EZ Mortgages

Spring Practices – “I think it was the best spring we’ve had”

// Mar 15 - 2009

-

“I think it was the best spring we’ve had” – Dan Hawkins

 

2009 Spring Game Recap

On a day with cool temperatures and a light drizzle, an announced crowd of 11,700 (third largest in school history for a Spring Game) braved the elements to watch the Black team defeat the Gold team, 17-10 in the 2009 Spring game. All 27 points were scored in the first half, with touchdowns scored on 27-yard pass from Cody Hawkins to Jason Espinoza, an 11-yard touchdown run by Brian Lockridge, and a 14-yard pass from Hawkins to Markques Simas. Kicker Aric Goodman kicked for both teams, and was good on both attempts (from 43 yards and 50 yards out).

Overall, the Buffs’ offense ran 86 plays, good for 535 yards (6.2 yards/play). The rushing game had its best overall performance of the spring. Colorado runners posted 274 yards overall, with Darrell Scott leading the way with 90 yards on 15 carries. Demetrius Sumler had 73 yards on eight carries (with 47 of those yards coming on the last play of the scrimmage), while Brian Lockridge accumulated 55 yards and a score on 10 attempts (Lockridge had five carries for 39 yards, including his 11-yard touchdown run, all in one first quarter series).

Sophomore quarterback Tyler Hansen, in a tight race for the starting position with Cody Hawkins, suffered a broken thumb on his throwing hand in the second half. Hansen was immediately scheduled for surgery, and is expected to be out at least a month. With finals coming in the next few weeks, followed by several weeks off before June conditioning, it is not expected that Hansen’s injury will have an impact on the competition for starter. “I think I made enough plays to be in the mix and to earn that starting job,” said Hansen. “I think me and Cody are right there. I think it’s going to be a big summer and a big fall.”Below is a recap of spring practice, unit-by-unit. There are stats from all three scrimmages, “Quotes of Note” from the spring, a look at the final spring depth chart, and a look back at what we have learned over the course of 15 practices in the last four weeks.

 

Spring Practices, 2009 – Offense

 

Quarterbacks

Stats – First Scrimmage -Hawkins – 18-28, 328 yards, 7 touchdowns, no interceptionsHansen – 13-23, 207 yards, 3 touchdowns, no interceptions

Second Scrimmage –

Hawkins – 14-23, 146 yards, one touchdown, no interceptionsHansen – 9-11, 64 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions

Spring Game

Hawkins – 12-21, 195 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions

Hansen – 4-10, 66 yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions

Quotes of Note —

“I’m making all the right reads, I’ve just got to finish the play. I’m missing wide open curl routes. It’s just stuff that is there and I’m seeing it, but I’m not finishing it.” – sophomore quarterback Matt Ballenger, on April 9th. The next day Ballenger quit the team. – “We’re not going to call anything until fall. There won’t be enough separation.” – Offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich on April 16th, on naming a starting quarterback this spring.

Depth Chart

Tyler Hansen, So. OR Cody Hawkins, Jr.

Spring recap –

When spring practice began, the hope was that the “OR” on the depth chart would be removed – that one of the quarterbacks would step up and make the choice for starter easy. Now, not only do the Buffs not have a starter in place, they are missing one (and perhaps two) key components of the race to the starting line. Sophomore Matt Ballenger, who was at least expected to contend for the starting job, quit the team midway through spring practice, leaving Tyler Hansen and Cody Hawkins to fight for the number one job (Josh Moten and Clark Evans will be in this fall, but it would seem unlikely that either, barring injuries, will take the field in 2009).

Then there is, of course, the black cloud of Mark Helfrich’s Oregon interview looming over the horizon. Helfrich, the CU offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, will interview for a similar position with the Ducks next week. If you want to read the tea leaves, you might be right in thinking that Tyler Hansen has more to lose by Helfrich taking the Oregon job. In interviews after the Helfrich interview announcement, Cody Hawkins was been blase, while Tyler Hansen seemed stricken. Compare the quotes. Cody Hawkins said he hasn’t “even thought about” his position coach leaving, and that “it’s not a big deal”. Conversely, Tyler Hansen said, “I’m not going to lie. It sucks”, said Hansen. “I love the guy. He’s awesome.”

My take? I have been known to quote the old football saying, “If a coach tells you he has two quarterbacks, what he is really telling you is that he has none.” Cody has had two seasons behind center. In 2007, as a red-shirt freshman, he played well – for a red-shirt freshman. Last season, he took a step back. Sophomore slump? Injured offensive linemen? Broken tailbacks? Lack of a game-breaker at wide receiver? All true. For me, though, if the Buffs are truly going to have a breakout season, there needs to be a fresh start. Give Hansen the ball early, when there are winnable games on the calendar (until CU returns to the polls on a regular basis, and annually has bowl plans, I am not going to call any game “easy”). Colorado State, Toledo, and Wyoming could be proving grounds for the young quarterback, giving him, his teammates, and the fans reason for optimism heading into the difficult mid-section of the schedule.

Best guess – Cody Hawkins will be the starter against Colorado State September 5th. It does not seem that the injury to Hansen’s thumb is particularly serious, but when you are trying to oust an incumbent, you have to be not only as good, but better. Hansen hasn’t proven that – yet.

Running backs

Stats –

First Scrimmage –

Rodney Stewart – 13 carries, 43 yards, one touchdown

Brian Lockridge – 8 carries, 29 yards

Darrell Scott – 9 carries, 21 yards

Jake Behrens – one carry, 5 yards

Second Scrimmage –

Darrell Scott – 11 carries, 43 yards

Brian Lockridge – 7 carries, 22 yards

Demetrius Sumler – one carry, 5 yards

Kevin Moyd – one carry, 2 yards

Rodney Scott – 3 carries, minus-one yard

Spring Game –

Darrell Scott – 15 carries, 90 yards

Demetrius Sumler – 8 carries, 73 yards

Brian Lockridge – 10 carries, 55 yards, one touchdown

Rodney Stewart – 8 carries, 52 yards

Quotes of Note –

– “He understands what to do in the pass game. He understands what to do in the run game. He is running fast; he is playing hard. He is a totally different back.” – Running backs coach Darian Hagan on the improvement of Darrell Scott from last season to this spring.

