Buffs regain health in the backfield – BuffZone
Less than two weeks ago, the Colorado Buffaloes were so exhausted from the running back that they finished a game at Oregon State with only one scholarship player available.
This week, the Buffs might be fully stocked and struggling to find groceries for everyone.
On Tuesday, senior Alex Fontenot, who hasn’t played since Sept. 10 at the Air Force, completed his final practice in a contactless jersey. He could finally make his comeback on Saturday when the Buffs (1-7, 1-4 Pac-12) host No. 8 Oregon (7-1, 5-0) at Folsom Field (1:30 p.m., ESPN).
“(Wednesday) should be his first day in contact,” interim head coach Mike Sanford said. “Most of it has been precautionary, as opposed to almost like us trying to push it too quickly. …Today he got reps from the scout team and tomorrow the blue jersey is going, so I’m excited to get Alex back.
Fontenot, who started the first two games of the season, suffered a chest injury. He ran for 84 yards on 20 carries before the injury.
Junior Deion Smith leads the Buffs with 354 yards. He missed the Oct. 22 game against Oregon State due to injury, but posted his first career 100-yard game (111 yards, one touchdown) in Saturday’s 42-34 loss to Arizona State.
Freshman Anthony Hankerson started at Oregon State but was injured early in the game and hasn’t played since. He’s third on the team with 140 yards and Sanford said Hankerson “looks like he’s fully back today as well.”
Sophomore Jayle Stacks has stepped up for 76 yards the past two games, and the Buffs also have Charlie Offerdahl (second on the team with 163 yards).
“You can actually see that we’re getting, I think, a quality experience at Font,” Sanford said. “For me, he runs like a hammer. I think in the seven weeks since his injury he also gained about, I think, nine pounds. So he looks good – and that’s a good nine pounds.
The difficulty now is to find litters for Fontenot and others behind Smith.
“Obviously the challenge will be that Deion is playing such good football right now,” Sanford said. “Getting Deion into a rhythm is hugely important because he provides that opportunity for explosive play at all times, but so does Font. We’re going to put those guys to work and still have a very healthy rotation for the ball carriers.
After several falls to receiver, senior Daniel Arias was not in the offensive rotation against ASU. He was back in the special teams mix, however. Brilliant in this role throughout his career, he was named the Buffs’ Special Teams Player of the Week.
“It was fun being out there,” said Arias, whose speed is an asset as the punt team’s machine gunner. “I really like to play shooter. My mindset is that every time I go out it’s either going to be a tackle or a good catch. I love doing that. I know I’m going to win every time, so it’s just fun for me. I’m just running around the field and just trying to make a play.”
Arias has forced 26 fair catches in his career, one less than the CU record (Ryan Iverson had 27 from 2010-2013). Arias didn’t have a chance to break the record this year, but that opportunity is here again.
“Hopefully I can get this one this game, so I just have to keep working,” he said. “Special teams are really important, so when I get my chance I’m going to make sure I go full speed ahead and give everything I have for special teams.”
Arias leads the Buffs with 19 catches and is second with 309 yards, but it’s unclear how much he’ll play on offense going forward. Sanford, however, thinks Arias could potentially play in the NFL on special teams.
“There’s been scouts that have come through here and…they see a lot of value in him as a shooter and hold-up player in punt return units,” Sanford said. “I think he really answered the bell (against ASU) and I think he’s going to make money off of what he put on tape, really, as a shooter and as a robber. on the perimeter.”
Punter Trent Carrizosa has seen his average drop in recent games, but some of that is intentional. Low suspension times gave opponents opportunities on returns and CU ranks 127th nationally in giving up 225 punt return yards.
To address this, Sanford said, “You can see we’re getting into the drop punt mentality more, but we’re getting better hang time, we’re getting better ball placement.”
This change contributed to ASU having only 19 yards on five returns.
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