DENVER — The challenge remains daunting.
In his return to the Boulder campus, Colorado coach Karl Dorrell aims to put his stamp on his team without, um, practicing with his team. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Colorado shuttered spring practice. Dorrell has held 10-minute individual discussions with players, and run zoom meetings. However, he hasn't had his new coaching staff gathered collectively to brainstorm.
Humble and intellectual, Dorrell is navigating the terrain of an unprecedented situation.
"We haven't had any chance to practice. For me, I haven't even been in this program as an assistant for quite some time. In my mind, I am looking at 22 positions. They are all new. I have no eyes on them. My eyes will be wide open once that time comes," Dorrell said on a Pac-12 zoom presser on Tuesday. "We are doing our eight-hour rules with our virtual meetings and installs (of the offense and defense). And our strength and conditioning people are doing what they can. We are being patient with the process."
Complicating the process is the vacancy at the game's most important position. The Buffaloes boast three starting qaurterback candidates: junior Tyler Lytle, highly-touted freshman Brendon Lewis, who enrolled at semester, and Sam Noyer, who was on the defense last fall.
CU finished 5-7 in Mel Tucker's first and last season. Steven Montez left school with records, but an alarming wake of inconsistent performances. Identifying the right quarterback remains critical. Lewis has impressed in the weight room, and Lytle has shown maturity as he works with his third head coach and fourth offensive coordinator.
"All three of those guys, when it's all said and done haven't had much time. The freshman hasn't had a down. Tyler has not played very much, maybe 20 snaps all season (before suffering a bone bruise in his shoulder). And Sam was playing the safety position last fall prior to coming back and playing quarterback. It's really a wide open position. We are coaching them all hard," Dorrell said. "We want to see how thing falls into place. We have a long way to go, still."
Uncertainty hangs over the entire sport, and CU specifically. The Buffs need practice reps with the new staff. However, no one knows when that will that will happen or what that will look like. I asked Dorrell how much time he felt was needed to prepare his team for the season given his experience in the NFL and college.
"In the NFL is a much longer process, that starts in the third week of April. There's that two-week period of just strength and conditioning and gradually builds into practice time. When you are asking me a time frame, given the situation we are in right now since we haven't had much hands-on supervision -- and I might be the only one that feels this way -- but I think it's an eight-week process," Dorrell said. "I'd like to have a month of conditioning and training to get them in shape and then a month of training camp before playing games. But I don't think we are going to get anything close to that. I think it's going to be a faster process."
The Pac-12 coaches agreed recently that a six-week window, at minimum, was necessary. The coaches also face the possibility that some players might not want to play because of underlying medical conditions that make them more vulnerable or others who cannot return from abroad.
"There are a lot of things we haven't even thought of yet. there are a lot of hurdles we have to get over. Obviously the safety of the athlete is first and foremost," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "If we go into this thing and there's not a vaccine in place, there are so many variables, I can safely speak for (Dorrell and Washington coach Jimmy Lake on the call) that the safety of the athlete is first and foremost. I don't think anybody is interested in putting anyone in harm's way. So that will be job one."
Added Dorrell, "We are living each day really day-to-day in terms of the information we get. Safety will come first. We will very cognizant of that. We are being governed in the right place."
For now, Dorrell spends time working from home. It has offered a time to reconnect with family. He is grateful, but remains eager to move forward when it is safe to do so.
"I have tried to pick off a (few players) each week to create a connection, to introduce them to things that we do," Dorrell said. "I am the one that is new. That's the challenge that they are all trying to (deal with), gaining the confidence in me and me gaining their trust."