– “Sometimes I take ‘Steady Eddy’ to mean just average … I want to be a phenomenal running back, not just a ‘Steady Eddy’ kind of guy.” – junior running back Demetrius Sumler, on the nickname given to him by Darian Hagan.

Depth Chart

Brian Lockridge, So., AND

Darrell Scott, So., AND

Rodney Stewart, So., AND

Demetrius Sumler, Jr.

Depth Chart – fullbacks

Jake Behrens, Sr.

Trace Adams, Sr.

Spring recap. There you have it, folks. The running back by committee depth chart. If you were trying to read something into the order of the depth chart (i.e., Lockridge listed first; Sumler last), don’t. It’s alphabetical. Each of the running backs has had their moments this spring; each has had their disappointments. Darrell Scott and Rodney Stewart have recovered fully from their 2008 injuries, and appear poised to have a great season behind the Buffs’ now impressive offensive line. “I recruited them to get out there and shine,” said running backs coach Darian Hagan. “That’s what they have been doing. Especially (the last week of practice). I’ve been really, really, impressed with them.”

The issue remains, though, that despite Buff fans’ hopes to the contrary, there is only one ball to carry. Just as a true number one has failed to emerge in the quarterback race, there is little certainty as to how the running back race is going to unfold. All that we learned this spring is that the six man race has been trimmed to four, with senior Kevin Moyd and junior Corey Nabors being listed in the final spring depth chart as wide receivers. “I like all four of those guys,” said Dan Hawkins. “I think there is going to be a place for each one of them. Those four are pretty dynamic guys.”

My take? It’s time for Darrell and Rodney to take over. Don’t get me wrong. I love Demetrius Sumler, and all that “Steady Eddy” brings to the program, and Brian Lockridge can do a great deal of damage on his own (other than a two-yard quarterback sneak by Hansen and a penalty, all of the yards on the Gold’s lone touchdown drive were picked up by Lockridge). Still, the race for number one back needs to be trimmed to two. Scott and Stewart can become the Blanchard and Davis of CU – Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside. Despite trimming down to just over 200 pounds, Scott can pound up the middle, while Stewart can use his speed to create space out in the open. In 2010, I see both backs rushing for over 1,000 yards. This season needs to lay the groundwork for the return to a dominating rushing attack in Boulder.

Best Guess – Demetrius Sumler will be the “starter” against Colorado State. “Starter” needs to be in quotes, as the Buffs under Dan Hawkins are not about depth charts, but about personnel groupings. If the Buffs are backed up inside their own ten for the first play of the season September 5th, for example, you might see a different personnel package than if the Buffs get a turnover, and are at midfield to start the game. That being said, running backs coach Darian Hagan always talks about how much better Sumler knows the playbook, and how “Steady Eddy” is more consistent than his sophomore counterparts. Sumler, as a result, gets the most carries early in the season, but Scott and Stewart begin to take over by the end of September.

Wide Receivers

Stats

First Scrimmage –

Jason Espinoza – 7 catches, 154 yards, 3 touchdowns

Markques Simas – 4 catches, 138 yards, 2 touchdowns

Ryan Maxwell – 2 catches, 23 yards, one touchdown

Second Scrimmage –

Kyle Cefalo – 4 catches, 66 yards

Markques Simas – 4 catches, 32 yards, one touchdown

Jason Espinoza – 4 catches, 21 yards

Dustin Ebner – one catch, 2 yards

Spring Game –

Jason Espinoza – 3 catches, 81 yards, one touchdown

Markques Simas – 2 catches, 20 yards, one touchdown

Josh Smith – one catch, 29 yards

Ryan Maxwell – one catch, 7 yards

Quotes of Note –

-”Spring ball is a perfect time for me to show what I can do. They give everybody an equal opportunity, and I know it is important for me to take advantage of it.” – sophomore walk-on wide receiver Jason Espinoza, who may be next in line for a scholarship.

– “Colorado has been my favorite since (I decided to transfer from Michigan) and remains that way,” – wide receiver prospect Toney Clemons, after his visit to Boulder, followed a day later by, “I had to give a top two, (Colorado and Cincinnati) would be one and two, in no particular order”.

Depth Chart

x – receivers

Josh Smith, Jr.

Markques Simas, So.

z – receivers

Scott McKnight, Jr.

Jason Espinoza, So.

Spring recap. It was a mixed bag for the receivers this spring. Against a depleted secondary in the first scrimmage, the receiving corps looked like world-beaters, collecting six touchdowns (ten, if you count the contributions of the tight ends). Since then, though, it has been back to reality, as the receivers have been decent, but not great. Scotty McKnight, who led the team in catches the past two seasons, did not practice for much of the spring (arm strain – a full go for fall). This left only Josh Smith and Markques Simas as scholarship players at the wide out position.

Simas looks to be the real deal. After two years of rave reviews from coaches and players, the Buff Nation is finally getting to take a look at the phenom known as Markques Simas. The sophomore, who has yet to see the playing field due to two years of academic issues, had a good spring, accumulating at least one score in each scrimmage (10 catches for 190 yards and four touchdowns overall). What’s more, he looks like a receiver out there. At 6’2?, 200 pounds, Simas looks like Michael Crabtree (6’3?, 214 pounds), the Texas Tech game-breaker taken by San Francisco with the 10th overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft.

Still, even with Simas, Josh Smith, and Scotty McKnight, the Buffs are woefully thin at wide receiver. It is no surprise, then, that the Buffs have been shopping around for a new wideout or two. Michigan transfer Toney Clemons is reportedly going to decide by mid-May between Colorado and Cincinnati, with North Carolina prep Stanley Jean-Baptiste waiting on both Clemons and Andre Simmons (the latter to see if he gets through his six spring classes, and remains on track to qualify to play this fall) to see if he will receive a scholarship offer from Colroado.

My take? Not a real hard call, mostly due to the lack of depth. McKnight and Smith are the returning starters, with Simas and sophomore walk-on Jason Espinoza to see a great deal of playing time. In addition to Simmons, the Buffs already have commitments from two other new receivers (Jarrod Darden and Terdema Ussery), so the Buffs will be more talented this fall than they were this spring. Espinoza deserves a scholarship, and will likely earn one soon.

