EZ Mortgages

Spring Practice – What we were looking for; What we saw / 2008 NFL Draft

// Mar 12 - 2008

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For 2008 NFL Draft coverage – scroll down to the bottom of this “Spring Practice” page …

2008 Spring practice – What we were looking for; what we saw – offense

Will Cody Hawkins be challenged at quarterback? Will difference makers emerge at wide receiver and running back? What is Kai Maiava doing in the backfield? Storylines to keep an eye on during spring practice …. (Includes Spring game update)

2008 Spring practice – What we were looking for; what we saw – defense

Two quality starters return at defensive tackle, and CU’s run defense has been fairly solid, but what can be done to improve the pass rush for this fall? Who will step up to replace Jordon Dizon? How can the secondary, statistically one of the worst in the nation in 2007, improve when both cornerbacks need to be replaced? Take a look at the position battles which will ultimately determine whether CU will be mediocre or great in ’08 …. (Includes Spring game update)

Random Summer thoughts …(posted June 1st)

Not one, not two, but three columns for you to sift through at your leisure.

First, how the loss of two critical players from teams the Buffs will be facing this fall should give you some peace of mind when the hand-wringing over the loss of Lynn Katoa and Ryan Geer starts to get to you …

Second, two book recommendations for you for the summer. One is almost twenty years old; the other won’t come out until the end of June. Both are must reads for CU fans … and

Finally, “Predicting the Predictions”. June is the season for preseason magazines. While much anticipated by the faithful, they rarely go out on a limb in making predictions for the upcoming season. That’s what makes predicting the predictions, well, predictable …

What we were looking for; what we saw – Offense

Certainly, the 2007 Colorado offense was an improvement over the 2006 version. In the second season under Dan Hawkins, CU s offensive numbers went up in virtually every category. Passing yardage nearly doubled, from 118.5 yards/game to 227.0 yards/game, while total offense picked up almost 100 yards/game, going from 291.4 to 377.0. Most importantly, in the most significant category of all, point production, Colorado jumped from a dismal 16.3 points/game to more acceptable 27.6.Hidden in these numbers, though, is the reality that the 2007 numbers remain far from championship caliber. Granted, Colorado plays in a conference with some of the most prolific offenses in the country (four teams – Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Missouri – finished in the top ten nationally in scoring). If the Buffs are to claim titles in the Big 12, however, the offense must be ranked higher than 7th in Big 12 in rushing offense, higher than 10th in passing offense, higher than 10th in total offense, and higher than 10th in scoring offense.How to get there? Only three regular starters – tailback Hugh Charles, along with offensive tackles Tyler Polumbus and Edwin Harrison – have moved on. Even with a significant number of Buffs returning with starting experience, there are a more than a few players who will contest for starting positions this fall. Their quest begins this spring …..

Update – March 23rd – The Colorado offense spent much of the first week of practice using a no-huddle look. Not the two-minute drill variety, but more of the style which Missouri utilized last season, which calls for the entire team to look over to the sideline before the ball is snapped. Asked if this style of play was to become the norm, coach Hawkins would only comment, “We’re always evolving.”Overall, coach Hawkins was pleased with where the Buffs were as spring practice opened. “They ran well, we had great tempo, good execution and great hustle,” said Hawkins. “We’re miles ahead of where we’ve been the past couple of springs.”One advantage to this spring over last is the simple fact that the Buffs will be able to field an offensive line. Instead of six healthy linemen in camp, the Buffs have 13. “You can’t do anything if you don’t have enough offensive linemen,” explained offensive line coach Jeff Grimes. “If you only have two quarterbacks, you can still practice, but if you don’t have enough linemen, you can’t operate as a team.”

Update – April 6th – Halfway through Spring Practice, 2008, head coach Dan Hawkins is pleased with most of what he sees. “I think our team got rolling out of the gates pretty well,” said Hawkins. “Every once in awhile – when we started rotating ones and twos and throwing different guys in there just so they can get reps – we kind of lost a little bit of chemistry there. But I think we are clicking really well.”The numbers seemed to bear that out, at least on the offensive side. Running almost exclusively out of the shotgun, CU ran 109 plays during the April 5th scrimmage, with the offense scoring six touchdowns and posting 635 total yards (313 rushing, 322 passing). [A normal game would net an offense between 70-80 plays, but still – averaging almost six yards a play is good for any offense]

The first team offense lined up this way for the first series on April 5th: QB Cody Hawkins; TB Demetrius Sumler; FB Jake Behrens; TE Pat Devenny; WR Patrick Williams; WR Scotty McKnight; OT Ryan Miller; OT Nate Solder; OG Erick Faatagi; OG Devin Head; and C Daniel Sanders.

Update – April 13th – As they did on April 5th, the Buffs’ offense controlled the scrimmage. The CU offensive units put up 654 yards of total offense on 124 total plays (5.3 yards/play). Again, this is relative, as the 124 total plays is close to double a normal game, but the offense did post seven touchdowns and a field goal in a fairly true-to-game-conditions scrimmage. “I think today was a good step forward,” said offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. “We learned some things and fixed a couple problems that we had”. Overall, the Buffs had 238 yards rushing, led by junior Kevin Moyd, who had 59 yards and a touchdown on only eight carries. Sophomore Demetrius Sumler contributed 49 yards and a score on ten carries. The passing game contributed 416 yards and four touchdowns. Cody Hawkins completed 17-30 for 170 yards, while senior Nick Nelson hit on 12 of 17 for 140 yards. The leading receiver was tight end Patrick Devenny, who continued his fine spring with six catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns.

UPDATE – SPRING GAME

Offense/Spring game – The CU offense churned out 502 yards of total offense in the 90 play scrimmage, a healthy 5.8 average/play. All three quarterbacks led scoring drives (Kyle Black did see action in four plays as quarterback, but did not produce a score). Four touchdown passes and no interceptions for the quarterbacks. Ten of 18 on third down conversions. What s not to like? Well, the rushing game was far from dominant (counting sacks, the unit produced only 119 yards on 45 attempts, with no touchdowns). The wide receivers continued to be silent partners, with only two catches from that unit going for over 20 yards. And there were the three blocked kicks and a 1-4 outing by the field goal kickers. “Ok”, was Dan Hawkins assessment of the spring game offensive output. “There were no turnovers, and hopefully no one was (seriously) hurt.”The installation of the no-huddle offense, though, seems to be progressing well. “It s going fine,” said offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. “The guys have bought into it and established a little bit more of an aggressive type of stance. We re trying to force ourselves to play with a little more confidence, force ourselves to play faster.”For a discussion of the results for each offensive unit during the spring game, as well as a look at the depth chart, scroll on ….

Quarterback

Player lost – Bernard Jackson (from 2006)

Lettermen returning – Cody Hawkins (So.), Nick Nelson (Sr.)

New in 2008 – Matt Ballenger (Fr.-RS)(spring), Tyler Hansen (Fr.)(fall)This will likely be one of the main storylines in spring practice. Is Cody Hawkins the answer? Will Cody become a four year starter in Boulder, or was he, like Bernard Jackson before him, a stop-gap until a more capable overall player is prepared to take the field?Hawkins will head into spring practice as the perceived front-runner, but as his father the head coach is often quoted as saying, every position is up for grabs. The wild card here could be redshirt-freshman Matt Ballenger. Ballenger, from Idaho, has reportedly wowed players and coaches with his talent and production on the scout team. His 6’5″ frame is also more consistent with the perceived notion of today s college quarterback (Hawkins is listed at 5’11”, and that is even said to be generous). The competition could make for an interesting spring. Also, do not forget Nick Nelson, who will return for his senior season. Nelson lost out in the quarterback race to Hawkins last fall, but Nelson has now had a full season with a system Hawkins has been playing since grade school. Tyler Hansen of California, a three star prospect, will be in Boulder this fall, but barring injury, is a redshirt candidate.Quotable: Offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, on Hawkins’ advantage on Nelson and Ballenger heading into spring ball: “There is certainly nothing insurmountable, whether it’s a knowledge base or performance advantage, that he (Hawkins) has over the other guys.”

Headline we would like to see this spring:”Hawkins solidifies his role as starter”or, if you believe that Hawkins has already peaked, perhaps:”Ballenger makes his case to lead the Buffs”

Update – March 23rd – Despite the headlines, not much is new here. Spring ball will be an opportunity for Matt Ballenger and Nick Nelson to make their case with the first units. Of Ballenger, coach Dan Hawkins said, “he’s very, very, very competitive. At some point, some people might say too competitive, which I like …. I mean, he wants to win.” As to naming a starter this spring, Hawkins was non-committal. Hawkins stated that he preferred to leave the competition open, rather than naming one and telling the others, “have a nice summer.” One new development was the move by Kyle Black from wide receiver/safety to quarterback. The versatile Black, who redshirted as an option quarterback at Air Force in 2006, could see some playing time for Colorado this fall in the mold planned for Bernard Jackson last season. In addition, Black, who is more mobile than the other Buff signal callers, will be utilized to help the CU defense prepare for the likes of Missouri’s Chase Daniel and KU’s Todd Reesing.

Update – April 6th – Cody Hawkins led the CU offense to three of their six touchdowns, hitting on 10 of 18 passes for 168 yards and three scores. “I thought I did okay and moved the club pretty well,” said Cody. “I thought our guys did a good job when I was in as far as penalties (overall, the CU offense was flagged seven times for 45 yards). I don’t think we had any false starts or guys lining up wrong while I was in.” Why important? With Colorado implementing a no-huddle offense, organization at this early stage is critical for future development. Nick Nelson had four drives at the helm of the offense (compared to eight for Hawkins). Nelson hit on 10 of 15 passes for 103 yards, but did not lead the team to points on any of the four drives.Matt Ballenger, who many look as a possible contender for the starting position, had a poor first scrimmage. Only three of his ten passes were complete, and one was intercepted. “You just forget, you know?”, said Ballenger. You’ve just got to think about the next play and the next day. You can’t get hung up about bad things.”For his part, Dan Hawkins and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich were non-commital as to the solidification of Cody’s role as starter. Said Helfrich, “I thought for the most part decision-wise they all did a pretty good job.”Stay tuned.

Update – April 13th – In the much anticipated battle for the starting quarterback position between incumbent sophomore Cody Hawkins and redshirt freshman Matt Ballenger, the second round winner was ……. Nick Nelson. The senior hit on 70% of his passes, and drove the CU offense to four touchdowns in seven opportunities (including a four-for-four in the red zone). By comparison, Cody Hawkins was successful on 57% of his passes, and had the only interception on the day. In his eight drives, Hawkins led the Buffs to only 14 points, half that generated by Nelson. For his part, Matt Ballenger continued to struggle to produce positive numbers this spring. In his six drives, Ballenger hit on 8-16 passes for 106 yards and a touchdown. Overall, when led by the freshman Ballenger, the CU offense put up a total of ten points.Nelson, who served as a backup for Hawkins last year, is apparently feeling more comfortable in the new Buff offense. Rather than line up behind center, the new offense has the quarterback lineup almost exclusively in the shotgun formation. The new Buff look is identical to the offense Nelson ran at Saddleback College in California, where in his last season there Nelson completed 62% of his passes for 2,241 yards and 18 touchdowns. “I think the thing that hurt Nick last year more than anything was he would just get so hard on himself,” said coach Dan Hawkins. “When things didn’t go so well he’d be down on himself”. Said Nelson, who has thrown for 243 yards on 22-32 passing in two scrimmages, “I think I’ve been doing well. I mean, a lot better than last year at this point.”

UPDATE – SPRING GAME / DEPTH CHART

Quarterback/Spring game – Cody Hawkins led the Buffs for twice as many plays in the spring game as Nick Nelson; three times as many plays as Matt Ballenger. You do the math. Hawkins numbers were solid, if unspectacular: 15-22 for 185 yards and two touchdowns. Perhaps the best stat for Hawkins was that under his command, the Buffs went 8-11 on third downs during the scrimmage. Nelson and Ballenger, who faced the first team defense, did not fare as well, going a combined 2-7 on third down opportunities. Still, Nelson went 10-17 for 133 yards on the day, including a nice roll out 19-yard touchdown pass to Patrick Williams. Ballenger was in for only 15 plays, going 5-6 for 65 yards and a 19-yard touchdown pass to Jason Espinoza (Ballenger stood courageously in the pocket and threw the scoring pass right over a blitzing linebacker).

