Renewed energy fueling offensive line


There were a lot of smiles on the faces of Colorado’s offensive linemen during the spring.

The 2021 season was one they’d like to forget, but under the direction of the new line coach Kyle DeVan, the group has renewed energy this offseason.

“It’s like the blindfold’s been taken off and everyone’s getting better every day,” right tackle Frank Fillip said.

This summer, BuffZone.com will preview each position group for CU and in this installment, we look at the offensive line.

A year ago, the Buffs allowed 32 sacks (2.67 per game, tied for 10th in the Pac-12) and averaged just 3.46 yards per rush (10th in the Pac-12). Those numbers aren’t on the line, but they are a reflection of the struggles the group experienced.

BOULDER, CO, April 2, 2022: Offensive lineman, Austin Johnson, right, during the April 2, 2022 University of Colorado Boulder football practice. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff photographer)

CU’s linemen never got comfortable with former coach Mitch Rodrigue, who was fired by head coach Karl Dorrell seven games into last season. The group was a bit better in the last month of the 2021 season and then quickly warmed up to DeVan, a former NFL lineman who coached at Arizona for two years (2019-20) and worked last year as an analyst at Michigan.

The group also bonded through adversity.

“We had so much stuff happen to us and this is my fifth coach, sixth coach, something like that,” said fourth-year sophomore Austin Johnson. “Coaches matter, but to a point we have really just been able to stick together as a group and come together and that’s all that matters. I love the boys in the group.”

It’s a group, however, that knows it has to come together on the field and perform well for the Buffaloes to be better offensively.

“I feel like this year has gotta be a real big year for myself and the whole O-line as a unit, to show just from end of the season to now we’ve made leaps and bounds to where we want to be,” left tackle Jake Wiley said. “We’re not there yet, obviously, but I think… we’re gonna be real good this year. I’m excited to go out there and just play with everybody and show what we’ve got going on.”

CU lost full-time starters Kary Kutsch (left guard) and Colby Pursell (center) to graduation. Former Ohio State transfer Max Wray medically retired and three key backups all transferred.

Coming back, however, is both starting tackles — Wiley and Fillip — and right guard Casey Roddick. That trio combined for 31 starts last year and spent most of the spring in those same positions.

Johnson and former Iowa transfer Noah Fenske shared reps at center throughout the spring and that competition is likely to continue through preseason camp in August.

At left guard, Alabama transfer Tommy Brown has the inside track to start, but Johnson or Fenske could play there, as well.

Offensive coordinator Mike Sanford is in his first season with the Buffs but has been impressed with the overall transformation of the group.

“Coach DeVan has just been incredible for these guys in such a short period of time,” he said. “Their confidence, you see the way they carry themselves on the field, it’s a different group.”

Ultimately, the Buffs could have a veteran group of starters but will lean on a very inexperienced group of backups. Sophomore tackle Gerad Christian-Lichtenhan played 67 snaps last year, while eight of the 14 scholarship linemen have never played a snap at CU.

The Buffs finished spring with only eight healthy lineman (Brown was among those on the sidelines for the spring), but Dorrell came away from spring encouraged by the showcase of the depth.

DeVan, meanwhile, is energized by helping the group get better.

“We want to win up front and they have to learn how to do that,” he said. “They’re buying into the way I teach things, the way I coach things.

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