwin Harrison. "I think they came in knowing some of them will really have to play."
Harrison competed at tackle in the spring and last fall and should end up in the starting lineup this fall. But he could move to guard, probably his more natural position, if one of the handful of freshmen tackles proves worthy.
On the other side, senior tackle Tyler Polumbus has more plays under his belt than any returning o-lineman, while junior Daniel Sanders will likely also land a starting spot on the inside. Sanders played guard last fall, and center this spring. If redshirt-freshman Keenan Stevens earns new offensive line coach Jeff Grimes' trust in August, he could end up starting at center, which would allow Sanders to move to guard.
Newcomers trying to find a spot in the two-deep include Ethan Adkins, Matt Bahr, Blake Behrens, Shawn Daniels, Mike Iltis, Kai Maiava, Ryan Miller and Sione Tau. Look for Bahr, Behrens, Iltis, Miller and Tau to be the most physically ready to make noise in August.
With so many new faces and several players who could play more than one position, a big part of Grimes' job in the next couple of weeks will be putting the puzzle together.
Look for him to settle on a starting five and slot some dependable backups by Aug. 19 when the Buffs begin implementing their game plan for Colorado State.
Miller — rated a 5-star recruit by Scout.com — comes to CU with the most accolades among the freshmen. But Grimes said that won't play into anything once the first practice whistle blows.
"I wouldn't put him ahead of anyone else. We've got some outstanding players coming in," Grimes recently told KOA Radio broadcaster and BSN columnist Larry Zimmer. "Since he played locally, he's a bit better known, but he's going to have to prove it on the field. Even the veterans don't have anything clinched. With eight freshmen we have doubled our numbers. You're going to have to get it done and prove yourself, or you're not going to play. I've always felt that competition is the greatest motivator."
Polumbus liked Grimes as a motivator and teacher in the spring.
"Hands down, he's the best coach I've ever had," Polumbus said. "He's just changed our whole mentality. We've always tried to be a tough group before, but that's his whole focus – being tough, physical guys that no one wants to play. It's amazing when that's all you think about during practice – thinking, ‘I'm going to make this d-lineman mad at me' – it really makes a difference."
Grimes wants the offensive line to set to tone for the entire Buffaloes squad this fall and beyond.
"I want the toughest, most physical offensive line around," he said. "I want it to be a trademark at Colorado. Playing offensive line is not for the meek of heart. You have to step into the middle of things and throw your body around and enjoy getting after people.
"If the offensive line isn't physical, the entire team won't be physical. The offensive line sets the tone for the team. We play a crucial role. It establishes the nature of the team."
Leading returners: Edwin Harrison (34 games played), Tyler Polumbus (15 starts), Daniel Sanders (15 starts).
Ethan Adkins, Fr., OL, 6-4, 275
Matt Bahr, Fr., OL, 6-5, 290
Blake Behrens, Fr., OL, 6-4, 290
Shawn Daniels, Fr., G, 6-3, 265
Erick Faatagi, Jr., G, 6-2, 310
Edwin Harrison, Sr., OL, 6-4, 300
Devin Head, So., OL, 6-4, 285
Mike Iltis, Fr., G, 6-3, 285
Kai Maiava, Fr., C, 6-1, 295
Ryan Miller, Fr., T, 6-8, 320
Wes Palazzi, R-Fr., OL, 6-1, 285
Tyler Polumbus, Sr., T, 6-8, 300
Daniel Sanders, Jr., OL, 6-3, 305
Keenan Stevens, R-Fr., OL, 6-3, 275
Sione Tau, Fr., T, 6-6, 310