Quarterback Depth chart: No real surprise here. The depth chart remains unchanged from last fall, with Cody Hawkins at starter, Nick Nelson the main backup. Freshman Matt Ballenger failed to make the impression that many expected he would make this spring. Coach Hawkins to name his son as the starter just yet, though, as coach Dan Hawkins indicated before spring ball started that he wanted all of his quarterbacks hungry and working hard all summer. Still, this will not still be a question mark come August 30th at Mile High stadium. “Once camp gets going I don t think we want to mess around,” said coach Hawkins. “We re not going to go into week 3 (of fall practice) without a starting quarterback.” Based upon spring playing time and the statistics from the three scrimmages, it would have to be considered an upset if Cody Hawkins were not the starter against CSU. Said offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, “Hey, if we were playing today, it would be Cody.”

Running back

Players lost – Hugh Charles, Byron Ellis

Lettermen returning – Brian Lockridge (So.), Demetrius Sumler (So.), Kevin Moyd (Jr.), Cory Nabors (So.), Jake Behrens (Jr.); Maurice Cantrell (Sr.)

New in 2008 – Darrell Scott (Fr.)(fall), Ray Polk (Fr.)(fall), Rodney Stewart (Fr.)(fall)Seniors Hugh Charles and Byron Ellis combined for 1,120 rushing yards last season, and they will be missed. The two returning backs with the most carries and yards are Demetrius Sumler and Brian Lockridge (548 yards on 138 carries between them). There were some flashes of brilliance from these backs in 2007, but not enough to garner great confidence that they will be the starters for the next three seasons. Demetrius Sumler ably subbed for an injured Hugh Charles early on, gaining 85 yards against Colorado State and 97 yards against Miami (Ohio). In the last half of the season, though, Sumler carried the ball only 18 times for 36 yards. Brian Lockridge has great speed, but only had 38 touches all year. Sumler and Lockridge will battle with Kevin Moyd and Cory Nabors this spring to see how much playing time they deserve once the cavalry appears this August.It was certainly an interesting recruiting season for the Buffs at running back. In early January, it looked as is Colorado had commitments from the #1 running back in the country, Darrell Scott, along with commitments from highly rated Ray Polk from Arizona and 2006 four star recruit P.T. Gates. A few weeks later, it looked as if the Buffs might lose all three. Gates failed (again) to qualify for admission, Scott seemed to favor Texas, and Polk took an official visit to Arizona State. For a few days, there was the potential that the Buffs running back cupboard would be very bare in August. Fortunately, it all worked out well for CU. Scott and Polk signed, and the Buffs picked up another running back recruit, Rodney Stewart from Columbus, Ohio, on signing day.The three new Buffs won t be on campus until this summer, so it is up to Lockridge, Sumler, and Moyd to carry the load this spring. With such heralded players coming to campus in a few months, one would hope that the players already in camp will be well motivated to show why they should see significant playing time this fall.

Headline we would like to see this spring:”Darrell Who? Incumbent running backs show they are ready for prime time”

Update – March 23rd – While most of Buff Nation awaits the arrival of Darrell Scott (not to mention Ray Polk and Rodney Stewart), there will be a month of practices without the projected savior of the CU running game. Of his returning backs, Demetrius Sumler, Brian Lockridge, and Kevin Moyd, coach Dan Hawkins indicated he expects “a sense of urgency” amongst the trio, as they attempt to demonstrate that they deserve playing time this fall.The Kai Maiava guard-to-fullback experiment continues unabated. “At first I was kind of hesitant because all I’ve ever learned in football is how to play the O-line,” said Maiava about the switch to fullback. “Now I’m just kind of excited. Maybe I’ll get the ball once or twice a year and maybe score a TD for the O-line.”

Update – April 6th – Is it a good thing or a bad thing when your leading rusher at the first full scrimmage is a redshirt-freshman walk-on? Arthur Jaffee certainly believes it is a good thing, especially after the Boulder High product ran for 98 yards on just ten carries, including a 33 yard touchdown run. Names more familiar to Buff fans, Demetrius Sumler and Brian Lockridge, also fared well on an afternoon in which the Buff offense put up 313 yards on 64 carries (a 4.9/yds/carry average). Both had 12 carries, with Lockridge totaling 57 yards (including a three yard touchdown), while Sumler had 47 yards. Sumler also contributed a team-high five receptions for 81 yards, including a 56 yard touchdown reception on the first series of the scrimmage.”We had some big plays, which is what the coaches are asking for” said Sumler, a sophomore this season. “We had spurts where we drove the ball and looked good and there were times when the defense just shut us down. We have a lot of room to improve.” The best day had by all of the running backs was the day had by Cory Nabors. Nabors on the afternoon had ten carries for 58 yards and a catch for 15 yards. The numbers Nabors put up, though, were not the story for the redshirt freshman walk-on from Aurora (Rangeview). That is to say, former redshirt freshman walk-on. After Saturday’s scrimmage, Nabors was awarded a scholarship by head coach Dan Hawkins. “It means a lot,” said Nabors. “It’s one of the biggest dreams I’ve had in my life to earn a Division I scholarship. To get it at the University of Colorado where I always wanted to be is great.”Congratulations, Cory. Keep up the good work!

Update – April 13th – A comment was posted after the Rocky Mountain News story on the April 12th scrimmage: “Where is Darrell Scott?”. The poster was gently reminded that Darrell Scott is still in high school. Until the arrival of Darrell Scott, Ray Polk, and Rodney Stewart, the CU rushing offense is led by committee. In the second scrimmage, it was junior Kevin Moyd’s turn to lead the attack, putting up 59 yards and a touchdown on eight carries. Three other players also had as many carries on the day. Sophomore tailback Demetrius Sumler continued his consistent play with ten carries for 49 yards and a touchdown. Redshirt freshman Cory Nabors, who was awarded a scholarship last week, posted 36 yards on ten carries, while last weekend’s leading rusher, Arthur Jaffee, put up 35 yards on eight carries.On the day, the CU rushing offense accounted for 282 yards on 53 carries (not including sacks), a 5.3 yards/carry average. The unit scored three times, one each by Moyd, Sumler, and quarterback Nick Nelson (on a run covering three yards).

UPDATE SPRING GAME / DEPTH CHART

Running back/Spring game – Demetrius Sumler had a good spring game, leading the team with 43 yards on 11 carries. The Buff sophomore, who had the best 07 of all of the returning backs, also contributed 24 yards on two receptions. Junior Kevin Moyd put up 30 yards on nine carries, and had a 25 yard touchdown reception from Cody Hawkins on the day s first drive. On the day, no back scored on the ground, and as a team the Buffs had only 153 yards rushing (a 3.9 yard average – without sacks) on the day. “I think our spring game was very productive,” said Sumler. “We installed the new offense and I think it showed in the spring game today that we picked it up and we re going to roll with it this year.”

Running back Depth chart: Freshmen Arthur Jaffee and Cory Nabors have made headlines this spring, but it is sophomore Demetrius Sumler who tops the depth chart. Sumler has been the most consistent of the backs this spring, both in rushing and receiving out of the backfield. While you certainly want to believe that Sumler is capable of being the main back for CU this fall, one cannot help but have the impression that the existing group of backs are merely place holders until Darrell Scott and Ray Polk arrive this fall. Still, Mark Helfrich was proud of those in uniform on Saturday. “When you sign a high-profile guy at a position, guys kind of either tank it or they step up and get a lot better,” said the CU offensive coordinator. “I think Demetrius Sumler got a lot better this spring. Kevin Moyd got a lot better this spring.”Darrell Scott was in attendance at the spring game, and was inundated by autograph seekers and well wishers. For his part, Scott was anxious to be a Buff. “Honestly, I just want to get a jersey, put on shoulder pads, and get out there,” said Scott, who will report in June for summer classes and individual workouts. “I m really excited. The offense was fast-paced. They played well.”

Fullback/Spring game: There was little heard from the fullbacks in the spring game. None of the three who played carried the ball, though Maurice Cantrell and Jake Behrens each had one reception (for six and four yards, respectively). Sophomore convert Kai Maiava was in for only a handful of plays. Of Maiava, offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said, “His biggest thing right now is just playing fast and playing with confidence. He s still thinking about the formation, thinking about the motion, thinking about his aiming points on his blocks.”

Fullback Depth chart: Senior Maurice Cantrell and Junior Jake Behrens remain atop the depth chart, with former freshman All-American guard Kai Maiava listed third on the list. While it is certainly not unexpected for a new player to have to work his way through to a starting position, if Maiava remains third on the list come fall, there will be those who will wonder if his talents are not being wasted on the sidelines. Compared to the other change in position concerning the offensive line (Nate Solder from tight end to tackle), which is paying immediate dividends, the Maiava move may take a full year or more to be take root.

Wide Receiver

Players lost – Dusty Sprague, Stephone Robinson, Chase McBride, Alvin Barrett (from 2006), Jarrell Yates (from 2006)

Lettermen returning – Patrick Williams (Sr.), Josh Smith (So.), Scotty McKnight (So.), Kendrick Celestine (So.), Cody Crawford (Sr.)

New in 2008 – Steve Melton (Jr. – JC)(spring), Markques Simas (Fr.-RS)(spring), Chance Blackmon (Fr.)(fall)The questions from this group this spring will center around overall improvement. Senior Patrick Williams had as many catches in the 2007 campaign (27) as departing senior Dusty Sprague, but averaged less than ten yards/reception. Josh Smith averaged almost 20 yards/catch in 07, but, almost inexplicably, never found the endzone. Scotty McKnight set freshman season records for catches (43) and receiving yards (488), but did not put much fear into opposing secondaries. A third freshman, Kendrick Celestine, played in 11 games, but totaled only 11 receptions on the season.There seems to be plenty of talent and speed amongst this group, but, with only four touchdowns scored amongst the four last year (all by McKnight), there is certainly the need for improved production.Perhaps the answer will come from a freshman who didn t play in 2007. Last fall, there was a buzz about the talent of redshirt freshman Markques Simas. Hopefully, Simas will be a pleasant surprise for the Buff fans this spring (though I can t help but ask the nagging question: If Simas was such a talent, why did he keep his redshirt in 07, while other true freshmen Josh Smith and Kendrick Celestine, played?).Chance Blackmon, a three star recruit from Tatum, Texas, joins the group this fall.

Headline we would like to see this spring:”Wide Receiver corps ready to stretch defenses this fall”

Update – March 23rd – There is much hope that, with a solidified offensive line, a potentially dominant running game, and an extra year in the system for the starting quarterback (whoever that turns out to be), that the wide receivers will finally have a break out season which has been sought but not seen in Boulder in years. Primary focus has been on redshirt freshman Markques Simas, a prized recruit from the ’07 class who sat out last fall. “I’ve been looking forward to playing for a while,” said Simas. “I came in here with hopes of playing, but I was just too small and I wasn’t really too confident in my abilities.” Is he confident now? “I kind of took a year to develop as a player and it really helped a lot.”Also this week – on the lighter side – Josh Smith imitated Josh Smith. For a local television piece, CU wide receiver Josh Smith and CU ski team member Josh Smith took turns trying out each other’s sport. On March 20th, Josh Smith (the skier) took Josh Smith (the receiver) to Eldora, with the two changing roles that afternoon. Of his football experience, Josh the Skier, who is 5’10”, 130, “A few of the other players thought I was the new kicker.” Both enjoyed the day, with no injuries coming to either Josh.

Update – April 6th – You would think that a passing day of 322 yards and four touchdowns would be a good day for any receiving corps, but inside the numbers you find a different story. Of the 23 total completions, only seven went to wide outs. Senior Patrick Williams had four catches for 44 yards; sophomore Josh Smith had two for 44; and Scotty McKnight had one for ten yards. None of the three found the endzone. Most of the receiving yardage came from the running backs, along with three of the touchdowns. Oh well. At least redshirt freshman Markques Simas made the stats sheet.He blocked a punt.