Best guess – Smith and McKnight are your starters, with Simas pushing for playing time early on. Espinoza, when he is not returning kicks, will be a situational player. As for the players who are on their way to Boulder, but not here yet – we’ll have to see how August unfolds.

Tight Ends

Stats

First Scrimmage –

Patrick Devenny – 4 catches, 138 yards, 2 touchdowns

Devin Shanahan – 3 catches, 30 yards

Ryan Wallace – 3 catches, 27 yards, one touchdown

Luke Walters – 2 catches, one touchdown

Second Scrimmage –

Ryan Deehan – 3 catches, 11 yards

Luke Walters – 2 catches, 21 yards, one touchdown

Devin Shanahan – one catch, 38 yards

Ryan Wallace – one catch, 7 yards

Patrick Devenny – one catch, 6 yards

Spring Game –

Devin Shanahan – one catch, 14 yards

Ryan Wallace – one catch, 8 yards

Quotes of Note –

– “Ryan (Deehan) is playing with more confidence, more speed. He’s still learning, but he’s going to be a big factor for us.” – Tight ends coach Kent Riddle, on sophomore tight end Ryan Deehan.

– “I know a lot of guys come and go here, but I just don’t feel like it’s my time to give up on it. I honestly believe I can help this team get to where it wants to go.” – senior tight end Luke Walters, who may be eligible for a sixth season in 2010 due to his long history of medical issues.

Depth Chart

Patrick Devenny, Sr.

Ryan Deehan, So.,

Luke Walters, Sr., AND

Devin Shanahan, Sr.

Ryan Wallace, Fr.-RS.

(Riar Geer, Sr. – injured)

Spring recap. Despite having the presumed starter, Riar Geer, out with an injury, the tight end unit had a good spring. “They all had stuff they needed to work on and they’ve all done a great job of improving in those areas,” said tight ends coach Kent Riddle. “We wanted to play physical this spring, to come off and block people and to get after guys and then make plays in the passing game when we have the opportunities.”

Senior Patrick Devenny is perhaps the best receiver in the group, but it is still somewhat of a surprise to see him atop the depth chart. “I’ve been really impressed with how Pat Devenny has done all around,” said Riddle. “He did a good job for us in the receiving area last year, but he’s really done a great job of playing physical and he’s been a pretty good blocker this spring.” For his part, Devenny understands where his emphasis will be over the next few months. “I’m just trying to work on my blocking,” said Devenny. “I want to establish myself as a playmaker, too, so I’m trying to balance all of those things. But every day there is a major emphasis on improving my blocking.”

My take? The tight end corps may be the unit which improves the most – with the least recognition – of any on the CU team in 2009. Colorado is turning more to a run-first offense, with the tight ends being asked to assist a still developing offensive line to create space for the running backs. Similarly, with the influx of more talent and speed at wide receiver, the tight ends will have fewer opportunities to have their names listed in the box score as the Buffs try and stretch defenses with the vertical game. Still, if the running game can prove effective, and the passing game takes flight, there will be a number of opportunities for the Buffs to slip a tight end past a linebacker in the middle of the field. There may be fewer balls thrown to the tight ends in 2009, but they may be more effective.

Best guess – Riar Geer will likely still be the starter come September 5th. That being said, there will be a number of two tight end sets which the Buffs will run this fall. With a host of senior talent at the tight end position, getting these contributors onto the field early and often will be essential to the overall success of the Buffs in 2009.

Offensive Line

Quotes of Note –

– “We’re probably not as deep as we will be over time. But we’ve got some guys that are extremely talented. And there are other guys that certainly have a chance to develop. I’m very optimistic” – new offensive line coach Denver Johnson, who may start a junior, three sophomores, and a red-shirt freshman this fall.

– “I tell people, those three torn ACL’s are probably a blessing. Because, basically, it keeps me, like, more hungry for football. More humble and more hungry” – Maxwell Tuioti-Mariner (MTM), who was lost for the spring with his third ACL injury the week before spring practice. MTM may be available to play as early as September.

– “We’re going to reward performance and not potential. My mantra will be: We’re going to be assignment correct, fundamentally sound, physically fit and mentally tough. And everything we do will be pointed toward achieving one of those cornerstones” – Denver Johnson.

Depth Chart

Left Tackle

Nate Solder, Jr.

Ryan Dannewitz, Fr.-RS

Left Guard

Ethan Adkins, So.

Devin Head, Sr.

(Blake Behrens, So., Shawn Daniels, So., and Max Tuioti-Mariner, Fr.-RS – injured)

Center

Mike Iltis, So.

Keenan Stevens, Jr.

Right Guard

Ryan Miller, So.

David Clark, So.

Right Tackle

Bryce Givens, Fr.-RS

Matthew Bahr, So.

Spring recap. In case you have been on sabbatical for the past month, take a few moments with the above depth chart. If you have been a follower of the Buffs over the past few seasons, and are familiar with the personnel, you might rightfully surmise that the right guard and right tackle have been transposed. After all, last season, Ryan Miller, before he was injured in the Florida State game, played tackle, and Bryce Givens, who red-shirted last fall, was recruited as a guard. Now Miller is using his quickness at the guard position, and Givens has bulked up in order to play tackle.

What was supposed to be a heated competition this spring, but which has turned out to be no contest, is the battle for the starting center position. Junior Keenan Stevens, a three year veteran of the system, was pitted against junior Virginia transfer Evan Eastburn. Sophomore Mike Iltis, who has never played a snap at center at any level, was coming off of a red-shirt season in which he tore his ACL during drills last August. So who won the competition?

The sophomore with no experience, of course. Mike Iltis took control of the starting center’s job early in the spring, and the issue has not been up for debate since. Stevens is listed as the backup for Iltis, and Evan Eastburn is listed as third string at the right guard position.

