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May 3, 2012

Mailbag: Offensive line concerns

Every other Thursday, BuffStampede.com Publisher Adam Munsterteiger will answer some questions from fans about CU football, basketball or recruiting. Send questions to adamcm777@yahoo.com, @adamcm777 on twitter or post your questions on the Stampede Elite message board.

richardrhino: Who has made the biggest strides since last season? Which [football] players are they expecting to have a breakout season?

When I read your question, the first player that popped into my head was Chidera Uzo-Diribe.

After being more of a pass rush specialist his first two seasons at CU, as he was a liability stopping the run, Uzo-Diribe came into this off-season determined to become a well-rounded defensive end. He has added some muscle to his frame and now stands a solid 6-foot-3, 255-pounds. During spring practices, Uzo-Diribe dominated coming off the edge in the hybrid Jack role, which departed senior Josh Hartigan manned last season.

Running back Tony Jones, wide receiver Nelson Spruce, offensive lineman Alex Lewis and linebacker Derrick Webb are other players that have made big strides since last fall.

STHbuffs: Are the offensive linemen looking to bulk up over the summer? What is the summer meal plan? I think we need to start throwing out an all 300-pound offensive line if we want to be a power run team.

Because Ryan Miller slimmed down prior to his senior season last year, I think a lot of CU fans made the misconception that offensive line coach Steve Marshall wants his guys to be lean.

I have asked Marshall about this on a couple occasions and he said he wants his linemen to get as big and as strong as they can get, while maintaining their athleticism. There is a law of diminishing returns with that. If you get too big and can't move, that size isn't doing you any favors on the football field. It is not all about strength with the players in the trenches. Eric Richter is an absolute beast in the weight room, but he probably isn't going to be in the rotation at defensive tackle this season.

If you look at the five projected starters, based off the post-spring depth chart, only sophomore Alex Lewis weighs less than 295-pounds. Malcolm Blacken and the rest of the Buffaloes' strength and conditioning staff help assist the players with a meal plan. It is obviously tailored differently for every player based on their body type. Shakes are provided to the players, and they are encouraged to drink them after workouts. Under former strength coach Jeff Pitman, they had Gatorade shakes. Under Blacken, they are Muscle Milk shakes.

CL34: How are the kicking and punting situations shaking out? Seemed like Castor got a lot of reps in the spring but Oliver had a solid frosh season.

The reason Justin Castor got so many reps the second half of spring ball, and was the only kicker that participated in the spring game, is because Will Oliver had shoulder surgery during spring break. Special teams coordinator J.D. Brookhart told me that Oliver did a good job the first couple weeks of spring practices, particularly with getting the "ball up better". He had four kicks blocked last year and two them were blocked because he kicked the ball low. My guess is Castor will be the kickoff specialist and Oliver will again be the Buffs' starting place kicker.

Brookhart was disappointed with the performance of both punters, Zach Grossnickle and Darragh O'Neill, during spring ball. He felt they came into it lackadaisical, rather than "game ready", which he was hoping for.

59Buff: How are we coming with the offensive line recruiting? The staff really came through with the defensive line and cornerback recruits in the 2012 class. Can they do the same thing with the offensive line for the 2013 class? I feel this is by far our most critical need area for 2013.

Obviously you asked this question before Colorado picked up its first offensive line commitment from Orange (Calif.) Lutheran's Colin Sutton on Wednesday afternoon. You are absolutely right, offensive line is the most critical need for the Buffs this recruiting cycle. Even though it is expected to be a smaller class overall, due to the lack of seniors on the roster, Marshall has told recruits that they plan to sign five or six offensive linemen this cycle. According to the Rivals.com database, CU has offered 33 offensive linemen from the Class of 2013. So they have definitely cast a wide net. I'll predict the Buffs have four offensive linemen committed by the time preseason camp starts in August.

Houston (Texas) Bellaire's Dwayne Johnson told me this week that he has been "kind of" tempted to commit to Colorado. I could see that happening when he visits Boulder for the first in the near future. Castle Rock (Colo.) Douglas County's Blake Nowland and Houston (Texas) Stratford's Christian Daimler also havehigh interest in CU.

Of the offensive line recruits that are rated a little higher on Rivals.com, Louisville (Ken.) Ballard's Joey Bloomfield, San Clemente (Calif.) High's Sean Harlow, Van Alstyne (Texas) High's Alex Mayes and Corona (Calif.) Centennial Cameron Hunt all have CU listed among their favorites.

It will be interesting to see where Dan Skipper decides to play his college football. The 6-foot-10, 280-pound offensive tackle from Arvada (Colo.) Ralston Valley seems to have real genuine interest in the Buffs but he also has offers from a dozen other FBS programs. He plays to fly out to a long list of colleges, basically go coast-to-coast, this summer. I plan to stop by his school to do a video feature on Skipper later this month.

CUOWNSALL88: After losing Ryan Miller and Ethan Adkins, can Buff fans expect the offensive line to compete against Pac-12 defensive lines?

I think the fact that I am getting so many questions about the offensive line and offensive line recruiting shows that the Buffs have a smart fan base. It all starts up front and if the Buffs are going to have a successful 2012 campaign, they need the group to be more consistent than recent seasons.

The proof is in the pudding so it is hard to answer your question on May 3. But I can tell you the Buffs' staff is excited about the potential of this offensive line. Offensive coordinator and running backs coach Eric Bieniemy called the offensive line the team's most cohesive unit this spring. Head coach Jon Embree also praised their performance multiple times in March and April. Obviously you have to take a lot of that with a grain of salt, especially given the situation on the Buffs' defensive line during spring ball.

Miller and Adkins were both solid players, but are far from irreplaceable. Their departure will give two very talented underclassmen in Alex Lewis and Daniel Munyer a chance to play at the two guard spots. There is no substitute for experience and they will suffer some growing pains, but both have enough ability to eventually become as good as or better than their predecessors.


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