Update – April 13th – The wide receiver numbers were up slightly from the first scrimmage. The passing game produced 416 yards on 37 catches (11.2 yards/per), but once again the bulk of the yardage came from the running back and tight end positions. Senior Patrick Williams had the best day of the receivers,. Williams had five catches for 57 yards, including a 25 yard touchdown pass from Matt Ballenger. Senior Cody Crawford also had five catches, but covered only 39 yards (Crawford did have a good day overall, however, as he also blocked two punts).One new name did emerge on the 12th. Redshirt freshman Jason Espinoza collected four passes for 62 yards, and returned four punts for another 61 yards. “He’s got really quick feet and we knew he’s a kind of a jitterbug guy and would have a chance to do some things,” said Dan Hawkins. “On offense, he could be a real asset in the right spot.”Also making news on the wide receiver front this week was sophomore Scotty McKnight. McKnight, who set freshman receiving records last season, had only three catches for 27 yards during the second scrimmage, but the news was where McKnight lined up on offense. Instead of lining up on the outside, McKnight lined up in the slot, working crossing routes across the middle of the field. “Going over the middle gives you the opportunity to find holes and openings in the defense,” said McKnight. “Altogether things have really slowed down for me this year. I’ve really limited the mental mistakes.”Redshirt freshman Marques Simas, from whom much is expected this fall, was excused from the scrimmage to attend a funeral.

UPDATE – SPRING GAME / DEPTH CHART

Wide receiver/Spring game: The receiving statistics for the Buffs as a team once again look impressive, with CU quarterbacks completing 60% of their passes for 383 yards and four touchdowns. However, as has been the case much of the spring, a deeper look at the numbers show that the receiving corps is not doing the bulk of the work. The two leading receivers of the spring game were tight end Patrick Devenny (five catches for 78 yards) and running back Kevin Moyd (three for 60). There were strides made in the right direction, however. Three of the four touchdown receptions were made by wide receivers (as opposed to two total in the first two scrimmages). Patrick Williams and Jason Espinoza each had fine touchdown catches, and freshman Markques Simas, who had been shutout in the scrimmages, collected four passes for 34 yards.

Wide receiver/Depth chart: No real movement here. Senior Patrick Williams is listed as one starter at wide receiver; Scotty McKnight the other. Just behind these two returning starters are Josh Smith and Cody Crawford, respectively. The impact freshman, at least so far, is not Markques Simas, who was a burner on the scout team last fall, but Jason Espinoza. As this is a position which was not much of a threat to opposing secondaries last fall, and one which lost possession receiver Dusty Sprague to graduation, it would have been nice to see more progress in this unit. Overall, the numbers were good in the passing game, but I still don t see the Buffs being able to use the receiving game to the extent hoped for by the coaches.

Tight End

Players lost – Tyson DeVree, Joe Sanders

Lettermen returning – Riar Geer (Jr.), Nate Solder (So.), Patrick Devenny (Jr.)

New in 2008 – Ryan Deehan (Fr.)(fall), Ryan Wallace (Fr.)(fall)Tight ends play an important role in the Colorado offensive scheme. In addition to being significant contributors to the running game, CU tight ends are expected to be quality receivers, especially around the end zone. Cody Hawkins had 19 touchdown passes in 2007; nine of them went to tight ends. With the graduation of Tyson DeVree, Riar Geer will become the featured tight end, at least in the spring. This fall, however, two highly rated Ryans – Deehan and Wallace – will be added to the mix.Notable: Sophomore Nate Solder, who had three catches for 50 yards in limited duty in ’07, will be given a look at offensive tackle this spring. “I think Nate Solder was born to be a tackle,” said offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. Solder is 6’8″, and weighed in at 270 last fall.

Headline we would like to see this spring:”Tight ends looking to extend long history of CU success at position”

Update – March 23rd – With the move of Nate Solder to tackle, combined with the indefinite loss of Riar Geer from the team, what was once a strength of the offense has become a potential liability. In addition to suiting up without Solder and Geer, Tyson DeVree and Joe Sanders have graduated. This leaves Patrick Devenny, a converted quarterback with little playing experience, as the main guy. New Mexico transfer Luke Walters and walk-on Kyle Tompane will see action this spring, with two tight end recruits, Ryan Deehan and Ryan Wallace, to be in camp this fall (incoming freshman LB/TE Will Pericak, who attends high school in Boulder, watched practices, but is not eligible to participate as he is not enrolled at CU). “There is always a little bit of concern there, but we’ll be fine,” said tight ends coach Kent Riddle. “These guys will step up.”

Update – April 6th – Tight end Patrick Devenny, the only tight end with any playing experience on the roster, did make at least one notable play. After dropping a pass a few plays earlier, Devenny, on the offense’s third possession, made an over-the-shoulder catch of a Cody Hawkins pass, taking it 45 yards for a score. At this point, after the arrest and suspension of starter Riar Geer, I guess no news from the tight end position qualifies as good news.

Update – April 13th – Junior tight end Patrick Devenny continued to give the Buffs and their fans assurance that the tight end position is not a lost cause. After losing two tight ends to graduation, Nate Solder to the offensive line, and returning starter Riar Geer to legal issues, things looked bleak on the CU tight end depth chart. Devenny, though, has made the most of his chance, leading all receivers during the April 12th scrimmage with six catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns. “I’ve proved to myself that I can compete,” said Devenny. “I know I can provide some options for the quarterback”.While not eligible to participate, incoming freshman recruit Will Pericak is gaining valuable information. Pericak, from Boulder High, has attended nearly every practice. “I’m starting to pick things up,” said Pericak. “I’m learning the plays and what I’m supposed to do at my position.”

UPDATE – SPRING GAME / DEPTH CHARTT

ight end/Spring game: Quick quiz: Which CU receiver had the most total catches this spring? Which CU receiver had the most total yards? The most touchdowns? We ll make it real easy for you – it s the same guy. Junior tight end Patrick Devenny had five more catches in the spring game, collecting 78 yards in the process. For the spring, Devenny led the Buffs in catches (12), yards (244), and touchdowns (3).

Tight end/Depth chart: Junior Patrick Devenny was slated as a backup to Riar Geer before Geer was arrested and suspended. Now Devenny is getting most of the playing time in scrimmages, and he has fared well. As noted above, Devenny led the team this spring in receptions, yards, and touchdown catches. There has been little written about the remaining tight ends on the depth chart, Luke Walters, Devin Shanahan, and Kyle Tompac. Assuming Riar Geer will not be available for 2008, look for Devenny to become a name familiar to most Buff fans before conference play begins.

Offensive Line

Players lost – Tyler Polumbus, Edwin Harrison, Wes Palazzi

Lettermen returning – Daniel Sanders (Sr.), Kai Maiava (So.), Ryan Miller (So.), Devin Head (Jr.)

New in 2008 – Ethan Adkins (Fr.-RS)(spring), Matthew Bahr (Fr.-RS)(spring), Blake Behrens (Fr.-RS.)(spring), Shawn Daniels (Fr.-RS)(spring), Mike Iltis (Fr.-RS.)(spring), Sione Tau (Fr.-RS.)(spring), Bryce Givens (Fr.)(fall), Max Tuioti-Mariner (Fr.)(fall), Ryan Dannewitz (Fr.)(fall), Erick Fataagi (Sr.)(spring)

Look at that depth! Last year, the spring game was mostly just a scrimmage because Colorado only had seven offensive linemen in camp healthy enough to participate. What a difference a year makes! Six of the eight offensive linemen from the class of 07 red-shirted, while two, Maiava and Miller, not only saw playing time, but both were starters by mid-season.With two starting offensive linemen, Polumbus and Harrison, lost to graduation, the Buffs figure to line up this spring with three returning starters. Still, this math does not come as easily as you might think.When Ryan Miller worked his way into the starting lineup against Kansas State at mid-season, Edwin Harrison moved over from tackle to guard, displacing starter Devin Head. Head returns for his junior season, already with 15 games and seven starts on his resume. This gives the Buffs four veteran starters: Daniel Sanders at center; Maiava and Head at guard; and Miller at tackle.Thing is, freshman All-American guard (The Sporting News) Kai Maiava may not be lining up at guard come this fall – at least not all the time. Maiava is going to be given a look this spring at a fullback/H-back/tight end hybrid. At 6′, Maiava is small for a Division 1-A guard, but the coaches have noted his quick feet and his enthusiasm for being a lead blocker. Maiava has dropped 20 pounds this winter, and hopes to drop another 10 (to 270) by this fall. “It’s a whole new world to me”, said Maiava, “but I’m liking it more and more, the more I learn.”What do you think? Giving up a starter on the line, and any accompanying continuity, for an experiment?I like it. To me, the move says that the coaches are confident that there is sufficient depth on the line to move Maiava into a fullback role. It also gives you a great mental image: Maiava, with his long locks flowing out from the back of his helmet, leading Darrell Scott into the hole! Makes you wish it was already September ….If three spots on the line are taken (Sanders appears set at center, while Miller at one tackle and Head at one guard, also appear to be set), which players, amongst the eight returning linemen above, will earn starting nods this spring? It will be a pleasant change to have an overabundance of talent in the offensive line to answer this question. Still, the final answer may not come until the fall, when four more quality linemen will take the practice field. Bryce Givens and Max Tuioti-Mariner were both four star recruits, with Ryan Dannewitz not far behind. Normally, freshmen offensive linemen are expected to redshirt, but this trio of recruits will have plenty of incentive to work hard this summer. All they have to do is take a look at the starting lineup and take note that both Maiava and Miller started as true freshmen in 2007.But wait, there’s more …. Erick Fataagi, who was academically ineligible in 2007, has indicated that he will be eligible to play this fall. Fataagi, a junior college transfer in 2006, sat out ’06 with knee surgery before failing academically in ’07. If Fataagi can keep up his grades this spring and summer, he would play as a senior this fall.

Headline we would like to see this spring:”Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes needs nametags to remember names of all of his linemen”

Update – March 23rd – Much of the early attention has been focused the “loss” of Kai Maiava to the fullback position and the “gain” of former tight end Nate Solder. There is one other “gain” to the line this spring. Erick Faatagi, who transferred to CU two years ago, figures to see his first action this spring (though he did not make all of the practices this week due to scheduling conflicts with classes). Faatagi is seen as a strong candidate to fill one of the guard positions opposite returning starter Devin Head. Also in the mix are Mike Iltis, Blake Behrens, and David Clark. At tackle, it looks for now as if Ryan Miller will be on the right side, where large human beings such as Miller (6’7″, 320) belong. The left tackle position calls for good athletes, and Nate Solder (6’7″, 270) seems to be a good fit. Competing with the inexperienced Solder are redshirt freshmen Ethan Adkins, Matt Bahr, and Sione Tau. At center, senior Daniel Sanders is the man, with sophomore walk-on Keenan Stevens and redshirt freshman Shawn Daniels competing for the backup position.Unlike his head coach, who wants to keep most competitions open until fall, offensive line coach Jeff Grimes is looking for a starting lineup to emerge by the end of the spring game. After that, it’s easy. Grimes’ goal? “My personal definition and my goal is that we be the toughest offensive line in the country,” said Grimes. “I don’t know how you would ever be able to say that we are or we aren’t, but I know the kinds of things I am looking for.”

Update – April 6th – As noted above, the starting lineup for the first team during the first series of the April 5th scrimmage was: OT Ryan Miller; OT Nate Solder; OG Erick Faatagi; OG Devin Head; and C Daniel Sanders. It is significant that Solder, the converted tight end, is already seeing significant playing time with the first unit. “Nate has all the tools,” said CU offensive line coach Jeff Grimes. “When he changed positions, right away he’s quicker and faster and more agile than any of the other guys. He has tremendous, tremendous upside.” Solder is competing alongside returning starter Ryan Miller for one of the tackle positions (players are learning both the right and left tackle positions). Also in the mix at tackle are redshirt freshmen Ethan Adkins and Sione Tau. At the guard position, Devin Head, who was the starter at the beginning of the 2007 season, is sharing reps with Mike Iltis. This battle for a starting job may be one of the position battles which is not settled until mid-August.

