As the first practice of spring wrapped up on Wednesday evening, Colorado head football coach Karl Dorrell made sure to find Brendon Lewis.
“That was a fabulous practice,” Dorrell told his sophomore quarterback.
It was just the first day and the Buffaloes weren’t in pads, but Dorrell was pleased with how his team kicked off the spring. He was particularly pleased with how Lewis got things started.
“I saw a completely different player (from 2021),” Dorrell said. “His management skills; all that experience that he gained over the course of the season last year has really paid off for his composure, his confidence, his mannerism, how he exudes himself in the huddle, how he breaks the huddle, how he’s commanding everything in terms of the information he’s giving out. He’s definitely a much different player.”
A 6-foot-2, 215-pound sophomore, Lewis started all 12 games for the Buffs (4-8, 3-9 Pac-12) last season, but it wasn’t a smooth campaign. He completed 58% of his passes for 1,540 yards, 10 touchdowns and three interceptions. Playing behind a struggling offensive line, he was sacked 31 times and forced to scramble a lot.
CU’s offense sputtered all year and it was Lewis, as the starting quarterback, who took a lot of the heat. Since the Nov. 26 finale at Utah, Lewis has taken time to not only heal his body, but to learn from what was a difficult season.
“As I reviewed the season, I kind of took everything I learned after the season and just tried to work on it on my own and with my buddies,” he said. “I still watch those games to this day, just to look at what I did wrong, what I could do better and implement it back on the field, the way (offensive coordinator Mike) Sanford wants to do it.”
Although he is the incumbent starter, Lewis is well aware of the competition for his job. Junior JT Shrout is almost fully recovered from a knee injury that wiped out his 2021 season. Shrout is not cleared for contact but is participating this spring. Sophomore Drew Carter returns after a learning season and the Buffs added Maddox Kopp, a redshirt freshman transfer from Houston.
“More competition makes everybody better,” Lewis said.
All the quarterbacks are on equal ground with Sanford, who was hired in December and is now in his first spring with the Buffs.
“It’s awesome that he’s the quarterback coach and the offensive coordinator so we can really pick his brain on what he wants to do,” Lewis said. “We can do things exactly how he wants the offense to do it, because he’s the OC. It’s been really fun being able to have him as a quarterback coach and being able to get close to him.”
Lewis hopes his offseason improvement makes a good impression on Sanford as he tries to keep the starting job.
“I totally felt like a different quarterback (Wednesday),” Lewis said. “The way coach Sanford and the whole staff implemented the offense before spring ball, I feel like we all went out there and knew what to do. It wasn’t perfect but we did the things that we were supposed to do and I knew where to go with the ball and in certain coverages. I definitely felt like a way different player than last year at the (start) of spring ball.”
Dorrell beamed when talking about Lewis, but he was pleased with the entire team after the first day.
“We had some really good work,” Dorrell said. “I felt like we made a lot of progress over the course of this offseason. The operation (on offense) looked good. It wasn’t perfect, but for the first time doing it and playing against our defense, it was really, really positive. And I felt defensively we have some new pieces out there and they’re doing some really, really good things. I saw real good competitive work.”
Following a disappointing season, CU had a busy offseason. Several top players transferred out of the program and Dorrell hired six new assistant coaches. Putting together a strong first day of spring, he said, is indicative of good leadership and determination among the current roster.
“They came together as a team given the transition and what happened in the offseason prior to them coming back in January,” Dorrell said. “I felt that this team really decided to dig in and really just invest in each other and it shows in the progress that they made in practice today by just how competitive they are against each other.
“They’re encouraging each other, as well; that’s on both sides of the ball. And they’re having fun. That’s the other part. They’re having fun out there. You see that. You don’t see frustration, you don’t see, ‘I’m upset with a coach’ or ‘I’m upset with another teammate’ or anything like that. I just see a team that’s a little more cohesive, that’s more built like a team.”