My take? I wholly concur with the mantra of Dan Hawkins and new offensive line coach Denver Johnson that you play your best five. If Ryan Miller, Bryce Givens, and Nate Solder are amongst your best five, and they all play tackle – move one to guard. It is impressive to me that the Colorado offensive line is now deep enough and talented enough that the Buffs may have only one starter from the Nebraska game who will still in the lineup come the CSU game – and still be a better unit. Daniel Sanders has graduated, leaving Nate Solder as the lone holdover. Three other starters against the Cornhuskers, guards Devin Head and Blake Behrens, along with tackle Matt Bahr, may be on the bench come September.

Best guess -The line seems to be solidifying, and that, as noted above, is a good thing. Nate Solder, who was a tight end just a year ago, is entrenched at left tackle. Mike Iltis seems the most likely candidate to replace Sanders at center, and Bryce Givens and Ryan Miller, after switching positions, seem poised to take over at right tackle and right guard, respectively. This leaves open only the left guard position. Sophomore Ethan Adkins is listed at #1 in the final spring depth chart, but there is a trio of talented players out who have starting experience who will likely vie for the job in August – senior Devin Head, sophomore Blake Behrens, and red-shirt freshman Max Tuioti-Mariner. Look for one of last year’s starters at the end of season, Head or Behrens, to be in the lineup against CSU, with MTM taking over come Big 12 play (after recovering from his third ACL injury).

Note – Below is a week-by-week, unit-by-unit review of Spring practice for the offense. For the review of the Defense, Spring game, depth chart, quotes of note, etc., scroll through the offense review, or go back to the top of this page and click on “What we were looking for / What we’ve seen – Defense”.

What we were looking for / What we saw – Quarterbacks

Player Lost – Nick Nelson

Lettermen Returning – Cody Hawkins (Jr.); Tyler Hansen (So.); Matt Ballenger (So.)

Others Returning in 2009 – Cameron Wright (Fr.)

New in 2009 – Clark Evans (Fr.); Josh Moten (Fr.)

Week Three Update – Quarterbacks

While week two of CU’s 2009 spring practice focused on the quarterbacks, or, more accurately, the loss of a quarterback (Matt Ballenger), week three has been relatively quiet. Both junior Cody Hawkins and sophomore Tyler Hansen had their moments during week three, as well as during the situational scrimmage on Friday, but the Buffs are certainly no closer to naming a starter than they were a week ago.“They had a good scrimmage last week. They had a few more rough spots in there (Friday),” said Dan Hawkins of his two quarterbacks. “It is hard. Scotty (McKnight) has been nicked and hasn’t played. And Josh (Smith) didn’t play. Getting familiarity with your posse and knowing where your guys are going to be is a big part of being a quarterback.” For the record, Hawkins hit on 14-of-23 for 146 yards and a touchdown during the second scrimmage, while Tyler Hansen was good on 9-of-11 for 64 yards and a score. Neither quarterback has thrown an interception in the two scrimmages, though Hansen did commit the first offensive turnover of the spring, a fumble on a snap.

Both quarterbacks have work to do before a starter can be named. For incumbent Cody Hawkins, it’s “being a little too cute with a couple of things instead of being solid,” said offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. “(Cody) had a couple of No. 1’s (receiver options) in the progression, but he’s trying to get the ball somewhere else.”Of Hansen’s development this spring, Helfrich sees Hansen is improving on “just running the show.” Still, there have been times when Hansen has not had the correct plays called. “He did fairly well out there,” said Helfrich of Hansen, “but there were a couple of times where we might have had a delay (of game) in real life.”With only a handful of practices and the spring game remaining, it is possible, but not likely, that the coaches could name a starter at the end of spring ball. If they do, however, look for it to come with a qualifier, as in “Cody is the starter for now, but we’ll see how they do this summer and in fall practice”, or “Tyler has the first position for the time being, but he still has a lot of work to do if he expects to be the starter September 5th.”It may well be neither. Offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, after Friday’s second scrimmage, was pretty adamant that the goal of naming a starter by spring’s end would not be met. “We’re not going to call anything until fall,” Helfrich said. “There won’t be enough separation.”

Second Week Update – Quarterbacks

First scrimmage – April 11th.

Both quarterbacks fared well, with Cody Hawkins and Tyler Hansen putting up monster numbers in the controlled scrimmage. Hawkins hit on 18-of-28 passes for 328 yards and seven touchdowns, while Tyler Hansen went 13-of-23 for 207 yards and three touchdowns. “They played pretty efficient,” said Dan Hawkins of his quarterbacks. “We’ll have to grade them out, but they didn’t turn the ball over. For the most part they moved the club.” Matt Ballenger, however, trumped the success of the offense at the Saturday scrimmage with a headline of his own. The sophomore quarterback, designated as the Cody Hawkins’ challenger during practice last spring, only to fall behind true freshman Tyler Hansen in the fall, has left the program.In seeing action in two games in 2008 (against Texas and Kansas) Ballenger completed 8-of-12 passes for 118 yards and one touchdown. He was also sacked five times in seeing playing time when the opposition was teeing off of Buff quarterbacks.“Matt is a great young man, and everyone at Colorado respects him and his family,” said Dan Hawkins in a press release. “We will support him and do whatever we can to ensure his future success.”Leading up to the departure, it had been a turbulent week for Ballenger. Prior to the announcement that Ballenger was leaving, the talk of the week concerning quarterbacks was how the sophomore had fallen to third on the depth chart.

This week, offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich indicated that sophomore Matt Ballenger had fallen behind junior Cody Hawkins and sophomore Tyler Hansen. “(Ballenger) will continue to battle, and he’s certainly not out of it by any stretch,” said Helfrich, “but the other guys have created a little separation.”Helfrich ran through the quarterbacks’ play through the first third of spring ball for INDenver Times: Cody Hawkins: “Cody has practiced fine, he just needs to continue”, said Helfrich. “He’s doing a nice job of running things.”; Tyler Hansen: “He’s done a lot of good things,” said Helfrich of the sophomore. “He’s made plays with his feet, which is definitely his ‘X’ factor – and hopefully will continue to be.”Matt Ballenger: “The frustrating part for Matt is that he’s making great decisions, he’s just not quite closing the deal. That’s been frustrating for him.” For his part, Ballenger said that he did not believe the other two quarterbacks were significantly ahead of him. While acknowledging mistakes in practice, Ballenger still saw the competition as being “pretty even”. Ballenger told buffzone.com after Thursday’s practice that Helfrich’s assessment of his play was about the same way he saw it. “I’m making all the right reads,” said Ballenger the day before he left the team. “I’ve just got to finish the play. I’m missing wide open curl routes. It’s just stuff that is there and I’m seeing it, but I’m not finishing it.”