Update – April 13th – Not much news here this week, which is probably a good thing. The more consistent the offensive line is on a day-to-day basis, the better the CU offense becomes. On April 12th, the line did give up eight sacks, but that statistic may be misleading. Quarterbacks were off limits for hits, so the whistle would blow anytime a rusher got too close to the passer. Overall, a 5.3 yards/carry for the rushers average is more than acceptable.The “experiment” of moving Nate Solder from tight end to tackle has every appearance of being a permanent move. Solder is spending a great deal of time with the first offense. “I really like the new offense,” said Solder. “It really goes with my style of play. We’re always moving – running up to the ball and getting the next play going. It really helps us because it wears the offense down. It can be tricky for the o-line but we have some tough, smart guys on the line and we’re handling it well.” And what of Sione Tau? Tau took his red-shirt season in ’07, and many expected him to compete for a starting job at offensive tackle this spring. Then along came Solder, and put Tau with the second unit. “It kind of bothers me,” said Tau of Solder’s quick rise through the depth chart, “because it makes me work harder. But it’s a good fight, though. He’s a good player.” Said Hawkins of Tau’s reaction to Solder moving in: “I think he’s fine with it. He’s reacted to it okay and he’s doing a nice job,” concluding, “Who knows? We’re going to end up playing the best five guys. Maybe down the road he’s a guard.”

UPDATE – SPRING GAME / DEPTH CHART

Offensive line/Spring game: Overall, the Buffs offense generated 502 yards on 90 plays during the spring game, but only 31 total points for both units (two touchdowns were scored on blocked punts). The first team offensive line consisted of Daniel Sanders at center, Ryan Miller and Nate Solder at tackle, and Devin Head and Matt Bahr at guard. Senior Erick Faatagi, who has been battling with the Bahr, a redshirt freshman for the starting job, did not play in the spring game. Asked about Faatagi s absence, offensive line coach Jeff Grimes would only comment, “Erick Faatagi was not able to participate today.” Faatagi has had both injury and academic issues throughout his stay in Boulder.

Offensive line/Depth chart: Senior Daniel Sanders is the starting center for the Buffs – this much we knew before spring practice. Now, two more positions appear to be solidified. At right tackle, Ryan Miller is a safe bet to return as a starter, backed up by Sione Tau. On the left side, surprising progress has been made by converted tight end Nate Solder. Solder, a sophomore, started the spring game at left tackle, backed up by redshirt freshman Ethan Adkins. The guard positions remain in flux, with six players battling for two starting jobs. Junior Devin Head, senior Erick Faatagi, and four redshirt freshmen, Matthew Bahr, Shawn Daniels, Blake Behrens, and Mike Iltis, will continue their contest for playing time well into the fall. Overall, offensive line coach Jeff Grimes was pleased with the progress. “I think it (the week leading up to the spring game) was really the first week we showed glimpses of the way we want to play the game.”

Kicking Game

Players lost – Kevin Eberhart, Tyler Cope, Terrence Wheatley, Hugh Charles, Byron Ellis, Chase McBride, Stephone Robinson

Lettermen returning – Matthew DiLallo (P)(Jr.), Justin Drescher (SN)(Jr.)

New in 2008 – Jameson Davis (Jr.)(spring), Aric Goodman (So.)(spring)Other than punter Matthew DiLallo and long snapper Justin Drescher, who both return for their junior seasons, the CU kicking game is wide open. The competition for kicker and kick returners will be amongst the most interesting battles of the spring. Jameson Davis and Aric Goodman both come to CU by way of other schools. Davis originally committed to Boise State before going on a mission, and will have two years of eligibility. His competition for the place kicker job will come from Aric Goodman, a sophomore transfer from Wyoming. Hopefully, one will step up this spring, as one of the two will be stepping into the large shoes left behind by Mason Crosby and Kevin Eberhart.The task of returning kicks is similarly up for grabs. There isn t a player on the CU roster with more than one punt return or kick return on their stat’s sheet. While there is plenty of speed and talent on the roster, finding players who can ably man these important tasks will be another storyline which will receive significant ink in the local papers this spring.

Headline we would like to see this spring:”Davis (or Goodman!) ready to fill the shoes of Crosby and Eberhart”

Update – March 23rd – The starting kicker will not likely be named until fall, but whoever earns the job, they will be an interesting story for visiting media. Jameson Davis is a 23-year old freshman who was on scholarship at Boise State before going on a two year mission to Guatemala. His competition is transfer Aric Goodman, an honorable mention All-American in 2006 with Wyoming. As a freshman, Goodman connected on 10 of 16 field goals (10-12 on extra points), including a 52-yarder which proved to be the game-winner against San Diego State. Both could end up playing, with one kicking field goals, with the other being the kickoff specialist. Both will also compete with incumbent Matt DiLallo for punting duties.

Update – April 6th – While overall the CU offense shone during the April 5th scrimmage, this did not necessarily hold true for the kicking game. Both Jameson Davis and Aric Goodman were given opportunities, but the two converted only four of eight field goal attempts overall. Davis hit only one of three field goal attempts, connecting from 42 yards while missing from 53 and 30 yards out. Goodman went three-for-five, being good from 41,43, and 42 yards, but missing from 29 and 37. Goodman also missed an extra point attempt. Dan Hawkins, though, wasn’t worried. “There is good potential there, so I think we’ll be okay,” said Hawkins of his kickers.Incumbent punter Matt DiLallo had six situational punts to make on the afternoon. Five went for an average of 42 yards, but a sixth was blocked by Markques Simas and returned by cornerback Jimmy Smith 11 yards for a touchdown. On the return side of the ball, there were no clear cut winners on the two open positions of punt returner and kickoff returner. Jason Espinoza, a redshirt freshman walk-on safety, had three punt returns for 20 total yards. Josh Smith and Scotty McKnight each had one good kickoff return, with Smith going for 42 yards; McKnight for 40.

Update – April 13th – Dan Hawkins may not be worried, but I am. The battle for the kicking position continued without a winner, as both Jameson Davis and Aric Goodman continued to struggle. Jameson hit on one of two field goal attempts, hitting from 42, but missing from 27. Goodman missed his only field goal attempt (from 41 yards out). This leaves the new Buff kickers with five makes in 11 attempts, with four of the six misses from inside of 40 yards. On the punting front, incumbent Matt DiLallo seems to be entrenched as the starter. DiLallo had three punts for a 41.3 yard average during the scrimmage. Not overly impressive stats, but DiLallo’s competition on the day, senior walk-on Tom Suazo, had two of his three punts blocked.On the return front, the returners continued to post good numbers (or, if you prefer, the Buffs’ coverage units continued to struggle). Jason Espinoza, mentioned above for his work Saturday as a receiver, returned four punts for 61 yards. The kickoff return star was sophomore Josh Smith, who had three returns for 105 yards, including a 56-yarder.

UPDATE – SPRING GAME / DEPTH CHART

Kicker/Spring game: Another day, another disappointing overall outing for the kickers. Jameson Davis went 0-3, including a blocked 49 yard attempt and a missed 31-yarder. Aric Goodman did connect on his only attempt, a 44-yarder on the last play of the scrimmage, so if you are looking for an early favorite for the fall, it would be Goodman.

Kicker/Depth chart: Unfortunately, neither freshman Jameson Davis nor sophomore Aric Goodman have distinguished themselves this spring the way Buff fans may have hoped. While it was unlikely that a starter was to be named this spring, it would have been more reassuring to Buff fans if the level of competition was higher, as the two have combined to hit on only 6-15 attempts this spring (Jameson 2-8; Goodman 4-7). Five of the combined nine misses have come from inside of 40 yards (recall Mason Crosby going an entire season with fewer misses inside of 40 yards – but I digress). Goodman s successful kick ended the spring game on a high note. This was of some reassurance, but up until that point, the kickers were having a forgettable spring.

Punter/Spring game: Another dismal day for the punting unit. Two blocked punts; both returned for touchdowns. On the one side, it was good to see the Buffs blocking punts (there was also a blocked field goal on the day), after CU only blocked two all of the last season. “Rid (special teams coach Kent Riddle) and I are used to seeing six, seven, eight punts and kicks on the ground every year,” said Dan Hawkins. “We ve got to get after that.” The down side, of course, is having your own punter harassed. Not to worry, said Riddle. The punts blocked this week and last were against “guys who will never, ever” see the field as punt protectors. Adding to the difficulties for the punting unit – the starting long snapper, junior Justin Drescher, missed the spring game with an undisclosed illness.

Punter/Depth chart: Junior Matt DiLallo is the returning starter, and the only returning letterman kicker. Senior walk-on Tom Suazo has had three of his five punt attempts this spring blocked, so don t look for any change here.

Return game/Spring game: There was no separation amongst the kick returners during the spring game. Cody Crawford did have a 22 yard punt return for the Buffs, and four different players returned kickoffs, the longest coming from Demetrius Sumler, who had a 39 yard return.

Return game/Depth chart: The task of returning punts and kickoffs remain open, but certain names are rising to the top. Speedster Josh Smith is listed atop the depth chart as the primary kickoff returner (he had one kickoff return during the spring game, going for 33 yards), while redshirt freshman Jason Espinoza is listed as the number one punt returner. Incoming freshman Rodney Stewart should see a potential opening here.What do you think? Post a comment, below, and let us all in on your opinions …

What we were looking for; what we saw – Defense

Here is a stat for you: The much-maligned Colorado passing defense was ranked as the 3rd best in the Big 12 Conference going into the 2007 regular season finale. Surprised? Well, that number is a bit skewed, seeing as how being 3rd in the pass happy Big 12 merited being ranked no better than 80th in the country. After being torched by Nebraska for 484 passing yards in the finale (yes, I know the Buffs won), Colorado dropped like a stone in the rankings, finishing the season 8th in the conference in passing defense, and a lowly 101st in the nation. For the season, Colorado surrendered an average of 261.8 passing yards per game.The remaining defensive statistics from 07 are only slightly more comforting. The rushing defense finished 5th in the conference (32nd nationwide), but in the most important numbers, total defense and scoring defense, the Buffs were decidedly mediocre (6th and 64th in total defense; 8th and 78th in scoring defense). What’s more, the Colorado defense loses three important starters from the defensive side of the ball. Between the three of them, defensive end Alonzo Barrett, linebacker Jordon Dizon, and cornerback Terrence Wheatley earned 80 career starts, with Dizon and Wheatley earning All-American consideration for last year s efforts. In addition, Wheatley s partner at cornerback, Ben Burney, will be undergoing multiple surgeries this spring, and is likely to use his redshirt this season so that he can play as a senior in 2009. This leaves the Buffs with two cornerbacks to replace from an already porous secondary.What can be done to get Colorado out of the bottom half of the national rankings in almost every defensive category, and do it without four of its starters from 2007? That s why there is spring practice …..

Update – March 23rd – Head coach Dan Hawkins is planning on spending more time with the defense this spring. “It has a more to do with – and I’ve coached on both sides of the ball before – what I don’t want our guys thinking is, ‘The head coach, he’s an offensive coach’. I don’t want them thinking that because you wins games with defense. So I want to spend more time with those guys over there, loving ’em up and being involved with what’s going on there.”

Update – April 6th – For every good thing which happens at an intra-squad scrimmage, there is a corresponding bad thing. On April 5th, the CU offense went for 635 yards on 109 plays, almost six yards/play. That also means that the CU defense was surrendering yards at almost six yards a clip. Why was the Buff offense successful? Was it the lack of consistent play by the defense, or an improved offense? Senior linebacker Brad Jones, in his fifth spring at CU, likes the new offense. “The offense is further along by leaps and bounds,” said Jones, who had nine tackles on the afternoon, including two tackles-for-loss and a sack. “We’re going to have a pretty good offense.”CU will have to have a pretty good offense this fall, especially if things don’t start looking up on defense.

The first team defense lined up this way for the first series on April 5th: DE Maurice Lucas; DE Marquez Harrod; DT George Hypolite; DT Brandon Nicholas; LB Brian Stengel; LB Brad Jones; LB Jeff Smart; CB Gardner McKay; CB Cha’pelle Brown; S Anthony Perkins; and S Daniel Dykes.

