A couple of weeks ago, Colorado coaches let players know that Mustafa Johnson might be coming back to the team.
On Tuesday, head coach Karl Dorrell said Johnson has been cleared to start practicing with the Buffaloes, although he didn’t say when the veteran defensive lineman will be eligible to play.
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“It’s huge,” linebacker Nate Landman said. “He was one of our best leaders last year and a super productive guy on the field, a great leader off the field.
“We’re so excited to have him back and he means a lot to this team. He’s a huge leader on that D-line and having him back is nothing but great for this program.”
Johnson elected in January to skip his final season of eligibility and enter the NFL Draft. He signed with an agent, but went undrafted and was unable to land a free-agent contract with an NFL team. He did receive a tryout with the New York Jets but was not signed.
He has been granted a waiver to return to CU and play his final season but has to go through practice time and serve a suspension because he did sign with an agent. When BuffZone reported last week that Johnson was coming back, sources said Johnson could make his debut Oct. 2 against Southern California at Folsom Field. On Tuesday, Dorrell did not talk about a specific return date.
“He will start the practice regimen,” Dorrell said. “We just got clearance today, actually, about him being able to start practice. There’s an acclimatization period that he needs to go through that a lot of our players when they begin practice have to do. There’s also part of the stipulation of his reinstatement that he’s got to serve as well.
“He’s just going to get himself in shape and he can help our team be better. … He’s going to have some time to get himself in shape. And he’s excited. Our team’s excited he’s back and I’m excited. We feel he’s going to really help us when we get into the meat of our season.”
A 6-foot-2, 290-pound defensive end, Johnson was named second-team All-Pac-12 by coaches and media in 2020. He recorded 21 tackles, two sacks and six tackles for loss during the five-game regular season for the Buffs while adding three tackles and a sack against Texas in the Alamo Bowl.
A transfer from Modesto (Calif.) Junior College in 2018, Johnson has been a starter in all 27 games he has played at CU. He is tied for 14th in program history in career sacks (15) and tied for 20th in career tackles for loss (29).
The Buffs are hoping to have tackle Frank Fillip on the field soon.
A starter at right tackle in all six games in 2020, Fillip has been out since April with a shoulder injury. This summer, Dorrell said Fillip would possibly miss the three games, but he could return sooner than that.
“Frank is doing awesome,” Dorrell said. “He’s ahead of schedule. When we were projecting when he would be back, they thought it would be somewhere at the start of the conference season, but there’s a chance that he may get a chance to play earlier. He is practicing; he is getting back into doing the individual (work) and doing some stuff with the line. We think he’s really close.”
Barnes to debut
Linebacker Robert Barnes could make his CU debut on Saturday against No.5 Texas A&M.
Barnes, who transferred from Oklahoma in January, did not play in the opener last Friday against Northern Colorado because of an injury. He has been a key part of the defense throughout the offseason, though, and should be in uniform against the Aggies.
“We do expect him to be available this weekend,” Dorrell said. “He had a soft tissue injury that we didn’t feel it was warranted enough for him to play in the first one. But he will be ready to go for this one.”
Saturday’s game will be CU’s first in Denver against an out-of-state opponent since Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28, 1912, against Oklahoma. …Ranked No. 6 in the preseason, Texas A&M moved up to No. 5 on Tuesday. This will be CU’s first game against a top-five opponent since a 41-10 loss to No. 4 Washington in the 2016 Pac-12 title game. … Texas A&M will be just the third active member of the SEC to visit Colorado. LSU was the first in 1979, and Georgia visited in 2010.
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