As for Ballenger’s future, it will likely be back in the northwest (he is from Nampa, Idaho), and basketball may be back in the mix (Ballenger was a two-time Gatorade Player of the Year in Idaho). Joe Ballenger, Matt’s father, said there was no ill will towards the CU program. “We wish the best for the University of Colorado,” said Joe Ballenger. “We appreciate the scholarship for Matt and we wish the best for Matt’s friends and teammates. Hopefully, they will go on to great success.”The move leaves Colorado with only two scholarship quarterbacks for the remainder of spring practice. Recruits Josh Moten and Clark Evans will be in Boulder this summer.

First Week Update – Quarterbacks

The position battle of the spring so far has been devoid of any real news – unless you want to count the stories about the Buffs’ quarterbacks suiting up with helmet-cams during practice. As far as play on the field, the consensus from those who have been attending practice is that Cody Hawkins and Tyler Hansen have been sharper and better prepared, and that Matt Ballenger has been tentative and inconsistent, though Cody did struggle some with the 11-on-11 drills on Friday. While head coach Dan Hawkins has expressed a preference for naming a starter coming out of spring practice, he also has stated that he wants the candidates to continue to compete throughout the summer. “I think you always have, to some degree, preferences,” said Hawkins, “but I don’t know that you ever want to jump on the table and say that it is set in stone.”For the conspiracy theorists (those who believe that Cody being named the starter is a foregone conclusion), there is this: In the Longmont Times-Call on Friday, Patrick Ridgell reported that offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said that Tyler Hansen and Matt Ballenger, both sophomores, would not be asked to run the same plays on offense as junior Cody Hawkins, owing to Hawkins’ experience.If you’re looking for a front-runner in the quarterback race, you might put your dollars on the guy who is running the entire playbook …

Bold prediction: there will be more ink devoted this spring to writing about the quarterback battle at Colorado than any other position.

Real bold, huh?

The Boulder Daily Camera has already devoted a three-part series to the Buffs’ returning quarterbacks, and we are still over two weeks away from the start of spring practice. Considering that there are several teams in the Big 12 breaking in new quarterbacks (notably Big 12 North rivals Missouri, Nebraska, and Kansas State), having a two-year returning starter should give Buff fans peace of mind.Such is not the case. Junior Cody Hawkins has played in 25 games in his CU career (23 starts), with the Buffs accumulating an 11-14 record in those games. In 2008, Hawkins hit on 183 of 320 passes (57%), good enough for 1,892 yards and 17 touchdowns. Hawkins, though, was picked off ten times, and was sacked on 20 pass attempts. Overall, the Colorado passing game was 11th in the Big 12, generating less than 200 yards per game. Cody, for his part, is very well aware of his short-comings (which include his height – 5’11?). “I think it’s really kind of understanding that ‘All right, I may have always been good before this and I hate losing,’ ” Cody told the Daily Camera. “So I’m going to have to ask much more of myself and go above and beyond. I really have to eat and breathe football all the time, even if it’s the off-season.” While Cody Hawkins critics are numerous, there are two advantages the junior has coming into the 2009 season. First, he has been the starter for much of the past two seasons, so he certainly understands the pressures and uncertainties of being a starting quarterback in the Big 12. Second, the Colorado offense in 2009 is going to look more like that of the 2007 campaign – less no huddle; more I-formation. It was in 2007 when Hawkins had his most success, leading the Buffs to an upset win over #3 Oklahoma and a bowl bid.Still, there are no assurances Cody will keep his job. “We’ve had to pull the plug on guys before and promote and demote, and (Cody) handled it great,” said offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. “We’ve always been up-front and honest with those guys with what we’re trying to assess. If we’re thinking about making a change, we’re going to talk to them.”

So, if Cody cannot lead the Buff offense effectively, who is his likely successor? A year ago at this time, the internet was abuzz about the potential of then red-shirt freshman Matt Ballenger. Ballenger, at 6’4?, 225 pounds, was all that Cody was not, taller and with a more powerful arm. By the end of spring practice 2008, however, Cody was the clear front-runner. Then, during the regular season, when Cody faltered, Ballenger was passed over by the coaches in favor of true freshman Tyler Hansen.Is Ballenger done? “It was definitely tough,” said Ballenger of seeing Hansen chosen to play before him, “but I think they did what they thought was best for the team. I’m grateful that it happened. It made me realize that I’ve got to work a lot harder than I’ve been working.” So what does Ballenger, a third-year sophomore, have to do this off-season to, as Dan Hawkins would say, “have his horns out”? The consensus is that Ballenger has to be more of a leader. “Urgent in everything, aggressive, more assertive, know the offense a lot better,” says Ballenger. “Not over-thinking things like I usually do. Just going out there and playing like I know I can play.”

For many Buff fans, though, the best option for 2009 would seem to be sophomore Tyler Hansen, who spelled Cody Hawkins in five games in 2008, starting two. Hansen’s passing numbers from last season are not those, however, likely to send shivers through the spines of Big 12 defensive coordinators: 34-65 passing (52%), 280 yards. Hansen’s one touchdown pass was offset by four interceptions. Still, Hansen did interject a new element into the quarterback race, finishing as the Buffs’ third leading rusher (261 yards) despite only appearing in five games.In his first full off-season with the Buffs, what does Hansen see as the areas in which he needs to improve? “Understanding the defense and what their weaknesses are,” said Hansen. “Another one would probably be understanding the offense a lot more, knowing where my check downs are.” Rather than seeing the switch back to a more traditional offensive approach (less shotgun; less no-huddle) as a detriment, Hansen is embracing the change. “I think it’s good as an offense and I think it helps me a bit, because when you huddle, it’s more calmed down and relaxed,” said Hansen. “When you’re huddling, you can game-plan better.”