Update – April 13th – Amongst the impressive offensive numbers, there must be some way to find positive defensive statistics, right? Right? The defensive did produce eight sacks (but that number is skewed by the fact that quarterbacks were not allowed to be hit, so some of the credited sacks may not have come to pass in a real game). There were the four forced fumbles (but only one recovered by the defense). There were the seven passes broken up (but an overall completion percentage rate of 58.7%). Well, at least there were the two blocked punts (against the walk-on punter).Silver linings, defensive coordinator Ron Collins? “It’s awesome,” said Collins of the new CU hurry up offense. “It’s good for us to get out there and have to face that every day because we are going to see a lot of it during the season.”

UPDATE – SPRING GAME

Defense/Spring game: It s hard to say a unit has played well when it gives up over 500 yards of offense, four touchdown passes, and creates no turnovers. Still, the spring game was an improvement for the Colorado defense over what took place in the first two scrimmages. The unit did produce six sacks on the afternoon, and there were few big plays surrendered. Defensive coordinator Ron Collins remains optimistic. “We got a lot of stuff put in, (and) our young guys got a lot of reps,” said Collins, alluding to the injuries and suspensions which have hit the defense this spring. “We got to work with a lot of guys.”There is also more and more discussion of the Buffs moving to more of a 3-4 defense. This is due partly to the lack of depth in the defensive line, partly due to the number of talented linebackers possess (if CU can ever get them all on the practice field at once). Said Collins, “We re just trying to find our best 11 guys. I don t care who they are. If it s six linebackers, five linebackers, four linebackers – it doesn t matter.”For a discussion of the spring game results, as well as a look at the depth chart for each unit, scroll on ….

Defensive line

Player lost – Alonzo Barrett, Chris Perri

Lettermen returning – George Hypolite (Sr.), Maurice Lucas (Sr.), Brandon Nicolas (Sr.), Jason Brace (Jr.), Taj Kaynor (Jr.), Marques Herrod (So.)

New in 2008 – Eugene Goree (Fr.-RS.)(spring), Eric Lawson (Fr.-RS)(spring), Conrad Obi (DE) (Fr-RS)(spring), Lagrone Shields (Fr.-RS) (spring), Drew Hudgins (Jr.) (spring), Curtis Cunningham (Fr.) (fall)As noted, the rushing defense for Colorado in 2007 was adequate, finishing 32nd in the nation at 127.7 yards/game. This was largely due to the efforts of its defensive tackles, both of whom will be back this fall as seniors. George Hypolite, listed as first-team All-Big 12 in 2007 by a number of services, led the team in sacks in 07 with six. By his side is Brandon Nicholas, who was honored by his teammates with the Regiment Award, given to the Buff who made the greatest contribution with the least recognition. Also returning is senior defensive end Maurice Lucas, who has 14 career starts to his credit. Still, the defensive line will need to significantly more productive if Colorado is to have a winning season in 2008.One place to start would be the pass rush. The Buffs registered only 19 quarterback sacks last season (four of those by departed Jordon Dizon), good for a 93rd in-the-nation ranking. The starters at defensive end last season had only three sacks between them (Alonzo Barrett had one sack; Maurice Lucas had two). Hopefully, there will be more production from the defensive end position this fall. Junior college transfer Drew Hudgins, who sat out last season with a ruptured Achilles, may be ready to go this spring, though he may end up petitioning the NCAA for a sixth season of eligibility and play in ’09. On the near horizon is redshirt freshman Conrad Obi, singled out by head coach Dan Hawkins as a player he cannot wait to see get on the field, and sophomore Marquez Herrod, who saw spot duty last fall.Eugene Goree and Lagrone Shields, two other redshirt freshmen, have also been mentioned as linemen who will likely see playing time this fall. They represent the future for the defensive tackle position, and will spell Hypolite and Nicholas. With three senior starters likely in the defensive line in ’08, there is no time like the present to get these players some reps.

Headline we would like to see this spring:”New defensive ends ready to wreak havoc on opposing linemen”

Update – March 23rd. One of the better quotes from the first week came from senior defensive tackle George Hypolite. Head coach Dan Hawkins has stressed starting over with each spring practice – not assuming anything is understood or foregoing any detail (all the way down to appropriate ways for players to tie their shoes). Hypolite has apparently bought into the strategy. “It doesn’t matter how successful you have been, you always have to go back to the basics and keep them sharp because your whole game is built off your basics,” said CU’s returning All-Big 12 performer. “It’s kind of like Tiger Woods, he works so hard and always tries to better himself and that usually starts with going back to basics.” Hypolite for team captain, anyone?

Update – April 6th – When an offense rushes for 313 yards against you (almost five yards/carry), there are not many positives to take from a scrimmage. One positive: While not starting, redshirt freshman defensive end Conrad Obi did contribute two tackles, a sack, and batted down two passes at the line of scrimmage. The best news for the defensive line this week came when CU senior defensive tackle George Hypolite was named as one of the 42 nation’s top defensive players, being nominated to the 2008 Lott Trophy Award List. “It is an honor to be nominated for this award,” said Hypolite, who led the team in ’07 in tackles for loss and sacks. “Ronnie Lott was a great player, and it’s a great honor to even be mentioned in his remembrance.”The Lott Trophy is awarded to college football’s Defensive IMPACT player of the year, which recognizes athletic performance as well as personal character attributes (Hypolite was named to the 2007 American Football Coaches Association Good Works Team, and was also first team Academic All-Big 12 in ’07). Hypolite is one of eight players nominated from the Big 12.

Update – April 13th – Senior starting defensive tackle Brandon Nicolas sat out Saturday’s scrimmage with a shoulder sprain. Nicholas will also likely be held out of the Spring game, though largely for precautionary reasons. In Nicolas’ absence, the defensive line did little to distinguish itself Saturday. Senior tackle George Hypolite had two sacks, but only three tackles overall. The unit surrendered rushing yards at a 5.3 yards/carry clip. “it was just a little inconsistent,” said Hypolite. “We played good for four or five series, then we’d give up some big plays.”Junior Jason Brace is making a move this spring, though not at opposing runners – yet. Brace is moving from defensive tackle to defensive end, where he played in high school. Down to only 245 pounds after losing 20 pounds this winter while suffering from a severe case of the flu, Brace is trying to get back into playing shape. “I think I feel more comfortable at defensive end,” said Brace, who contributed one tackle on Saturday.

UPDATE – SPRING GAME / DEPTH CHART

Defensive line/Spring game: The defense held the offense to 153 yards rushing in the spring game, a number which goes down to only 119 yards when the six sacks for 34 yards are considered. The line played well despite playing without starting defensive tackle Brandon Nicolas, who was held out for precautionary reasons due to a shoulder strain. Of the defense, senior George Hypolite (as usual) was not without comment. “On defense, we re going to be special,” said Hypolite. “If we can bear down and do what we we re supposed to do and stay in our gaps, we can be a special defense.” Of the possible move to a 3-4 alignment, Hypolite said, “I don t care if we re playing a 1-10. I m excited about what we re doing.”

Defensive tackle/Depth chart: The interior of the Buff defensive line is set. Seniors George Hypolite and Brandon Nicolas are the starting defensive tackles for Colorado. Redshirt freshman Eugene Goree, junior Taj Kaynor and sophomore Eric Lawson are the backups, with Goree receiving praise from Dan Hawkins after the spring game for his work during the spring.

Defensive end/Depth chart: Senior defensive end Drew Hudgins missed the spring game as he continues his steady recovery from the Achilles tendon injury he suffered last summer. For much of the spring, Hudgins was replaced by sophomore Marquez Herrod. The other side of the line is manned by a returning starter, senior Maurice Lucas. One name we thought we would hear a great deal this spring is Conrad Obi, but the redshirt freshman remains mired deep in the depth chart – at least for now.

Linebackers

Players lost – Jordon Dizon, R.J. Brown

Lettermen returning Brad Jones (Sr.), Jeff Smart (Jr.), Michael Sipili (So.), Jake Duren (So.), Marcus Burton (Jr.), Nate Vaiomounga (Fr.-RS)

New in 2008 – Lynn Katoa (Fr.) (spring), Jon Major (Fr.) (fall), Shaun Mohler (Jr.) (fall), Will Pericak (Fr.) (fall), Doug Rippy (Fr.) (fall)The loss of Jordon Dizon, a finalist for the Butkus Award and a first team All-American, will certainly be missed. However, there are a number of quality players lined up to help ease the pain of his loss. For starters, there are, well, the starters. Jeff Smart and Brad Jones return to the lineup in 2008. The two ranked third and fourth, respectively, in tackles for the Buffs in 2007. (Of Smart, Dan Hawkins said, “I think he is fully capable of having a Jordon-type season”). Michael Sipili, who was slated to be a starter before being suspended for the fall due to an off-season altercation, will be practicing this spring. Jake Duren, who saw action in nine games last fall, and Marcus Burton, who was academically ineligible in 2007, have also seen significant playing time in their CU careers.In addition to the returning players, there are many quality candidates who will be vying for spots on the roster this fall who will be in Boulder for the first time in 2008. Receiving the most notoriety this recruiting season was freshman recruit Lynn Katoa. Katoa was ranked by Rivals.com as the #2 middle linebacker in the nation (#3 by Scout.com), and was heavily recruited by the likes of Oklahoma, Texas, and Florida. Katoa finished high school early so that he could enroll at CU for the spring, and will be available for spring practice in 2008. Then there are incoming freshman Jon Major, considered to be the best high school recruit out of the state of Colorado (and one of the top ten linebacker recruits in the country), along with junior college transfer Shaun Mohler, and highly considered freshmen Will Pericak and Doug Rippy.The linebacking corps will once again be the strength of the defense. With the losses in personnel and the lack of overall talent in the secondary, this unit needs to continue to be special.

Headline we would like to see this spring:”Sipili playing with resolve; Katoa ready to step into starting role this fall”

Update – March 23rd – Naturally, it would have been prefereable if early enrollee Lynn Katoa had made headlines this week for something other than his court appearance. The indefinite loss of Katoa does not mean that the Buffs are without options. In fact, the early story of the spring seems to be the excitement coaches have about Jeff Smart. A former walk-on, Smart saw more action last fall than expected due to the suspension of Michael Sipili. His play improved considerably over the course of the season, and, as coaches reviewed tape of the Independence Bowl, they noticed that a number of plays they initially thought were made by All-American Jordon Dizon were in fact made by Smart.

Update – April 6th – “Where have all they boys gone?” is more than a 60’s movie title – it’s the plea of CU linebacker coach Brian Cabral. There were supposed to be 14 linebackers on the roster this spring (with more on the way this fall), but only seven were available for the April 5th scrimmage. Freshman Lynn Katoa, of course, remains on suspension, but that is only the beginning of the story. Redshirt freshman Josh Hartigan was injured in the second spring practice, and has not been cleared to return to action. Sophomore linebacker B.J. Beatty was excused to return to Hawaii for a funeral. Juniors Marcus Burton and Jake Duren, along with sophomores Michael Sipili and Nate Vaiomounga, were held out this week for what Dan Hawkins referred to as his “mentoring program”. Translation: these four were held out of practice because they are not taking care of business in the classroom. “It doens’t help you. That’s for sure,” said Hawkins of his dearth of linebackers. “You need to have everybody here putting it full throttle and doing everything”. That being said, concluded Hawkins, “you can’t sacrifice your standards.”Linebacker coach Brian Cabral, is making the most of his situation. “Obviously, I’m not getting anything accomplished with them,” said Cabral about his missing players. “Those guys need to be out here and they’re not here, but academics discipline is going to override any football.”Taking advantage of the missing players were those left to suit up. Junior walk-on linebacker Bryan Stengel led the Buffs with 11 tackles. Stengel was on the sideline for most of CU’s games last year, but did not play. Freshman walk-on linebacker Brandon Gouin, who did play last year – in high school – contributed 10 tackles. There were some names on the stat sheet you would expect to see. Senior Brad Jones had nine tackles, including a sack, while junior Jeff Smart had eight.”We were a little shorthanded,” said defensive coordinator Ron Collins of his linebacking crew. “But the good news/bad news is that we get the young guys out her and give them a chance to play.”

