BOULDER - It all starts in the trenches. One of football's more enduring cliches is especially true for the 2017 Colorado Buffaloes, as it might be the difference between a good season and a disappointing one.
On the offensive side of the ball, they have four returning starters, including three over-age seniors and a freshman All-American. On the defensive side, they have to replace all three starters, including the 8.5 sacks of the departed Jimmie Gilbert.
The Buffs will have to win the battle in the trenches through the offensive line. Led by sixth-year senior Jeromy Irwin, Colorado has enough size and experience to be a force.
“I mean really it’s just a blessing to still be here,” says Irwin who’s a little bit more than just happy to be here. “I’m kind of just in awe that I’m still here in 2017. But we’re going for the same goals, we’re cohesive and we’re trying to rally up and make a good run.”
The importance of having someone like Irwin on the offensive line cannot be understated. He’s just about everything offensive line coach Klayton Adams could want from a leader on the line.
“He’s got the mentality you want from your offensive linemen,” Adams said about the sixth-year senior. “You can teach him things fundamentally and then he’s able to carry those things into team drills because he’s played so much football, he’s been out there and has done it in games. He’s a nasty guy and that’s what you have to be before you ever talk about scheme, before you ever talk about technique. The mentality to finish plays has to be there and he sets the example for the rest of the players.”
Offensive linemen have to have a certain mindset before they ever learn anything about blocking. That’s the way Adams coaches.
“Before anything else, it has to be mentality, attitude, and toughness,” Adams said. “Those things have to be there and if those things aren’t there you can’t play this position. After that we focus really, really heavily on fundamentals, having the right techniques, understanding the techniques, understanding why you’re doing the techniques, understanding the function of the techniques and then after that you have to be someone that understands the scheme.”
The other thing Adams finds crucial when it comes to his offensive line is healthy competition. He doesn’t want any of his starting linemen satisfied with where they are; he wants the second- and third-stringers to always be pushing them.
“I think one thing that we have to be really careful of even though we do have a lot of experience is making sure that those guys feel pushed by the offensive lineman behind them,” Adams said. “That there’s a lot of healthy competition because at the end of the day sometimes a guy pops through into the starting lineup that you don’t really expect to even though somebody ahead of them had been playing. The key for us right now is continuing to develop the guys that have played and then really pushing the guys that haven’t played enough to try and break the lineup. To make the starters and make the depth a little bit better.”
If the mentality and competition are already there, Irwin looks at cohesion as the next step of creating a great offensive line. He wants everyone to be on the exact same page and that’s how they’ll be at their best.
“If everybody is one unit,” Irwin said when asked what makes a great offensive line. “If all five of us were one person, we think alike and we do everything together. If the center makes the wrong call and we block the right call, if one guy is wrong it is a sack. So if we’re all on the same page and we have the same goals that’s probably the best you can get for an offensive line. You have to be cohesive and you have to be willing to sacrifice for the person next to you. It also takes a lot of technique and time together.”
If the Buffaloes can put those three things together, this offensive line could be one of the best Boulder has ever seen. That will be critical because, as Coach Adams said, “You can’t win a game if you don’t,” win the battle in the trenches.