While the talk this spring will involved the names of Hawkins, Ballenger, and Hansen, there are two more quarterbacks coming to Boulder this fall. Josh Moten is a quarterback/athlete from Harbor City, California, who has been promised a shot at the quarterback position, though most believe that he will find playing time at another position.

The long-term answer for Colorado at quarterback may be the other incoming freshman, Clark Evans, from Los Alamitos, California. Evans, at 6’5?, 230 pounds, was a three-year starter at quarterback in high school and served as the starting center for his school’s basketball team. Evans has been compared to Florida’s Tim Tebow (he of the Heisman trophy and two national championships), because he runs and throws equally well, and has a passion for winning. For his part, Evans is down-playing the comparison. “I think we play the same,” said Evans of the Tebow references, ” but I don’t want to be that in college. I don’t really want to run around as much. I want to be able to play for longer.” Will Evans fit into the mix this August? Evans doesn’t think so. “Cody is a great quarterback and he is someone I can learn from,” said Evans. “I don’t want to go in and play right away. I kind of want to learn the system and learn the offense, and he’ll be someone great to learn from and then step in when he’s done.”As a result, it appears that the starting quarterback for 2009 will emerge from the three competing for the job this spring, and Moten and Evans will have to wait.Then again, saying that the incoming freshman will have to wait is exactly what we were saying about Tyler Hansen a year ago ….

What we were looking for / What we saw – Running Backs

Players Lost – Maurice Cantrell, Ray Polk (Fr. – switched to safety)

Lettermen Returning – Kevin Moyd (Sr.); Demetrius Sumler (Jr.); Cory Nabors (Jr.); Rodney Stewart (So.); Darrell Scott (So.) – Fullback: Jake Behrens (Sr.)

Others Returning in 2009 – Brian Lockridge (So.) – Fullback: Matt Burgner (Jr.)

New in 2009 – None

Week Three Update – Running backs

If there is one area of concern for Buff fans (okay, other than the lack of depth at wide receiver, the lack of experience on the defensive line, and a “cross your fingers” kicking game), it is that the CU rushing game, anticipated to be the strength of the new look Colorado offense, has yet to show itself on the field. In the first scrimmage, the Buff offense went for over 500 yards passing, but posted only 108 total rushing yards. In the second scrimmage, the Buffs fared even worse, with Darrell Scott’s 11 rushes for 43 yards the best effort from the group. No running back has come close to a 100-yard day.Still, there is no panic in the voices of the Buff rushers. If anything, the confidence continues to grow. This week, running backs coach Darian Hagan had nothing but praise for Darrell Scott. “I would say, the last couple of practices, Darrell has picked it up,” Hagan told BuffStampede.com earlier this week. “He understands what to do in the pass game. He understands what to do in the run game. He is running fast; he is playing hard. He is a totally different back.” Scott’s running mate, Demetrius Sumler, has also taken notice. “(Scott)came in at 230 pounds and wasn’t as fast as we expected. He was still fast, but wasn’t that fast,” said Sumler. “Once he dropped the weight, we started to see the kind of athlete he is. Now we see why he was a five-star recruit.”

Speaking of Sumler, the junior is not conceding anything to sophomores Stewart and Scott. Sumler was taken to the hospital after practice April 9th with stiffness in his neck. The tests were negative, but Sumler’s duties have been limited since as a precaution (Sumler had only one carry, for five yards, during the second scrimmage). Running backs coach Darian Hagan recently nicknamed Sumler “Steady Eddy”, a moniker Sumler is not all that fond of. “I like the nickname in that our coaches see me as being consistent,” said Sumler. “But sometimes I take ‘Steady Eddy’ to mean just average … I want to be a phenomenal running back, not just a ‘Steady Eddy’ kind of guy.”For Sumler, who finished his high school career as the all-time leading rusher in San Diego prep history, there was extra motivation when the Buffs brought in three new backs last summer. “Not to knock Darrell, he is one of my good friends here, but I am a competitor, so I was pushing myself to be better than him,” Sumler told BuffStampede.com this week. “Same with ‘Speedy’ and Ray (Polk) when they came in.” Hagan seems to trust Sumler. Asked after the second scrimmage who his starter would be if the season started next week, Hagan went with Sumler and his experience. “I trust that guy,” Hagan said of Sumler. “The other guys are so topsy-turvy. They are so inconsistent.”Many eyes will be on the backfield April 25th, anticipating (make that hoping) that one or more of the fine running backs the Buffs have assembled will be ready to make some plays.

Second Week Update – Running Backs

First scrimmage – April 11th.

After two weeks of discussion about how the deep and talented offensive line was restoring the power running game at CU, and how the healthy stable of running backs was eager to strut their stuff, the Buffs’ running game got off to a sputtering start in 2009. Running backs Rodney Stewart, Darrell Scott, and Brian Lockridge combined for 93 rushing yards on 30 carries. On a day when the Colorado offense generated eleven touchdowns total, the rushing game contributed but one. “We’re probably not where we want to be running the football,” understated Dan Hawkins.Prior to Saturday’s scrimmage, the running back turning everyone’s heads this week in practice was Darrell Scott. The sophomore running back, who, by everyone’s reckoning (including his own) had a disappointing freshman campaign, is ready to reclaim his status as the best back of the 2008 national recruiting class.The thumb, groin, and hyper-extended knee injuries of last fall have healed, Scott has slimmed down (to 200 pounds; 4% body fat), and is anxious to get back on the field. “Everything happens for a reason, so I’m not upset with last season,” said Scott.In addition to making strides in the weight room, Scott has made inroads on the playbook. “In high school, all I did was get the ball and make plays,” Scott told BuffStampede.com. “But when I got here, there was a scheme to it and I had to follow everything and hit the right gap and have the correct footwork and all that stuff.”Still, running backs coach Darian Hagan is expecting production from all six of his backs. In addition to Darrell Scott, Rodney Stewart, and Demetrius Sumler, who the top three backs of 2008, Hagan has three other backs looking for playing time. The most likely of the three to see the ball, though not always by way of a handoff from the quarterback, is Brian Lockridge. The sophomore running back, who sat out last season with a sports hernia, has been practicing with the wide receivers as well as the running backs. The other two backs are not as familiar to most Buff fans. Hagan compares junior Cory Nabors to Sumler, and believes that Nabors can do “great things” when he “puts everything together”. The lone senior in the backfield, Kevin Moyd, only had seven carries in 2008, but Hagan told Moyd that his senior year will be “a new lease on life”, and that Moyd had to take advantage of that opportunity. Said Hagan, “I’m just happy to be coaching these guys.”

