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Colorado Buffaloes '10 First Look: Offensive Line

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Colorado Buffaloes '10 First Look: Offensive Line
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2010 Offensive Line—Returning Players/Recruits

The Colorado offensive line—the great enigma from the 2009 season.

The problems in 2007 were forgivable. After all, the offensive line depth was so depleted that the spring game was a spring scrimmage due to a lack of healthy linemen.

The problems in 2008 were readily explained.

The Buffs had been infused with a multitude of talented linemen with two strong recruiting classes, mammoth young men with limitless potential. But these players were, alas, still young, and their mistakes led to frustration.

Patience was the watchword of the day.

Then came fall practice, 2009.

Frustration was replaced by exuberance. Two 1,000-yard rushers were not out of the question.

“Running downhill” was the phrase of the month. The Colorado offensive line was so well stocked that talented players—with game experience!—were two deep at each position.

Then the 2009 season began…

Colorado, ranked 88th in the nation in rushing offense in 2008, fell to 113th in 2009. Rushing yards per game fell from 124 to 88.

The “sacks allowed” statistic, the worst team stat in 2008, had the Buffs in at 113th in the nation.

In 2009, though, the Buffs were even worse, allowing a whopping 3.67 sacks per game, with only three teams—Tulsa, Washington State, and Miami (Ohio)—worse at protecting their quarterback.

Okay, you know the numbers. You lived through them the past four months.

So, what happened?

Too many good players; not enough great ones. The starting lineup was a mystery week to week. Let’s call it “Denver Johnson’s Musical Chairs."

Junior Nate Solder started every game at left tackle. After that, you need a program.

Sophomore Ryan Miller also started each game, but was continuously shifted around.

Ready for a rundown?

Miller started the first two games of 2009 at right guard, the next game at right tackle, then two more games at right guard, then four games at right tackle, followed by the final three games at right guard.

Now, I may not be a genius when it comes to player development, but in my world, starting Miller seven times at guard and five times at tackle does not make him a great player, it makes him “a jack of all trades, master of none."

Miller needs to be given a permanent home and allowed to develop his talents focused on one position.

Another player who failed to line up in the same position for each game was sophomore Blake Behrens.

Behrens had two starts at right guard, but also two starts at left guard.

Then there was the odd case of center Mike Iltis. If you recall last spring and into fall practice, Mike Iltis was the man—the clear choice to replace the only lost starter from 2008, center Daniel Sanders.

Iltis, a sophomore, beat out former walk-on Keenan Stevens, but he was injured six plays into the first offensive drive of the 2009 season.

Stevens took over the starting role even after Iltis returned from injury, starting the final nine games at center. (Iltis would go on to play in only one game in the middle of the season, but returned to play in the last three games at guard, earning a start in the finale against Nebraska.)

There’s more, but you get the idea.

 

So, What Will the Starting Lineup Look Like in 2010?

There were no seniors amongst the offensive line in 2009, so everyone will be back.

The starting five against Nebraska were as follows:

LT—junior Nate Solder

LG—sophomore Mike Iltis

C—junior Keenan Stevens

RG—sophomore Ryan Miller

RT—red-shirt freshman Bryce Givens

Whether by design or chance, these five players were in for every offensive down against the Cornhuskers—the only game all season in which the starting five played every down.

Move everyone up a year in eligibility, and you’ll have two seniors, two juniors, and a sophomore along the line in 2010.

This is not to say, however, that these five will be the starters against Colorado State on Sept. 4.

For one thing, junior-to-be Ethan Adkins was entrenched at left guard, starting the first nine games of 2009 before being injured.

Another player who saw significant playing time in 2009 was junior-to-be Matt Bahr. In the starting lineup at right guard for three games, Bahr saw action in six games altogether last fall.

And then there is MTM…

Max Tuioti-Mariner was a starter by the second game of his freshman season, 2008. After starting against Eastern Washington and West Virginia, though, MTM tore his ACL in a non-contact drill in practice.

He was granted a medical red-shirt season, and 2009 was to be his second try at being a freshman. MTM was injured again, though, on March 3, 2009, tearing ligaments his left knee.

