Inside CU Buffs football voluntary pandemic workouts: “Sacking the quarterback and social distancing don’t work for me”

Two weeks into voluntary football workouts, there is a Buffalo-sized question hanging over CU and the NCAA.

“If we can’t have contact and do stuff with our own teammates, how are we going to get on the field in a full-contact sport?” senior defensive end Mustafa Johnson said Wednesday. “Sacking the quarterback and social distancing don’t work for me.”

CU football players began returning to Boulder on June 15 with physical exams that included COVID-19 testing. Junior offensive lineman Will Sherman, a Texas native, said he was nervous traveling through Denver International Airport before receiving what he called an “easy swab” to check for the virus.

The results, thankfully, were negative and he self-quarantined for a week before joining the team.

“Everybody wants to play,” Sherman said. “We’re here now working out and being very cautious not to spread (coronavirus) or to get it.”

Johnson and Sherman joined reporters Wednesday on a video conference call to discuss how the Buffs are handling their new football reality. CU is currently splitting up its team into several groups of about 10-to-15 players with different start times for workouts. Players must first pass daily temperature and symptom checks. Strength-and-conditioning coaches rotate on different days for specialized instruction as the team gets back into football shape without the benefit of typical spring practices.

The guidelines haven’t dampened the Buffs’ enthusiasm for the workouts.

“I love them,” Sherman said. “I get to sleep in until like 10 o’clock and I’m done at 1 o’clock. I eat lunch and then I have the rest of the day to myself to go over film. What we’re trying to do outside (of practice) is to meet with a small amount of people, go over plays and do extra stuff while being very, very cautious.”

What CU can’t replicate right now is physicality, an important element for Johnson, who has 12 sacks over the past two seasons. His main concern is the increase for potential injuries after players return to games after a months-long break. However, there is no guarantee the college football season will be played due to the constantly evolving health landscape.

“We’re all worried about it because this is our life,” Johnson said. “We talk about it regularly. It’s interesting to see how other people feel about it, but for the most part, people are optimistic about having a season.”

It’s been nothing but turbulence for CU football since the unexpected departure of coach Mel Tucker to Michigan State this past winter. The Buffs move ahead with a sense of urgency under new coach Karl Dorrell.

“Time is of the essence right now,” Sherman said. “We’re still trying to learn a new playbook and get familiar with our coaches, their techniques and how they like things done. We still have to get on the field with coach Dorrell. There is a lot of catching up to do. … We have a long way to go, but since we’ve been back, we’ve been making good progress. Guys are excited.”

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