CSU upperclassmen poised to take on expanded roles as training camp begins

Eddie Herz

With the 2018 season inching closer, summer practice is officially underway for the Colorado State Rams.

In addition to having plenty of new faces representing CSU, there are also plenty of familiar faces poised to step into larger roles for the Rams.  

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Particularly on offense, the torch will be passed from former Rams to upperclassman in many instances.

Senior running back Izzy Matthews is prepared to take on lead-back duties with the graduation of Dalyn Dawkins, who handled the bulk of the carries over the last three seasons.

Matthews has collected 1,347 yards on the ground over the last two seasons and has been a touchdown machine for CSU. The Redding, California native led the Rams with 13 rushing touchdowns in 2016 and found the endzone eight times on the ground last season.

Though Matthews has not changed his game physically due to his expected new role, a shift in the running back’s mentality is evident.

“It’s been a completely different mental shift,” Matthews said. “In my mindset I want to be the baddest person out there, the dog, the guy, the spark plug that Dalyn (Dawkins) was last year. That’s my goal. It’s carrying that torch and standard that Dalyn (Dawkins) left and just trying to one-up it every single day.”

The story is essentially identical as far as CSU’s wide receivers go. Senior Olabisi Johnson’s plan will be to pick up where All-Mountain West receiver Michael Gallup left off. Similar to the last few seasons, the Rams’ wide receiving core is anticipated to be extremely deep and versatile.

There will be some competition for targets amongst the group. After gathering close to 600 yards and scoring twice last season, Johnson has more than proven that he can be the go-to guy through the air for CSU. However, with former five-star recruit Preston Williams now in the mix after being lifted from a suspension, it will be interesting to see which receiver lands at the top of the totem pole.

Regardless, having a plethora of options through the air is something Johnson believes will help his team. He was also able to learn a lot from Gallup about handling the pressure of having an expanded, impactful role.

“Gallup was very composed always,” Johnson said. “I think that helps a lot. I just looked at him and how he handled himself and that is kind of the same way I’m going to approach this season.”

Given how successful CSU’s offensive line was last season, it is far from an easy task to repeat those results. After all, the Rams lost two All-Mountain West players in Jake Bennett and Zack Golditch. Not to mention, 11-game starter Trae Moxley graduated as well.

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However, senior lineman Tyler Bjorklund believes the line is already coming together pretty well as a unit. Players such as Bjorklund, redshirt senior Ben Knox, and senior Colby Meeks will be called upon as leaders for the line.

This is a role the three have already begun to take on. But, Bjorklund believes that in order for the line to thrive, everyone needs to pick each other up, whether experienced or inexperienced. Some of the less experienced linemen will undoubtedly have to step up if CSU’s front five wants to perform similar to last season.

Bjorklund mentioned that he is already seeing significant progress from players new to the program. Specifically, Louisville graduate transfer T.J. Roundtree.

“T.J. is coming from a different program which can be really difficult,” Bjorklund said. “But, he’s picking up on the plays very easily. He’s doing very well so far.”

It will be interesting to see who emerges as key players for CSU next season. As training camp continues, one will be able to get a better sense of how things will lineup for the Rams in 2018.