Nate Landman and the Buffaloes are basically starting over under new head coach Mel Tucker
A new chapter begins in Boulder. Colorado dismissed Mike MacIntyre in 2018 after the Buffaloes followed a 5-0 start with seven straight losses. Now new head coach Mel Tucker hopes to turn around a program that's experienced one winning season since 2005.
Tucker has lofty goals in his debut season. The former Georgia defensive coordinator wants to turn Colorado into an old-school football team that relies on hard-nosed defense to generate success. It could be the formula for escaping the Pac-12 South cellar, a spot where the Buffaloes have resided more often than not since joining the league in 2011.
Colorado will be breaking in a new offensive scheme and making defensive upgrades in spring ball. If Tucker can successfully steer the ship in a different direction, the Buffaloes could quickly become a factor in the Pac-12 again.
5 Storylines to Watch During Colorado's Spring Practice
1. Colorado's new offense
New offensive coordinator Jay Johnson comes to the Buffaloes with previous coordinator experience in stops at Minnesota and Louisiana. Johnson is a coach who is dedicated to installing a strong ground game that also features plenty of play-action and pistol formation looks. The Buffaloes want to incorporate multiple formations, shifts, and motions and be able to change tempo like flipping a light switch. With a strong feature running back and a capable dual-threat quarterback, this new offense has the potential to give Colorado enough of an extra punch to keep opponents on their heels.
2. Who will be the new feature back?
For the second straight season, the Buffaloes will be replacing their top threat in the backfield. Travon McMillian racked up 1,009 yards and seven touchdowns while averaging 5.0 yards per carry in his lone season at Colorado. Inexperience among the running backs is a concern. Beau Bisharat is a senior, but he has just 249 yards on 57 carries for his career. Alex Fontenot had a strong spring a year ago, but got buried on the depth chart in 2018 and finished with just 43 yards on 11 carries. Jarek Broussard, Deion Smith, Joe Davis, and Jared Mangham all have a chance to step up and claim a chance to continue the team's streak of 1,000-yard rushers.
3. How will Steven Montez adapt to a new offensive scheme?
Montez has proven he can be an efficient passer. He threw for 2,849 yards and 19 touchdowns as a junior while completing 64.7 percent of his passes and throwing only nine interceptions. The issue for Montez may be his mobility. He ran for just 238 yards and four touchdowns on 94 carries last season. If Colorado's new offense is to work as advertised, Montez will need to make plays with his feet and not just his arm to keep defenses honest.
4. Who will step up at linebacker and safety?
Colorado has some major holes to fill at safety and linebacker. Nate Landman will anchor one linebacker spot after a season that saw him rank in the top 10 in the Pac-12 in both tackles and tackles for a loss. Landman totaled 105 tackles, 15.0 TFL, and two interceptions a year ago. Akil Jones has the potential for a breakout season if he can fully heal from the ankle injury that limited his contributions in 2018. Look for Marvin Ham, Josh Allen, and Quin Perry to also be in the mix. Replacing Nick Fisher and Evan Worthington at safety won't be a simple task. Aaron Maddox could shift from nickel back over to safety to help fill the void.
5. Can the Buffaloes exterminate the injury bug?
Injuries at key positions helped unravel Colorado's season in 2018. The Buffaloes aren't off to a great start to staying healthy in 2019. Receivers Laviska Shenault Jr. and KD Nixon will both sit out spring practices while recovering from surgeries. Cornerback Chris Miller also is out with a shoulder injury. While it does open a door for other players further down the depth chart to get reps, the Buffaloes have to feel wary of having injuries becoming a recurring problem. Tucker wants to build a physical hard-hitting team. Can he keep his players healthy while accomplishing that goal?
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.