Amidst the uncertainty of the upcoming college football season, two of Colorado’s most accomplished players spoke with the media Tuesday. Junior linebacker Nate Landman, who was recently named to the pre-season Bednarik and Nagurski watchlists and senior wide receiver KD Nixon (pre-season Hornung watchlist) provided updates on the state of the team and the tumultuous off-season they have endured.
A few short weeks away from the start of the 2020 season and the Buffs are in the midst of a quarterback battle between, senior Sam Noyer, junior Tyler Lytle and freshman Brendon Lewis.
The trio combines for zero collegiate starts at the quarterback position. Despite their lack of a collegiate pedigree, Nixon heaped praise on all three and was coy about who may have a lead at this point.
Lytle was an ESPN four-star recruit and a top 300 player nationally. He has patiently bided his time at CU behind Steven Montez and was the primary backup last season. He is a traditional pocket passer. Lytle is 4-6 for 55 yards and one interception in his career.
“Tyler is smart,” Nixon said. He graduated and I'm following in his footsteps off and on the field.”
Nixon added, “Tyler has the ability to start, but it's all about mental mindsets.”
Noyer has the most experience of the trio but is a year removed from quarterbacking, after transitioning to safety last season. He was a solid contributor on defense and special teams but has moved back to quarterback for his senior year. He was listed as third on the QB depth chart last season. Noyer entered his name into the transfer portal last December but decided this past spring to stay at CU and compete for the quarterback position. Noyer is 21-41 for 179 yards and two interceptions in his career.
Despite playing defense last year, according to Nixon, his transition back to QB has gone smoothly.
“Sam Noyer never lost it,” Nixon said. “Sam Noyer is a beast, Sam Noyer has been a beast and Sam Noyer will be a beast.”
Bendon Lewis, being only a true freshman is the wildcard of the group. He boasts an impressive high school pedigree and has the greatest dual-threat capabilities of the trio. Of the three, he was the most highly touted prospect coming out of high school. He was an ESPN four-star recruit and ranked 281st overall in his class.
“He’s just catching on so fast. It's so beautiful because I’ve never had this chance to learn from a quarterback or never had a chance to teach a quarterback,” Nixon said.
Lewis appears poised to earn the starting job within the next few seasons but considering the global pandemic and lack of spring ball, he will be hard-pressed to surpass the two veterans with such little time to practice and make an impression on the coaching staff.
However, with a new staff in place, and fall camp still to come all three quarterbacks genuinely have a chance at the starting gig. In fact, according to Nixon, every starting spot on the team is up for grabs.
“Going into fall... nobody got starting spots,” Nixon said. “So, let's battle and let's see. That's something that you want to hear, especially coming from high school.”
Nixon added, “Just by hearing Coach Dorrell say that nobody has starting spots... he's serious. This is like the NFL. You’re either gonna play or you're not. So just like I said, it’s a good thing for freshmen for sure.”
State of the wide receivers and leadership
CU managed to bring in several exciting wide receiver prospects in the class of 2020 that should dazzle Boulder for the next few years. This group includes Chris Carpenter, Montana Lemonious-Craig, Brenden Rice (son of NFL Hall Of Famer Jerry Rice) and Keith Miller. Additionally, there are players like Daniel Arias and Maurice Bell, who have been with the program for a couple of years and are looking for their chance to breakout.
Nixon, the clear leader in the wide receiver room heaped praise on all of the young guys and deflected any talks of competition amongst the group. Instead, he shifted the focus more towards the group as a collective helping each other improve every day.
“We are always hungry,” Nixon said. “You know we all come from a high school where we were the number one guy, so we all want the opportunity to be the number one guy this year, but it's not a competition anymore. We’re just trying to help each other get better and make Colorado known again.”
Much like the quarterbacks, there is a lot of ambiguity in who will contribute at wide receiver. It will be a storyline to watch moving forward. Nixon, sophomore wide receiver Dimitri Stanley, junior tight end Brady Russell and junior tailback Alex Fontenot are the only returning players with more than five receptions on the team.
Nixon has relished his leadership role this season and has taken some of the lessons he learned in high school and applied them to the collegiate level.
“It's not about being the most outgoing leader,” Nixon said. “It's about understanding your teammates and knowing how to approach them. That's how we won state for the first time ever at DeSoto High School, so I know for sure it can work in college too.”
Landman has focused his leadership style on setting a good example and molding more leaders.
“I can lead by example and if guys are hurting, they can come to me… just being a guy that someone can lean on,” Landman said. “I want to help create more leaders on the team.”
Any change in the coaching staff creates an adjustment period, especially when it creates a change in scheme. Fortunately for the Buffs defense, they have been able to maintain some level of consistency with defensive coordinator Tyson Summers staying on with the program. Landman believes this will be invaluable for the team, especially the young guys.
“Having coached summers on and not having to put those young guys through a new defense, I think in my mind will be one of the biggest things that are going to help us this year.”
Landman singled out freshman outside linebacker Alvin Williams, as a player he has been especially impressed with this off-season.
“Him physically, he's a completely different player than he was six months ago,” Landman said.
On a more personal note, Landman has spent much of this offseason looking to further improve his pass coverage by studying route trees and route combos. He also highlighted leadership and consistency as two other aspects of his game he is actively working on.
Landman has pro potential and has been getting plenty of pre-season accolades (Bednarik and Nagurski award watchlist). He was first-team All-Pac 12 last season and led the team in tackles each of the last two years. Despite being honored to receive the recognition, Landman has one focus in mind: winning.
“Ultimately, I look back to the season… and those awards will come as a result of working hard and playing hard with the guys on my team,” Landman said. I'd rather go undefeated and win games with my team instead of winning any of those awards.”
Health, safety and Coach Dorrell
As the 2020 season hangs in the balance, the safety protocols that Dorrell and the CU athletic department have put in place seem to be working thus far. The team has avoided an outbreak, and according to Landman, a big piece of that comes from staying at the facility as much as possible.
“The majority of the team was in Boulder as soon as we could start voluntary training, Landman said. Coach Dorell always says the safest place in Boulder is our facility just because of how clean they keep it. They're monitoring everybody in and out of that building.”
Landman added, “We've worked too hard and have a goal of wanting to play this season, so they (players) don't want to put that in jeopardy by going out or doing unnecessary things.”
Much like Nixon, Landman was quick to praise the new class of freshman, and how they have adapted despite all that is going on. He also praised Dorrell for keeping the team motivated and together amidst the uncertainty.
“He's pretty positive that there will be a season,” Landman said. “(He’s been) keeping the guys rallied on the main goal of winning games and in the back of our minds that we will have a season and we're working toward something."
According to both Nixon and Landman, Dorrell has done a great job earning the team’s trust by being completely “transparent” with the players and by making himself available.
There are too many question marks to count in regard to the 2020 college football season and the Colorado Buffaloes. However, the team isn’t focused on what they can’t control. They are preparing like there is going to be a season and are working to make this period of change as successful as possible.