Update – April 13th – Linebacker Marcus Burton led the defense during the April 12th scrimmage with ten tackles. Burton, a junior who sat out the ’07 season due to academic issues, and missed the first scrimmage due to similar ills, was happy to be back. “I’m just trying to get back into the flow,” said Burton. “I missed some practice, but I’m just trying to come out here and compete. We have some great players, a great coach who teaches us what we need to know, and we have some great recruits coming in, so I need to make every play I can, and that’s what I am trying to do.”Also making an impression is sophomore B.J. Beatty, who may be looking to overtake senior Brad Jones in the starting rotation. Beatty, who missed last week’s scrimmage while attending a funeral in Hawaii, had only four tackles to Jones’ seven, but he was still one of the big stories of the week. “B.J. is coming on strong,” said defensive coordinator Ron Collins. “He is challenging for that position and I think the competition right now is pretty stiff. Those guys are battling it out, so we’re giving them both an opportunity.” Brad Jones, a senior, has played in 38 consecutive games, and has started every game since Dan Hawkins became head coach. Two other linebackers who were not on the field last weekend contributed this Saturday. Juniors Michael Sipili and Jake Duren, who sat out last week to concentrate on academics, contributed eight tackles and seven tackles, respectively, with Duren picking off Cody Hawkins for the only turnover on the day. (Additional update – Jake Duren was arrested Saturday night, April 12th, for first degree trespass, and has been dismissed from the team. I guess it’s a good thing that the linebacking unit is the deepest on the team – we can’t seem to keep them in uniform).

UPDATE – SPRING GAME / DEPTH CHART

Linebacker/Spring game: Seven players on defense had six or more tackles during the spring game, and four of those seven were linebackers. Junior Marcus Burton led the way with ten total tackles and a sack. Junior Bryan Stengel, one of the pleasant surprises of the spring, contributed seven tackles. Pitching in with six apiece were sophomores B.J. Beatty and Michael Sipili.

Linebacker/Depth chart: The story of the spring is here. At one point, it appeared that this dominant unit would have 14 able bodies competing for time. However, with Katoa s suspension, the dismissal of Jake Duren, an injury to Josh Hartigan, and numerous players missing time to concentrate on their studies, this has been anything but a cohesive unit this spring. Still, there is an abundance of talent here (with more on the way this fall). Starting on the outside are returning starters – junior Jeff Smart and senior Brad Jones (though the Jones is being pushed by sophomore B.J. Beatty for the starting job, and sophomore Michael Sipili is rounding into shape to push for Smart s job). In the middle, Marcus Burton is the starter, backed by junior Bryan Stengel. On the way? Highly thought of recruits (including, perhaps, Katoa).

Defensive Secondary

Players lost – Terrence Wheatley, Lionel Harris, Ben Burney (injured)

Lettermen returning – D.J. Dykes (Sr.), Ryan Walters (Sr.), Cha pelle Brown (Jr.), Gardner McKay (Sr.), Jimmy Smith (So.), Jalil Brown (So.), Jimmy Smith (So.)

New in 2008 – Lamont Smith (Fr.-RS)(spring), Anthony Perkins (Fr.-RS)(spring), Anthony Wright (Fr.-RS)(spring), Jonathan Hawkins (Fr.-RS)(spring), Stephen Hicks (Fr.)(fall), Patrick Mahnke (Fr.)(fall), Vince Ewing (Fr.)(fall)Want to know which storyline to watch most closely over the month of spring ball? Want to know where the destiny of the 2008 Buff team lies? Want to know whether CU will struggle to get to .500, or be a player in the Big 12 North? Look no further than the battle for starting positions in the Colorado secondary.It has become almost cliche in the past few seasons to point to the CU secondary as the weak spot on the Buff depth chart. Say what you will about playing a freshman at quarterback, two freshmen on the offensive line, or having a wide receiver lineup that strikes fear in absolutely no one – the failure of the Colorado football team over the past several seasons to post more wins can largely be blamed on the Buffs ineffective pass defense. The statistics bear this out. Five times this decade, Colorado has ranked 100th or worse in passing defense nationally, including the 101st national ranking in 2007. This ranking is all the more numbing when you bear in mind that the Buffs lone Big 12 honors candidate, Terrence Wheatley, will be in the NFL in 2008, and his counterpart from last season, Ben Burney, will be on the sidelines this fall nursing injuries.Where does this leave the Buffs for 2008? The cupboard is not entirely bare. Safeties D.J. Dykes and Ryan Walters return, though Walters underwent shoulder surgery in January and will miss spring practices. Both were in the top five in tackles for the Buffs in 2007. Getting the most reps this spring alongside Dykes will be redshirt freshman Anthony Perkins. After that, who knows?On the corners, senior Gardner McKay and junior Cha pelle Brown return. McKay has played in 32 games in his CU career, and Brown has earned ten starts overall (though mostly as a nickel back). If these two do not seal down starting positions at corner, a pair of sophomores and a pair of redshirt freshmen will be counted on to fill the void. Jimmy Smith and Jalil Brown are the sophomores, with the freshmen being Anthony Wright and Lamont Smith. Dan Hawkins has spoken highly of his speedy incoming redshirt freshmen, and it is likely that at least one, if not both, of these players will be in the starting lineup this fall. No problem? Bear in mind that these inexperienced players will be on an island in a conference where everyone passes well (four of the Buffs five opponents in the Big 12 North finished in the top 20 nationally in passing in 07).Let s hope that these freshmen are the real deal. The success of the CU 2008 season may just depend on it. “We’ve got to get the young corners to mature fast,” said defensive backs coach Greg Brown.Ya think?

Headline we would like to see this spring:”Brown/Smith/Wright/Smith (pick your favorite two) show they are ready to be CU’s lockdown corners of the future”

Update – March 23rd – Sophomre Jimmy Smith feels that he has the advantage in the competition for one of the starting cornerback roles. “I just feel like it was kind of an advantage because I got experience what it’s like to be on the field,” Smith said of his playing time in 2007 when starter Terrence Wheatley was injured. “Now I can take what I know and put it to use this spring.” In the first few practices of the spring, Jimmy Smith and senior Gardner McKay have been seeing the most time with the first unit. Also in the mix are Jailil Brown, Cha-pelle Brown, Anthony Wright, and Jonathan Hawkins. Lamont Smith is also on the list, though his playing time may be in jeopardy. Smith has had a hard time academically at CU, and was held out of Thursday’s practice so that he could complete a paper for a class.One plus this week – the hiring of 13-year NFL veteran Ashley Ambrose as a defensive intern. Ambrose brings much needed experience to the young secondary. “He teaches us the little things,” said Jimmy Smith. “Things to pay attention to. He teaches you some tricks to playing man coverage. He just knows a lot about it.”

Update – April 6th – This is the area I’m most concerned about. Three of those who were in for the first series, corners Gardner McKay and Cha’pelle Brown, along with safety Daniel (D.J.) Dykes, have starting experience. But the first scrimmage revealed no significant improvement for a unit which has been porous for years. On April 5th, the CU offense passed for 322 yards and four touchdowns, three of which were over 20 yards in length (56, 45, and 25). CU passers completed over 50% of their attempts, and the Buff offense kept drives alive on 13 of 27 third down opportunities.Is it fair to lay this all on the shoulders of the defensive backs. Of course not. The linebacking crew was depleted, and offenses generally run ahead of defenses early on. Still, when your defensive coordinator, in this case Ron Collins, acknowledges after the first scrimmage that your corners “have a long way to go”, you have before you an area of concern.

Update – April 13th – At the first scrimmage, the CU defense surrendered 322 yards through the air, and four touchdowns. At the April 12th scrimmage, the stat line was just as grim: 416 yards; four touchdowns. Still, defensive backs coach Greg Brown remains optimistic. Brown said that while none of his young corners have established themselves as players to be counted on, the new hurry-up offense implemented by the CU offense is giving the young players plenty of opportunities. “It’s the best possible conditions to force you to grow up in a hurry because, hey, let’s face it. It’s hard enough if you go against a standard, slower-paced offense when you can huddle up and you have time to think about it,” said Brown. “Now compound that by going 100 miles an hour without a huddle. It’s extra hard and it’s forcing guys to sink or swim.” For his part, junior cornerback Cha’pelle Brown agrees with his coach about the new Buff offense’s impact. “I think it’s helping us,” said Brown. “Any team that runs a speed offense we’ll be ready for it and in shape, but really, most teams don’t. So that means we’ll be in shape for whatever comes to us.”One bright spot in the defensive secondary has been the play of redshirt freshman safety Anthony Perkins. Perkins, who had seven tackles on Saturday, is getting more playing time as starter Ryan Walters recovers from shoulder surgery. With Perkins, to go with returning starters D.J. Dykes and Walters, the Buffs should have three capable safeties come this fall. “He’s doing a nice job,” said Dan Hawkins. “He’s kind of benefited from Ryan being out, but I like him. I think he’s coming along nicely.”

UPDATE – SPRING GAME / DEPTH CHART

Secondary/Spring game: The bad news? 383 yards passing surrendered; four touchdown passes. The good news? There were very few long completions, and it appeared that there were few blown assignments. Cornerback Cha pelle Brown had six tackles, as did safety Anthony Perkins. Perkins, a redshirt freshman, was one of the players singled out by head coach Dan Hawkins as having had a successful spring.

Secondary/Depth chart: If you have been following my posts this spring, you know that I believe this unit to be the one of greatest concern. It would have been of some solace if we had heard of great strides being made by the new corner contestants, but those stories have not been forthcoming. Until someone takes their jobs away, the starters at corner will be those returning with the most experience – senior Gardner McKay and junior Cha pelle Brown. The main backups are sophomores Jimmy Smith and Jalil Brown. At the safety position, senior Daniel Dykes returns, as will senior Ryan Walters this fall (when he returns from surgery this spring). Subbing for Walters in the spring game was freshman Anthony Perkins. With little help on the way this fall in the way of recruits, these are the names you will be seeing most often come September.How do you see the defense shaping up? A strength or a concern? Glass half full or half empty? Let us all know your thoughts ….

A few early summer idle thoughts …..

Katoa and Geer – meet Stephens and Rose

Rather than spend the next two months agonizing over the loss of freshman linebacker Lynn Katoa and junior tight end Riar Geer, I offer you the following perspective: Remember Derrick Stephens and Daron Rose. Who are Derrick Stephens and Daron Rose? Glad you asked.

Derrick Stephens is a freshman linebacker at Texas A&M. Team doctors told Stephens this past week that he will not be allowed to continue playing football due to concussions he suffered in high school (Stephens red-shirted last season). Why is Stephens relevant? Derrick Stephens, out of Houston, was the fourth-highest rated strongside linebacker in the nation in 2007. He was the brightest star and highest rated player in the Aggies 20th ranked class. (Since you asked – Katoa was the third-rated middle linebacker in the nation; Jon Major was the third-rated strongside linebacker). Daron Rose started 11 games last season at left tackle for Florida State. A few weeks ago, the Seminole junior was ruled academically ineligible for the 2008 season. Rose will now be attendying junior college this fall instead of guarding Drew Weatherford’s blindside.

My point – every team has lost, and will continue to lose, good players. Most fans don’t spend much energy worrying about the rosters of the opposition (present company excluded), making the loss of a player or two by the home team the subject of much more consternation and distraction than is truly warranted. Yes, CU lost one of its highest rated linebacker recruits for the fall – but so did our November 1st opponent. Yes, CU did lose an offensive starter this spring – but so did the Seminoles. My plan? Not to lose too much sleep over the loss this fall of either player – both can, and hopefully will, be back in ’09!

If you do feel lost if you aren’t wringing your hands, I suggest going to Boulder Daily Camera website (link on the left), and check out the posts associated with the article about the lack of 2009 recruits (0) CU has procured to date (“Hawkins maintains patient approach” is the title of the article). The article points out that Texas already has 18 recruits for the ’09 class; Oklahoma 11 (CU and Kansas State the only Big 12 schools without a commitment for next February). My contribution to that conversation? CU had only three recruits before August last season – quarterback Tyler Hansen; defensive back Vince Ewing; and defensive back Patrick Mahnke. While it may have made us feel better to have some names on the board last summer, it turned out that those three recruits were the lowest rated recruits of the entire class.Keep the faith, Buff fans!

Summer Reading Recommendations ….