First Week Update – Running backs

With the first scrimmage of the spring still days away (Saturday), there are no statistics to digest in the race for starting running back. However, if the reports received to date are any indication, Colorado fans are in for an enjoyable season. Rodney Stewart and Brian Lockridge have received the most praise from practice observers, while those watching from the sidelines have been in awe of Darrell Scott’s frame. Down to a sculpted 205 pounds (4% body fat), and fully recovered from his ankle injury, Scott is ready to go. “We’re going to a bowl,” said Scott, his voice in crescendo in a video interview with Scout.com. “We need ten wins. We need ‘em NOW!” Scott also was excited about the downhill running game the Buffs are looking to install this spring. “I can’t WAIT,” said Scott. “I’m ready!” Somewhat lost in the excitement over the three sophomores, Scott, Stewart, and Lockridge, is the starter from the end of last season, Demetrius Sumler. While conceding the publicity to the younger players, Sumler is not conceding the starting role. “I’m working hard every day to get better,” said Sumler in a Scout.com interview. “I’ve got some individual goals (including starting), but I want to help the team win.”There are no favorites, at least for now. When running backs coach Darian Hagan saw that members from the sports information department were handing out rosters on the first day of practice, he asked if there was a depth chart. When told there was none, Hagan was gratified to learn no preferences for starter were listed. “We don’t have one,” said Hagan.As spring practice rolls on, and the Buffs have more pads-on scrimmages and conduct two scrimmages and a spring game, there may be a player or two to break out of the pack of talented backs.For now, CU fans can just enjoy having so many good options.

Spring Expectations – 2008 brought about great optimism concerning the Colorado running attack. The team was coming off a bowl season, the offensive line was finally full of young and talented players, and the stable of running backs was flush with the insertion of two of the top running backs of the 2008 recruiting class.Something happened, though, on the way to the return to dominance in the running game. Instead of building upon the results of 2007, the Buffs took a step backward. Rushing yards per game dipped from 150.0 yards per game (which was not great – 8th in the Big 12 Conference; 68th in the nation) to a paltry 124.5 yards per game – 10th in the Big 12; 86th nationally. Injuries to the offensive line certainly contributed, and the two running backs who were supposed to take the nation by storm, Darrell Scott and Ray Polk, netted a total of 343 yards (all by Scott, as Polk red-shirted). The lone bright spot in the CU rushing attack came from an unlikely source, as Rodney Stewart, almost an after-thought as a signing day throw in, wound up leading the team in rushing. Stewart, or Speedy, had 622 yards rushing, and was well on his way to a 1,000 yard season when he was injured during the first half of the Texas A&M game. So what, then, are we to make of the 2009 Buff rushers? Well, there are no newcomers, as Colorado did not have a running back commit on signing day in February. Ray Polk has moved over to safety, leaving the job of carrying the CU rushing attack largely to junior Demetrius Sumler and sophomores Scott and Stewart. With no apparent new blood, is there any intrigue to the running back corps this spring? Very much so. First, there is the good news that both Rodney Stewart and Darrell Scott are recovered from their 2008 injuries, and are listed as “Full Go” for spring drills. It will be great to hear glowing reports of how these two potential stars are dominating spring ball. Second, there is the matter of how Demetrius Sumler and senior Kevin Moyd are to be utilized. Both have had their moments, and will bring experience and leadership to the backfield.For me, though, the real area of interest this spring practice is the return of Kevin Lockridge. In 2007, as a true freshman, Lockridge played in nine games, including one start (Kansas State). Despite limited playing time, Lockridge had the Buffs’ two longest runs of the season (47 and 43 yards), and was third on the team in rushing yards. Last year during spring practice, though, Lockridge was diagnosed with a sports hernia, and after an April operation was red-shirted last fall.At 5’7?, 175 pounds, Lockridge has a similar build to Rodney Stewart (5’6?, 170 pounds). Look for Lockridge and Stewart to see playing time in the slot, with Sumler and Stewart seeing much of their time in the I-formation that the Buffs are reportedly set to run this season.Colorado had only 1,494 rushing yards in 2008. Look for that number to surpass 2,000 in 2009.

What we were looking for / What we saw – Offensive Line

Player Lost – Daniel Sanders

Lettermen Returning – Nate Solder (Jr.); Devin Head (Sr.); Matthew Bahr (So.); Ryan Miller (So.); Maxwell Tuioti-Mariner (Fr.); Shawn Daniels (So.); and Blake Behrens (So.)

Others Returning in 2009: Bryce Givens (Fr.); Mike Iltis (So.); Ryan Dannewitz (Fr.); Ethan Adkins (So.) David Clark (So.); Sione Tau (So.); Evan Eastburn (Jr.); and Keenan Stevens (Jr.)

New in 2009: Jack Harris (Fr.); David Bakhtiari (Fr.); Gus Handler (Fr.); Shaun Simon (Fr.)

Week Three Update – Offensive Line

The Colorado offensive line has settled down since the opening week stories about all of the position moves. The main question mark going into spring ball was who was going to be the new center, but that question seems to have been answered, with sophomore Mike Iltis seeing most of the playing time at that position. Iltis, who has never played a snap at center in a game, is ready to go. “I think it’s a great thing. I really do”, said Iltis. “I wasn’t against (the move to center from guard) at all. After sitting out all of last season with a torn ACL, Iltis has been preparing to replace the departed Daniel Sanders – by watching NFL game films. “I figure if I watch the pros and understand what they’re doing, I’m aiming higher,” said Iltis. “I want to try and compare myself to how the pros play.”