It was thought MTM was going to go on a Mormon mission, then possibly transfer, but Tuioti-Mariner decided to stay with his teammates. His injuries healed sufficiently, and there was talk in late September about him playing in 2009, but ultimately he was held out for the year.

If he can stay healthy, MTM could still be a four-year starter for Colorado.

There are also other players already on campus who would like to make contributions to the improvement of the offensive line.

Freshmen who sat out 2009 include Jack Harris, a highly rated offensive tackle prospect from Parker, Colorado; Gus Handler, from Barrington, Illinois, who may compete for the job at center; and David Bakhtiari, from Burlingame, California, who is still learning the offensive tackle position after playing it for only one year in high school.

And there is the case of Sione Tau, a 6'5", 230-pound brute from Honolulu.

Buff Nation recruitniks will recall that Tau was ranked as the 33rd-best offensive tackle prospect in the nation in 2007. Tau sat out 2007 as a true freshman and was in line to compete for a starting position in 2008 before he was declared academically ineligible.

This past fall, Tau was listed as “excused” on the Colorado roster, having been ruled out for his sophomore season due to violation of undisclosed team rules. Tau is expected, though, to rejoin the team in January, and would play in 2010 as a junior.

Not exactly a quiet bunch, are they?

A starting lineup which includes Nate Solder, Ryan Miller, Max Tuioti-Mariner, Ethan Adkins, and Keenan Stevens—if they can all stay healthy—might just make everyone forget the trials and travails of the past few seasons.

Still, as history has shown, a school cannot go even one recruiting cycle without an infusion of new offensive linemen.

With that in mind, Colorado has been recruiting its offensive linemen of the future…

 

What’s out There in the 2010 Recruiting Class?

The recruiting services are listing two known offensive line commitments for Colorado, one of whom is already signed, sealed, and on campus.

He is junior college transfer Eric Richter, who played last season for Saddleback Community College in Mission Viejo, California. Richter, at 6'4", 315 pounds, is considered a three-star prospect and will have three years to play two in Boulder.

“The coaches were all real happy and excited that I committed,” Richter told JCFootball.com after his visit in mid-December. “They said they haven’t had a physical lineman like me in their lineup the past few years, and they liked how violent my hands were and how I moved.”

Richter started every game last fall at right guard, but played both guard positions and backed up at center his freshman year.

“I fell I could play almost anywhere on the inside they needed me to,” said Richter, who had interest from other 1-A schools including Auburn, Tennessee, and San Diego State.

The other known offensive line commitment came back in September from offensive guard prospect Daniel Munyer, from Sherman Oaks, California. Munyer, who is 6'3", 265 pounds, is also considered a three-star performer and is rated as the 63rd-best guard in the nation by Scout.com.

Munyer only took one official visit, committing to the Buffs after being on campus the weekend of the Kansas game. Munyer, who is slated as either a guard or center, is excited about becoming a Buff.

“I’m pretty agressive,” Munyer told BuffStampede.com. “What I like to do is set the tone on the first play of the game. I like to drive my guy off the ball and pancake him. I have a lot of lower body strength.”

Munyer was being courted by a number of Mountain West teams, including Colorado State, UNLV, and New Mexico, as well as Nevada from the Big West Conference.

Are there any other offensive linemen who may commit on Feb. 4?

One highly rated lineman who is seriously considering Colorado is Kaiwi Crabb from Honolulu. Crabb is considered a three-star player, the 39th-best offensive tackle prospect in the eyes of Rivals.com.

Crabb took his official visit to Boulder on Nov. 6, and he participated in a summer camps put on by the Buffs the past two summers.

“They’ve shown the most interest in me,” said Crabb of CU after his visit. “They are my number one school."

Still, Crabb has not ruled out visits to Washington or Oregon.

“I really like the (Colorado) coaching staff," Crabb told Scout.com. “They are really warm and welcoming, like my coaches at home.”

With no seniors leaving the offensive line, recruiting will be lighter this year than in years past. There will be no Ryan Miller to tout, no Bryce Givens, no Jack Harris.

No, the talent that has been stockpiled over the past three recruiting classes is already in the pipeline.

All the Buffs need to do now is find the best five—and start running downhill…

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