Looking for a little summer reading, Buff fans? I have two suggestions for the true CU fanatic. The first is a book which is almost twenty years old, and has no mention of college football. It is “Fever Pitch” by Nick Hornby. “Fever Pitch” has almost nothing in common with the movie of the same name. The movie is a 2005 release about a Boston Red Sox fanatic and his love life. “Fever Pitch” is a 1992 autobiography about a true football fan (i.e., soccer) in England. If you consider yourself a fan (and you must, you are reading a college football website in June), you owe it to yourself to read this book.

Nick Hornby, in confessing his sins as a diehard soccer fan, captures the true essence of what it is to be a fan.Consider this passage, where Hornby talks about how he felt after his lifelong favorite team, Arsenal, won a close game to win a championship:

“One thing I know for sure about being a fan is this: it is not a vicarious pleasure, despite all appearances to the contrary, and those who say they would rather do than watch are missing the point. Football is a context where watching becomes doing – not in the aerobic sense, because watching a game, smoking your head off while doing so, drinking after it has finished and eating chips on the way home is unlikely to do you a whole lot of Jane Fonda good, in the way that chuffing up and down a pitch is supposed to. But when there is some kind of triumph, the pleasure does not radiate from the players outward until it reaches the likes of us at the back of the terraces in a pale and diminished form; our fun is not a watery version of the team’s fun, even though they are the ones that get to score the goals and climb the steps at Wembley to meet Princess Diana. The joy we feel on occasions like this is not a celebration of others’ good fortune, but a celebration of our wn; and when there is a disastrous defeat the sorrow that engulfs us is, in effect, self-pity, and anyone who wishes to understand how football is consumed must realise this above all things. The players are merely our representatives, chosen by the manager rather elected by us, but our representatives nonetheless, and sometimes if you look hard you can see the little poles that join them together, and the handles at the side that enable us to move them. I am a part of the club, just as the club is a part of me; and I say this fully aware that the club exploits me, disregards my views, and treats me shoddily on occasions, so my feeling of organic connection is not built on a muddle-headed and sentimental misunderstanding of how professional football works. This Wembley win belonged to me every bit as much as it belonged (to the players), and I worked every bit as hard for it as they did. The only difference between me and them is that I have put in more hours, more years, more decades than them, and so had a better understanding of the afternoon, a sweeter appreciation of why the sun still shines when I remember it.”

Yes, “Fever Pitch” is a bit dated, and it is about England’s football instead of our own, but Hornby’s take on what it means to be a fan is eloquent, often funny, and spot on. “Fever Pitch” can be found at your local bookstore, or on Amazon.com for less than $5.00. Check it out.

The other book hasn’t come out yet – it’s due out June 30th – but I am recommending it anyway: “The University of Colorado Football Vault”. The author is none other than our own Dave Plati. If you need an introduction, Dave’s official title is Associate Athletic Director/Sports Information Director. For CU football fans, he is the gate keeper to CU football. His weekly press releases during the football season are stuff of legend, so his book should be a treasure trove for CU fans.

It’s a bit pricey, but you can pre-order Plati’s book on Amazon for $49.95. Enjoy!

Predicting the Predictions

Before the internet, there was little information out there for the college football fanatic between the bowls in January and the release of the AP poll in August. There would be newspaper accounts on signing day and after the spring game, but little else was deemed worthy of passing along to the masses (at least to those of us two states away). Waiting patiently for June to roll around, when the preseason magazines hit the local bookstore, was a difficult chore, but a right of passage for me from one season to the next.

The arrival of the internet has changed all that. Coverage is 24/7, and you can glean information on your team any day of the year. Still, there remains a certain joy when the preseason magazines hit the stands. The new season is now a reality – it’s time to get serious once again about college football.

As with much in life, though, the anticipation does not match the reality. The predictions made each June are, well, predictable. Few magazines go out on a limb to predict a breakthrough season. The writers rely on the tried and true formula: last season’s results minus the number of lost senior starters multiplied by the strength of schedule. Toward that end, we can expect to see the following “expert” opinions over the next month or so:

Big 12 North – 1st Place – Missouri

Missouri will be the favorite to win the Big 12 North in most magazines. The defending Big 12 North champions finished with a 12-2 record and a dominating Cotton Bowl win over Arkansas. What’s not to like? Other than an opening day game against Illinois in St. Louis, the non-conference slate is easy. Look for the Tigers to be in the top ten in almost every magazine.

Buzz words to look for: Check out how many times quarterback “Chase Daniel” and “Heisman hopeful” appear in the same sentence. Wide receiver/kick returned Jeremy Maclin and the words “exciting” and “electrifying” will also get a great deal of play.

Big 12 North – 2nd Place – Kansas

Even though Kansas finished with a better record than Missouri in ’07, the Jayhawks will not get the love afforded the Tigers. Why? History. The “Manginos” were the darlings of the national media last season, but it is hard to drink the Kool-Aid for a team which has had only one other 10-win season in the past forty tries. The non-conference schedule is – as usual – light, so making the prediction that Kansas will be a ranked team (though perhaps on the outside of the top ten) is a safe bet for the prognosticators.

Buzz words to look for: Quarterback Todd Reesing will be matched up with “steady” and “productive”. The defense, with nine returning starters, will be “solid”.

Big 12 North – 3rd Place – Nebraska

Why would a team with a losing record in 2007, a team with a new coach, a team with a defense which last season ranked 100+ in most statistical categories, a team which gave up 65 points to the Buffs in Boulder, be placed above CU in the preseason magazines? See Kansas, above. It all comes down to one word: history. The preseason magazines will be filled with gushing stories about how Bo Pelini has restored the order in Lincoln, a place where losing is just not acceptable. A few magazines may try and slip the Cornhuskers into their top 25, but most will leave them just on the fringe (can’t look silly in the event Pelini is not the miracle worker Lincoln anticipates). With a schedule that does not have the Cornhuskers leaving the state of Nebraska for a game until mid-October, the prediction of a “resurgence” in Lincoln is an easy one to make.

Buzz words to look for: In addition to “resurgence”, look for “re-energized” and new head coach Bo Pelini’s name to become almost synonymous. Pelini, despite having spent all of one season in Lincoln in his coaching career, will be lauded as a “Nebraska man” or a “Tom Osborne disciple”. A few magazines may have the nerve to say that this team is a “year away” from contending for conference honors, but I’m guessing every one will predict a bowl game for the Cornhuskers in ’08.

Big 12 North – 4th Place – Colorado

The Buffs will not get as much positive press as many of its fans believe they deserve. CU did pick up four more wins in ’07 than in ’06, but there are too many question marks for any of the predictors to give the Buffs much of a chance at any titles. Want to see how the perception of reality affects reality? Check out where Alabama ends up in many of the magazines. The Crimson Tide, before the Independence Bowl matchup against Colorado, was a 6-6 team in disarray. Alabama had lost four games in a row to end the ’07 regular season, including a disheartening loss (for the sixth straight year) to hated rival Auburn. A 30-24 win over the Buffs later, and Alabama is magically a national player again. While not a top 25 team for many, there will be many more superlatives thrown the way of the Crimson Tide than there will be for the Buffs. Colorado, which ended up 6-7 with the loss, will not get the benefit of any doubts.

Buzz words to look for: “Rebuilding”, “right direction”, and “renewed enthusiasm” will be offset by “difficult schedule”, “depleted secondary”, and “questions in the kicking game”. The schedule, which, as you know, includes non-conference games against West Virginia and Florida State, and conference road games against Missouri, Kansas, Texas A&M and Nebraska, will be considered “daunting” for coach Hawkins’ “young Buffs”. With Colorado’s schedule – not to mention back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since ’83-’84 – it is too much to ask of the preseason magazines to predict great things for the Buffs. It would be a pleasant surprise if anyone placed CU in the top 25. For those who rank all 120 teams, look for Colorado to be in the 40-50 range. For those who predict records, look for most to give the Buffs a 6-6 or 7-5 mark. Consensus: “CU is a better team, but their schedule makes moving up in the standings a difficult task.”

Big 12 North – 5th Place – Kansas State

Kansas State is a wild card, and those who make a living making predictions do not like wild cards. The Wildcats finished the 2007 season with a loss to Fresno State, denying KSU a bowl bid with a 5-7 final record. Two other events since the end of the season will give the preseason magazines pause. First, there was the 2008 recruiting class. A total of 34 players were signed, with an almost unheard of (even for Manhattan) 20 coming from the junior college ranks. The other event was K-State dropping Fresno State from its ’08 schedule in favor of 1-AA Montana State.

Buzz words to look for: Even though Ron Prince has a better record than Dan Hawkins in their first two seasons (12-13 for Prince; 8-17 for Hawkins), “Hot seat” will appear in many magazines. Some of it has to do with the four game losing streak at the end of the ’07 season, which turned a promising campaign into a bowl-less winter. “Hot seat” will also be brought up in connection with the recruiting class. Twenty JC’s? While “desperation” may not actually appear in the write-ups, the tone will be clear: Prince is feeling the need to win now (which may have had an influence on the decision to drop Fresno State from the calendar). Prince will likely get three non-conference wins (Louisville is still on the schedule), but the Wildcats must go on the road to face Kansas, Missouri, Colorado, and Texas A&M, with home games against Nebraska, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma. 6-6 may be good enough to keep Prince around for one more season, but six wins may be hard to come by this year. K-State will be perceived as being on the fringe of bowl eligibility.

Big 12 North – 6th Place – Iowa State

Iowa State, just like Nebraska, finished the 2007 season with a 2-6 conference record. So why is everyone excited in Lincoln, and no one has anything (nice or otherwise) to say about the Cyclones? Head coach Gene Chizik only mustered three wins overall in his first campaign, but did manage to defeat rival Iowa, and post wins in two of the final three games. Still, with the loss of long-time starter Bret Meyer at quarterback, and little buzz about the new starters on offense, it will be easy to predict more wins (four or five), but no bowl for the Cyclones.

Buzz words to look for: “Rebuilding” and “youth movement” will be the common thread in stories about Iowa State. The non-conference schedule is made for early success, with South Dakota State and Kent State easing the Cyclones into their re-match against Iowa. A road game against UNLV is winnable as well. In Big 12 play, ISU trades out Texas, Oklahoma, and Texas Tech for Oklahoma State, Baylor, and Texas A&M, so look for statements about an “easier road” to success and a possible bowl game to creep into the ISU write-ups.

Easy to predict the predictions? Fairly easy. Some magazines may put Kansas ahead of Missouri at the one/two spots. Some may put Colorado as their number three over Nebraska, and some may place Iowa State in front of Kansas State in the race for number five in the Big 12 North. Overall, though, I predict that the consensus for the preseason magazines, at least in the North, will be: 1. Missouri; 2. Kansas; 3. Nebraska; 4. Colorado; 5. Kansas State; and 6. Iowa State. Missouri and Kansas will be in everyone’s preseason top 25, but I doubt any other Big 12 North team will earn such praise. Bowl team predictions will include Missouri, Kansas, and Nebraska, with Colorado and Kansas State seen as borderline picks for the post-season.

Let’s get back together again in July, and we’ll see how I did in predicting the predictions. I will pick up most of the magazines which make it to Bozeman, and make note of as many internet rankings as I can find. In the meantime, if you would like to put up your predictions, or simply post a comment, please feel free to do so below.

Talk with you soon. Go Buffs!

The Buffs in the NFL

Welcome to coverage of the 2008 NFL draft, complete with a look back at the 1998 and 1988 NFL drafts, a look at CU players presently in the NFL (with comparisons to 1998 and 1988), and a little CU draft trivia. Let’s begin ……

2008 NFL Draft – Two Buffs were selected in the second round of the 2008 draft, with linebacker Jordon Dizon taken by the Detroit Lions with the 45th overall pick, and cornerback Terrence Wheatley going to the New England Patriots with the 62nd pick.Jordon Dizon was an All-American and All-Big 12 performer for CU, finishing as a runner-up for the Butkus Award. Said Lion President and CEO Matt Millen of Dizon: “His versatility is attractive. The one thing that he has that you can t teach is great instincts. As soon as I watched him, the first thing that hit me was his instincts …”.

