Figuring out the quarterback battle will be a top priority for the Colorado Buffaloes next month.
Getting the ball to the talented stable of running backs and receivers will be important if the Buffs want to put points on the board.
In talking about the keys to improving on offense, however, coordinator Darrin Chiaverini pointed at junior tight end Brady Russell.
“We’ve got to keep Brady healthy,” Chiaverini said. “That’s gonna be big for us. He’s got to play at a high level for us this year. It’s hard when you don’t have tight ends.”
Leading up to fall camp, which starts Aug. 5, BuffZone.com is previewing each position group for the Buffs. In this installment, we look at the tight ends.
Chiaverini’s comment was not meant to say Russell is the only talented tight end on the roster. Russell is, however, by far the most experienced and developed tight end at CU, and the Buffs missed him last year when he was out of the lineup.
CU’s best offensive performance in 2020 came in a 48-42 win against UCLA in the opener. The Buffs had a season-high in points and yards (535) that night and Russell played a key role, catching five passes for 77 yards and a touchdown.
A week later, he injured his leg on the Buffs’ fourth offensive snap and he missed the rest of the season. After Russell’s injury, the tight ends caught a combined four passes for 20 yards the rest of the year.
Walk-ons Matt Lynch, CJ Schmanski and Nico Magri, along with converted linebacker Alec Pell, did an admirable job filling in, giving the Buffs a boost as blockers.
Going forward, however, the Buffs are striving to develop the depth and talent at a position that coaches view as vital to their success.
“I think the tight end position has to continue to get better,” Chiaverini said. “That’s a quarterback’s best friend when you have a good tight end room and those guys are playing at a high level.
“The tight end room is getting there. It’s not there yet, but we’re working hard to try to keep upgrading that room and get more depth in that room.”
With preseason camp around the corner, the Buffs are in better shape at tight end than they were a year ago, but it still starts with Russell.
A former walk-on, Russell is one of the best tight ends in the Pac-12 and has played in 26 games, with 16 starts. He’s also one of the team’s top leaders. Russell was limited in spring as he continued to recover from his leg injury but expects to be ready for camp.
Next in line could be Lynch, a Legacy High grad who was put on scholarship in the spring. A sixth-year senior who transferred to CU last year after playing quarterback at UCLA, Lynch is still relatively new to tight end but has shown the ability to help the Buffs as a blocker and receiver.
Pell has remained at tight end and coaches like his potential, while Schmanski and Magri — both from Monarch High — are also back and provide experienced depth.
Returning freshman Caleb Fauria turned some heads in spring, especially with his aggressiveness after the catch. The future is also bright for true freshmen Erik Olsen and Austin Smith, and that duo represents CU’s commitment to emphasizing the tight end in the offense.
Position: Tight ends
Returners (2020 statistics)
- Matt Lynch, Sr., 6-foot-5, 245 pounds (2 catches, 7 yards; 4 games, 157 snaps)
- Jared Poplawski, Jr., 6-4, 240
- Brady Russell, Jr., 6-3, 255 (5 catches, 77 yards, 1 TD; 2 games, 92 snaps)
- Alec Pell, R-Fr., 6-4, 230 (3 games, 41 snaps)
- Caleb Fauria, Fr., 6-5, 230
- Louis Passarello, Fr., 6-5, 255
- Nico Magri, Jr., 6-3, 280 (walk-on; 5 games, 85 snaps)
- CJ Schmanski, So., 6-3, 240 (walk-on; 3 catches, 14 yards; 5 games, 167 snaps)
- Erik Olsen, Fr., 6-5, 240
- Austin Smith, Fr., 6-5, 235
- Luke Stillwell, 6-4, 220
- Nick Fisher, 6-5, 265 (walk-on; graduated)
2021 outlook: Russell, when healthy, has all-conference potential and could be one of the top weapons on the offense. He’s a skilled receiver and blocker and adds a different dimension to the offense when he’s on the field. Lynch is a steady veteran still growing into the position and he’s a solid No. 2 going into the season. Pell, Magri and Schmanski all proved last season they can provide good depth at the position and with experience should be better. Fauria has flashed some big-time potential, but still has a lot of room for growth. He might make an impact this year, but could be a year away. Poplawski is a talented veteran and the Buffs hope he can stay healthy. This is his fifth year in the program, but he hasn’t played since 2017 because of numerous injuries.