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Typically, when a team does not reach its goals, the culprit is a multitude of things. While that may be true for Deion Sanders’ first season in Colorado, one aspect was more noticeable than all the others. The Buffaloes offensive line gave up a record 56 sacks last year. Coach Prime made adjustments to the coaching staff, but the elephant in that particular room was how to protect Shedeur Sanders.
There have also been a number of high-profile recruiting signings, mostly defensive line and skill positions. As well as landing the nation’s top offensive tackle prospect Jordan Seaton, who has made an impact for CU. As has Coach Prime who went back in the portal and battled for talent.
Being able to protect Sanders was absolutely going to be off-season priority number one. Anyone who watched Colorado’s 2023 year play out the way it did could’ve known it was coming. It even went beyond just protection. Every single offensive concern or expectation that was not met can be connected back to offensive line play.
Sanders was the second-most sacked QB in power five last season. The team’s overall rushing output was low at three yards per carry. For context, the Georgia Bulldogs rushers averaged almost seven yards per carry, and they were not a playoff team. Even the receiving numbers were not what many expected. Colorado put up significant numbers with Xavier Weaver, Travis Hunter and Jimmy Horn Jr. Over 1,600 yards combined, but there was never a take over moment.
Hunter was hurt for a significant chunk of time, which hampered his production. The Paul Hornung Award winner would’ve been a lock to go over the century mark for receiving yards in every game. As teams saw ways to take advantage of the offensive line, the amount of time Sanders had to check his reads diminished. As fast as he is, Weaver wouldn’t have time to finish his routes. Horn’s ability to work zones and find openings became almost non-existent. Young receivers who showed promise like Omarion Miller and Tar’Varish Dawson did early in the season didn’t have much to show for their production as the season wore on.
There was a noticeable difference between non-conference and Pac-12 play for the Buffs. The Rocky Mountain Showdown against Colorado State was the first game where it became apparent that the offensive line just wasn’t up to the challenge. That was also the weekend CU hosted with top-ranked recruits, including Seaton for an official visit. By halftime against Oregon, it was clear Colorado was in the midst of a major issue. Prime and his staff were aggressively recruiting the next set of linemen following the blowout loss.
On December 7th, Seaton went on a small media tour beginning with an appearance on FS1’s Undisputed where he announced to the world that he was committing to Colorado. A few weeks later when Seaton was expected to sign, he didn’t. Regardless of why, Seaton made everyone sweat. Shortly thereafter, Sanders would meet with a few recruits while we waited on Seaton’s official decision. That day would also provide a story told by Coach Prime that is straight out of central casting for a Disney sports movie.
Prime would make an appearance on the Stephen A Smith show on the day Seaton signed with CU to tell his story. He told ESPN’s analyst about an altercation that was avoided in a Boulder restaurant. An unidentified person approached CU’s “Grown” QB and had some negative things to say about his father. Coach Prime claims that what was said, would’ve resulted in Shilo Sanders coming to blows to protect the family name. Thankfully, his presence would not be needed. Before Shedeur even had time to contemplate his next action, multiple offensive line recruits (who at that time, had yet to commit to CU) all stood up and surrounded their future QB. Needless to say, any altercation was squashed at that point. Later that day, Yakiri Walker, Tyler Johnson, Justin Mayers, and Kahlil Benson would sign with Colorado. It would be another two weeks almost to the day when Seaton became a Buff.
By all indications, those guys make up a better part of CU’s upgrades on the offensive line. The biggest misconception about last year’s group was that they were small. Not the case with two of them over 6-foot-8 and 300 pounds. They simply lacked the skill and technique to be an effective offensive line with poor execution and blocking. Coach Prime identified early that what they needed was stout lineman that had a sample size of starting reps. All lineman listed here, excluding Seaton, have two years as a starter.
The final piece of the revamped offensive line is a familiar face. Tyler Brown, who followed Coach Prime from Jackson State by way of Louisiana. The NCAA denied his waiver to play in 2023, even after citing mental health concerns that included witnessing his position coach pass away in front of him. The expectation is that Brown will compete for a starting spot in 2024. He has spent a year on the sidelines and you better believe CU’s strongest player will be fired up and ready.
Colorado’s offensive line will also look better under offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. The scheme for the former NFL coach will go a long way in determining just how good this offense can be this year. Coach Prime is putting a premium on his coordinators having pro experience. Let’s not forget that before CU ran into Oregon, Sanders was the best passer in college football.
That was until teams figured out how to attack CU’s offensive line. It’s literally the catalyst for this team’s success. It’s the flood gate for this team one way or the other. It will either hold up to the pressure and allow Sanders to “ball out” like they did at TCU, or it will crumble to the ground. If the offensive line plays the way they’re built on paper, it means Dylan Edwards can be the weapon he’s supposed to be. The corps of receivers like Hunter and Horn should expect banner years. Sanders will have more than two seconds to move and make better decisions.
Everything Coach Prime and the Buffs want to do is connected to the success of the offensive line. If they perform admirably, Sanders will be a Heisman front-runner to start the season. Hunter might be headed for an all-time college performance. That’s even before revisiting names like Horn and Miller or any of the incoming new faces like Drelon Miller, Kamron Mikell, Micah Welch, Cordale Russell, Will Sheppard, Terrell Timmons Jr, and Chamon Metayer. The only thing negatively that 2023 proved was that changes needed to be made. Those changes have been made. As Coach Prime said following the decisive Oregon loss:
“I understand and analyze everything we have and what we need. One thing I can say honestly and candidly, you better get me right now. This is the worst we’re gonna be. You better get me right now.”
Obviously, the national narrative will continue to circle around the powerhouse playoff giants of the world. Prime is trying to force a different narrative with CU climbing to the top. It will come with establishing a winning culture. The excitement around the program and breaking attendance records was the start. Next season is about expectations and meeting or exceeding them. One of the challenges will be getting back to a bowl game. Coach Prime has made it abundantly clear that winning solves everything.
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