Lion head coach Ron Marinelli was equally impressed. In comparing Dizon to former Lion great Chris Spielman, Marinelli said: “That s his whole deal a productive, high energy guy. He ll bring something special into the locker room also, no doubt.”For his part, Dizon was appreciative of being picked up by the Lions. “You know, they love players that will play,” said Dizon in speaking with the Detroit press. “They don t like players that want to (B.S.) them or stuff like that. I came here and told them exactly how I felt and exactly what was on my mind and I guess they liked that. They respect that in a player and that ll they ll get the best out of me. Whatever happened, it worked”.

Terrence Wheatley was an All-Big 12 player for the Buffs in 2008, finishing his career with the Buffs ranked third in all-time interceptions (14), and second in all-time kickoff return yardage (1,350). Patriots head coach Brian Belichick had indicated that speed was one of New England s draft priorities, so Wheatley s 4.37 timing in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine was certainly a plus. That two of the Patriot s top three cornerbacks were lost this season to free agency also bolsters Wheatley s chances of catching on with the perennial Super Bowl contenders.Wheatley may also see time in New England as a kick returner. Wheatley is up for the challenge. “When you come in as a rookie, No. 1, you have to be able to play multiple positions,” he said. “I think it shows my toughness.”

Draft Notes: The Dizon pick at #45 overall was the highest selection for a CU player since defensive tackle Tyler Brayton went to Oakland in the first round of the 2003 draft (#32 overall). The two Buff selections in the second round marked the first time since 2002 that more than one Buff went that high. In 2002, three Buffs were drafted by the end of the second round, with tight end Daniel Graham going in the first round (#21 overall – to New England), and center Andre Gurode (#37 – Dallas) and safety Michael Lewis (#58 – Philadelphia) going in the second.Colorado and Oklahoma were the only Big 12 schools with two players chosen in the first two rounds of the 2008 draft, with Texas, Texas A&M, Kansas, and Kansas State with one each. (For those of you scoring at home, that would be zero draftees in the first two rounds for Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa State, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, and Baylor).

A little Nebraska draft trivia for you. Cornerback Zack Bowman was the first Cornhusker chosen in the ’08 draft. Bowman went in the 5th round to Chicago (pick #142 overall). Want to know the last time it took until the 5th round for a Nebraska player to be picked? Try 1970. In the ’70 draft, tight end Jim McFarland was taken by the St. Louis Cardinals with the 8th pick of the 7th round (164th pick overall). Be sure to remind your ‘Husker friends of this little tidbit the next time you need some ammunition ….

1988 NFL Draft – Three Buffs were selected on the heels of the Buffs 7-4 record in 1987. Two time all-American punter Barry Helton was chosen in the 4th round by San Francisco; defensive back David Tate was picked up by Chicago in the 8th round; and defensive lineman Curt Koch was an 11th round selection in the Washington. Tate had the longest tenure of the three, playing for ten years for three teams (Chicago, New York Giants, and Indianapolis).

1998 NFL Draft – In the 98 draft, six Buffs were chosen, though none before the fifth round (CU went 5-6 in 97). The first CU player picked was Ryan Sutter, a defensive back chosen by the Baltimore Ravens (Ryan would only play one year in the NFL, but would become famous for being the winning choice for Trista on “Bachelorette”). Also picked up in the 5th round was linebacker Ron Merkerson (New England). In the sixth round, nose tackle Ryan Olson was selected by Pittsburgh. The seventh round saw three Buffs drafted: wide receiver Phil Savoy (Arizona); defensive tackle Vilami Maumau (Carolina); and guard Melvin Thomas (Philadelphia). The 1998 group was not particularly successful. By 2000, all six were out of the NFL (though Vilami Maumau did pick up a Super Bowl ring with the Denver Broncos in 1998).

Draft Quiz question #1 : Name the CU player who was drafted the highest overall (hint: a running back taken #2 by San Diego – and it was awhile ago).

Draft Quiz question #2: How many Big 12 coaches had more players they recruited drafted in the first round of the 2008 NFL draft than CU s Dan Hawkins?

Draft Quiz question #3: Four times since 1966 there has been an NFL draft in which no Buffs were selected. Twice, the lack of a draftable Buff was understandable. In 1983, after the Buffs went 2-8-1 in 1982, CU s name was not called. A similar fate befell Buff players in the 2001 draft, after Colorado suffered through a 3-8 season in 2000.The other two seasons in which there were no CU players selected in the NFL draft, Colorado had winning seasons the previous fall. Name the two seasons (big hint: both times, the year before each of these drafts, CU won eight games).Answers below …..

Buffs in the NFL – 2007/08 off-season – 27. At the end of the 2007 season, there were 27 Buffs active in the NFL. Five of those Buffs had over 10 years in the league. Linebacker Chad Brown played in his 14th season, while tight end Christian Fauria completed his 12th campaign. Completing their 10th seasons in the NFL were offensive tackle Matt Lepsis (a converted tight end – are you listening, Nate Solder?), offensive guard Chris Naeole and quarterback Koy Detmer. Chad Brown was a three time All-Pro (1996, 1998-99). Matt Lepsis earned two Super Bowl rings with the Broncos, while Christian Fauria picked up a ring with the New England Patriots in 2003.How does the Buff contingent of 27 compare with the rest of the Big 12? Actually, quite favorably – at least for now. (These numbers, obviously, are quite fluid right now, and will change before the first kickoff in September – the following totals are courtesy of CBSSports.com). Texas leads the conference with 36 former Longhorns still listed on NFL rosters. Next, is Nebraska, with 33, surprisingly ahead of Oklahoma, which has 30. After the 4th place Buffs come Kansas State with 24 and Texas A&M with 22. The remaining six teams in the Big 12 currently have fewer than 20 alumni in the NFL: Oklahoma State and Baylor have 13 each; Texas Tech has 12; Missouri has 10; Iowa State comes in with nine; with the Jayhawks of Kansas boasting only six alumni on NFL rosters. Again, this year s draft and this summer s attrition will shift the totals. With Colorado having some fairly slim drafts in the last few years, the Buffs standing in the conference may soon slip down to 6th – after spending much of the first decade of the Big 12 with the 2nd or 3rd highest totals of NFL played in the conference.

Buffs in the NFL – 1997/98 off-season – 34. If you have been a Buff fan for awhile, you know that all 11 starters for the 1994 offense eventually played in the NFL. In the 1997/98 off-season, many of those players were still in the league, including quarterback Kordell Stewart, running back Rashaan Salaam, wide receivers Michael Westbrook and Rae Carruth, tight end Christian Fauria, and offensive linemen Derek West, Bryan Stoltenberg,Tony Berti, and Heath Irwin. The CU defense was also well represented, with All-Pro lineman Joel Steed and All-Pro linebackers Chad Brown and Alfred Williams still wearing NFL team colors. Award winners from Boulder were still very active, with Heisman trophy winner ( 94) Rashaan Salaam, Butkus award winners Matt Russell ( 96) and Alfred Williams ( 90), and Thorpe award winners Deon Figures ( 92) and Chris Hudson ( 94) still in the league.

Buffs in the NFL – 1987/88 off-season – 13. While significantly lower than the 97/98 total, the number of Buffs in the NFL 20 years ago was actually higher than I thought it would be when I went back to check. Considering that Colorado had posted all of three winning seasons in the previous ten campaigns (with the last eight win season coming back in 1976), having 13 former Buffs in the league was a feat. Names familiar to those of us who suffered through the really bad CU teams in the early 80’s – defensive back Victor Scott, tight end Jon Embree, running back Lee Rouson, and wide receiver Walter (“Wal-ter, Wal-ter”) Stanley. For those of you who can remember back to the 70’s, still playing in 87/88 were the Brock brothers, Pete and Stan, as were defensive back Mark Haynes and tight end Emery Moorhead. Walter Stanley and Mark Haynes were both All-Pro selections in their careers, while Emery Moorhead and Lee Rouson earned Super Bowl rings (Moorhead with the Bears in 85; Rouson with the Giants in 86).

Draft Quiz question #1 : Name the CU player who was drafted the highest overall (hint: a running back taken #2 by San Diego – and it was awhile ago).

ANSWER: Bo Matthews was the 2nd overall pick of the 1974 draft. Matthews played for three teams in his eight year NFL career, putting up only 1,566 yards rushing and 488 yards receiving overall (bonus info: the first overall pick of the 74 draft? Ed “Too Tall” Jones by the Cowboys; CU also had the #7 overall pick in the 74 draft, with tight end J.V. Cain going to the St. Louis Cardinals. 1974 remains the only season in which two Buffs were selected in the top ten of the first round).

Draft Quiz question #2: How many Big 12 coaches had more players recruited to their teams drafted in the first round of the 2008 NFL draft than CU s Dan Hawkins?

ANSWER: None. The only Big 12 player selected in the first round of the 2008 NFL draft was Aqib Talib, cornerback from Kansas. Dan Hawkins, arguably, was just as successful as his Big 12 brethren, as Ryan Clady, offensive tackle from Boise State drafted in the first round by the Denver Broncos, was a Dan Hawkins’ recruit.

Draft Quiz question #3: Four times since 1966 there has been an NFL draft in which no Buffs were selected. Twice, the lack of a draftable Buff was understandable. In 1983, after the Buffs went 2-8-1 in 1982, CU s name was not called. A similar fate befell Buff players in the 2001 draft, after Colorado suffered through a 3-8 season in 2000.The other two seasons in which there were no CU players selected in the NFL draft, Colorado had winning seasons the previous fall. Name the two seasons (big hint: both times, the year before each of these drafts, CU won eight games).

ANSWER: The NFL drafts 1989 and 2005. No Buffs were drafted in the 1989 draft after CU went 8-4 in 1988; and no Buffs were selected in the 2005 draft on the heels of an 8-5 2004 campaign.So ….. what do you think? As I have mentioned to most of you who have joined the site since the end of the 2007 season, this is the first year for http://www.cuatthegame.com. I welcome your input and suggestions. I will be sending out periodic email updates to those on the list throughout the rest of the spring and into the summer. If you are not on the email update list, or know someone who might like to get them, drop me a note at montanabuff@hotmail.com Go Buffs!

6 Responses to “Spring Practice – What we were looking for; What we saw / 2008 NFL Draft”

  1. Eric

    Wind did not determine the 94 outcome against the Huskers. I was on the sideline in Lincoln as a guest of a buddy who worked for a local paper there. What killed Buffs, outside of the immense crowd noise that limited the audibles, was the kicking game. Darrin Erstad, who later turned out to be the No. 1 overall pick in the MLB amature draft, was the punter, absolutely destroyed them. The Buffs lost the field position game playing from inside their own 20 all day. Combine that with the fact the Huskers played great D all day and they didn’t have a prayer. It was pretty humbling to have so much talent on the ’94 team and be so out matched. It was the only time I can remember that the Husker faithful tore down the goalposts at Memorial Staudium after the game, if that give you any idea of how much the game meant to them.

  2. Brad

    What really killed the Buffs in that ’94 Nebraska game was that they did not convert a single 3rd or 4th down the entire game. Plus, Nebraska killed CU with the Tight End over the middle and their D came up with a few big plays. The wind was brutal that day, and Nebraska was simply unbeatable at home those days.

    I think if that game is played 10 times, CU wins at least half of them.

  3. Greg Bell

    I think it’s unlikely that Katoa will transfer, as he’d have to sit out a year anyway under the transfer rules. That is, unless there’s some loophole around the fact that he hasn’t yet worn a uniform. But hopefully he’ll want to stick around regardless so that he can learn from Cabral, the best LB coach in the country.

  4. The students will go to the Spring Game if freebies are offered. Their students, pizza, t-shirts, whatever…if it’s free, they’ll show up.

    If we can break 15k for the game…excellent. Im the biggest CU fan there is and I really dont like the Spring Game. It is so damn boring, but on the flip side, real easy to sneak beer into.

  5. Brad

    I envision a major improvement for the offense in 2008. The reason – the O-Line. With all of these redshirt freshman, the line, anchored by Ryan Miller, should give Cody more time, the RBs bigger holes, which should all free up those (now) talented WRs for big plays downfield.

  6. Brad

    Yes, please, provide your memories of the 1994 Texas game, and any/all other games from that incredible season (K-State, Wisconsin, Oklahoma…) – Thanks!

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