In Brady Russell, the Colorado football team has one of the best and most experienced tight ends in the Pac-12 Conference.
Outside of Russell, however, the Buffs are a work in progress at the position.
CU has 10 tight ends on the roster, including eight on scholarship. Five of those scholarship tight ends are freshmen.
“There are different body types that are in that position, but we want to have the best balance of guys that can run and do run blocking and pass receiving, things like that,” CU head coach Karl Dorrell said.
Russell, who missed most of the 2020 season with a leg injury, is back and leading the group, but the challenge of the coaching staff is developing the others.
Redshirt freshman Alec Pell, who was converted from linebacker during the 2020 season, and returning freshman Caleb Fauria are two young tight ends that have stood out during the first week of camp.
“(Pell) is growing and getting better and is getting better in his receiving game,” Dorrell said. “He’s doing better in his run blocking, too. Caleb Fauria, I think he’s made some steps of improvement since the spring, and he did some work over the summer. He looks like he’s been really working at it, looks more comfortable out there.”
True freshman Erik Olen, from Heritage High School, is also having a good camp after sitting out part of the spring with an injury.
“Erik Olsen is probably a notch or two behind (Fauria) in terms of where he’s at from his growth, but Erik is really a talented kid,” Dorrell said. “We want to get him to be a factor for us this year.”
The tight end group also includes super senior Matt Lynch, a former walk-on who is in his third year playing tight end after starting his career as a quarterback at UCLA. Junior Jared Poplawski hasn’t appeared in a game since 2017 because of injuries, but Dorrell said Poplawski, “has been a pleasant surprise. He’s back in the mix and getting himself some quality reps.”
Walk-ons Nico Magri and C.J. Schmanski, who both filled in for Russell last year, and freshmen Louis Passarello and Austin Smith are also in the mix.
“There’s some depth there,” Dorrell said. “We’re trying to figure out how that’s going to sort out, in terms of the depth chart. I’m encouraged that we have enough pieces, which is completely different than we had a year ago.”
While recovering from an Achilles’ injury in spring, senior linebacker Nate Landman had plenty of time to take mental reps. He also took one of the Buffs’ young linebackers, freshman Mister Williams, under his wing, as Williams was also out in the spring.
“We got to know each other really well during that time period,” Landman said. “He’s a really smart guy. Probably the smartest freshmen I’ve ever been around, or I’ve seen come in. Smarter than I was when I was a freshman. He’s a big kid, moves really well and I think that he just needs to gain confidence out there. Once he gets those reps under his belt, he’ll be one heck of a player, one heck of a linebacker.”
Battle at backer
At outside linebacker, Carson Wells is the unquestioned leader, while several others are battling for playing time behind him.
“I think it’s really up to that group in terms of who wants to take it,” Dorrell said after a recent practice. “We’re confident that we have the quality work of really good players in those spots, but it is a challenging and very competitive situation for them because if they want the job, they have to be consistent.”
Juniors Jamar Montgomery and Guy Thomas, along with redshirt freshman Joshka Gustav are the most experienced in the group, but they continue to battle each other.
“None of them has separated themselves enough to warrant for him to be the mainstay,” Dorrell said. “It’s a good situation because they’ve all gotten better. … All three of those guys have great qualities, but no one’s taking the job yet, so it’s really up to them.”
True freshman Devin Grant and Zion Magalei are also competing, along with walk-on Katin Suprenant.
CU had a day off Wednesday and will return to the field Thursday. … The Buffs will have a scrimmage on Saturday.
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