When asked about the main positives from the 2021 season, Colorado quarterback Brendon Lewis had to think for a few seconds.
“Towards the end of the season, we showed improvement and started moving the ball,” he said, before quickly shifting the thought to this year. “We’re gonna see a lot more of that this year. (Offensive coordinator Mike) Sanford has done a great job and made a new offense for everybody so it’s going to be really fun.”
It’s understandable that Lewis wouldn’t dwell too much on the 2021 season, because it was filled with growing pains. As a freshman, first-year starter, Lewis played behind a struggling offensive line and wound up at or near the bottom of the Pac-12 in passer rating, completion percentage and yards per game as the Buffaloes went 4-8 (3-6 Pac-12).
There were highlights, including leading the Buffs to an overtime win against Oregon State and scoring the deciding touchdown in a home win against Washington. Both of those came in the final month of the season.
As Lewis and the Buffs prepare for this season, however, the main positive from last year is that he now has experience.
“The best part of that is that he played for 12 games for us last year,” head coach Karl Dorrell said.
Lewis, who is competing to keep his starting job, has spent the last eight months learning from that experience.
“Watching a lot of film,” he said of his offseason. “When we learned the new offense with coach Sanford, we went back and I tried to visualize the plays that he would call, the looks that he would see from last season. So we did a lot of that. A lot of fine tweaking on some mechanical things, lower body-type stuff, a lot of grinding. It was really fun.”
Lewis is now a third-year sophomore and the Buffs believe he has improved since the end of last season.
On Tuesday, the first day of preseason camp, Dorrell said, “B-Lew looked solid. Looked really good, good presence, good command – the things that I saw in spring practice, just one more step of being more comfortable than he was even in the spring.”
At Pac-12 media day in Los Angeles on Friday, guard Casey Roddick and linebacker Robert Barnes both complimented Lewis’ work ethic and leadership.
“I think that his knowledge of the game has exceeded expectations,” Roddick said.
Roddick mentioned Lewis’ performance in the 2020 Alamo Bowl when he made his collegiate debut. The Buffs were routed, 55-23, by the Longhorns, but Lewis came off the bench and was one of the few bright spots of the day. He led them to all three of their touchdowns, completed 6-of-10 passes for 95 yards and also ran for 73 yards and a score.
“He was a star,” Roddick said. “(In 2021), we didn’t put him in the greatest situation to succeed. So, now that we have a great offensive staff and now that we have great offensive minds on the offensive side of the ball, I think he’s gonna have a breakout year.”
The first step is to win the job again. Lewis is competing with junior JT Shrout, who missed the 2021 season with a knee injury, for the starting role. The Buffs have three other scholarship quarterbacks, as well, giving them much more depth and competition than a year ago.
“More arms, more competition makes every single one of us better,” Lewis said. “It was good getting out there with the guys, day one, out there throwing balls with the new guys, with the older guys.”
Sanford said Wednesday that he believes in both Lewis and Shrout going into the season.
“I believe that both of those quarterbacks are going to be needed at different parts of the year, however that looks,” Sanford said. “It might be because somebody busts a shoelace and the other guy has to go in and he throws a touchdown. It might be, obviously, for a trend in play. It is not going to be a quick leash. We want to name a starter, but the other guy is not going to hold a clipboard the whole year, because they both are extremely talented players.”
Sanford said that charting practices statistically will play a role in determining the starter, but added, “There is also a statistic that doesn’t show up on paper, and that is the overall flow of the offense: the pre-snap communications and those types of things are going to play into it just as much.”
Lewis is embracing the competition, but he’s also enjoying the relationship he’s built with CU’s new coaches, including Sanford and the graduate assistants.
“They’re all exceptional,” he said. “It’s really fun being able to watch (Sanford) do what he does and being up there with him in the meeting rooms learning the offense and being able to come down here and implement it on the field.”