The other big moves of the spring involve the #1 offensive line recruits from the state of Colorado from 2007 and 2008, Ryan Miller and Bryce Givens. Miller, who has been limited by a sprained ankle, continues to play at guard after playing tackle last season, and Bryce Givens, who came to Boulder as a 240 pound guard, is now up to 280 and continues to play at right tackle. “We’re probably not as deep as we will be over time,” said new offensive line coach Denver Johnson, who may start a junior, three sophomores, and a red-shirt freshman come September 5th. “But we’ve got some guys that are extremely talented. And there are other guys that certainly have a chance to develop. I’m very optimistic.”So, how well are the players taking to their new assignments, and to their new coach? “It’s awesome,” said Ryan Miller of the move to guard. “There’s a lot more running, run-blocking involved. The difficult thing is, it’s different with pass blocking. There is a lot more horizontal space to work with. Things happen in front of you a lot faster.”

As for Bryce Givens’ move to tackle, Denver Johnson likes the move. “Bryce is a long guy with a lot of talent,” said Johnson. “He has the arm length you are looking for in a tackle”.The line seems to have taken to its new coach. Miller, for one, couldn’t be happier. “He’s got one-liners that just make you stop and laugh,” said Miller of Johnson.Now, if the Buffs’ running game would show some signs of improvement ….

Second Week Update – Offensive Line

First scrimmage – April 11th.

Oops. In a controlled scrimmage where the CU offense dominated play overall, the Colorado rushing attack was all but non-existent. A total of 93 yards on 30 carries for the Buff running backs, a paltry 3.5 yards per carry. One touchdown. “I think as a whole, we need to run the ball a little better,” said quarterback Tyler Hansen. “There were a couple of 3rd-and-ones and 4th-and-ones that we didn’t convert.” In defense of the offensive line, several potential starters, including Ryan Miller and Matt Bahr (not to mention MTM) were not available.Speaking of Maxwell Tuioti-Marinier … probably the best news of the second week of practice was the return of MTM to the practice facilities on Monday. After his third ACL in about two seasons, MTM vows he’ll be back this fall. “I’m still happy. I”m still staying positive because I know things are going to work out well,” said MTM this week.Rather than see the three surgeries as a curse, MTM is looking at them as a source of motivation. “I tell people, those three torn ACL’s are probably a blessing,” said Tuioti-Mariner. “Because, basically, it keeps me, like, more hungry for football. More humble and more hungry.”Tuioti-Mariner is the only Buff so far to have a serious injury this spring (he tore his ACL during a non-contact drill during winter conditioning). This does not mean that the Buffs’ linemen are injury free. Ryan Miller (sprained ankle) and Matt Bahr (shoulder) sat out most of the first scrimmage with minor injuries.One other player on the field this spring is being watched closely. Freshman Bryce Givens sat out last season, but he was not immune from injury last fall. “The week of the Missouri game I got a concussion, but I felt like I was fine so I practiced the next day and got another concussion,” said Givens. “My head was just real messed up for a while there and they held me out of practice the rest of the season.”Givens, though, is not having second thoughts about continuing his football career. “Everything is cool now. There is no severe damage,” said Givens. “After I had those head injuries, I really sat down and thought about what is important to me in my life, and I am fully dedicated to this.” Givens, who is wearing a special helmet, has been starting at right tackle with the first unit this spring.

First Week Update – Offensive Line

If you need an update as to the goings on with the offensive line this week – well, where the Hell have you been? There has been so much ink dispensed discussing the offensive line this week that fans have all but forgotten about the quarterback race (okay, it has not gotten that far – yet).The first big news of the week was that Ryan Miller, who has played tackle since junior high, is starting at guard, and that Bryce Givens, the red-shirt freshman guard, has been lining up at tackle. The starting five for the Buffs’ line this week has been as follows: junior Nate Solder at left tackle; sophomore Matthew Bahr at left guard; sophomore Mike Iltis at center; Miller at right guard; and Givens at right tackle.The race of interest this spring was supposed to be at center, where the Buffs were looking to replace three-year starter Daniel Sanders. “We’re going to reward performance and not potential,” said new offensive line coach Denver Johnson. “My mantra will be: We’re going to be assignment correct, fundamentally sound, physically fit and mentally tough. And everything we do will be pointed toward achieving one of those cornerstones.” Mike Iltis is apparently the favorite at this point. Iltis, who has never played a down at center in a game at any level, is a third-year sophomore. He suffered a torn ACL on the first day of fall camp last fall, and studied film for the past seven months, preparing for this opportunity. “I definitely think (the starter at center) is going to be whoever is going to come out there and be a leader and be in charge and watch film and know the defense and make the calls,” said Iltis.But what of Miller’s move to guard? “To get Nate Solder and Bryce Givens and Ryan Miller in there at the same time, somebody’s got to move to guard,” said Denver Johnson. “Of those three, Ryan is the natural candidate to play inside.” Is the move permanent? “There’s nothing set yet. It won’t be set until the week before the first game”, said Johnson, adding, “But I like what I see so far.” If the position switches and placements hold, that would mean that the two starting guards for every Big 12 game last fall, senior Devin Head and sophomore Blake Behrens, would be relegated to back up duty (not to mention MTM, who is out for all of this spring …).Come to think of it, maybe there is a reason why the offensive line has been getting so much attention this spring.It’s exciting to think about the possibilities.(Not to make already big heads larger, but in his Big 12 blog at ESPN.com this week, columnist Tim Griffin called the Buffs’ offensive line the best in the Big 12 North) …

Spring Expectations –

First, let’s look at the starting lineup for the entire second half of the 2008 season: LT-Nate Solder; LG-Blake Behrens; C-Daniel Sanders; RG-Devin Head; RT-Matthew Bahr. With only Sanders lost, to the non-Buff fan it might appear as if the new offensive line coach, Denver Johnson, would only have one replacement to find. Buff fans, though, know better, which is why the offensive line will be one area of focus for many this spring.There are some players listed above who will have to wait until August to make their case to be in the starting lineup (including the three incoming freshmen listed above). Maxwell Tuioti-Mariner (MTM), suffered his third ACL in three seasons on March 4th, and will not be available until at least fall practice. The following will also be on limited duty this spring: Blake Behrens (off-season shoulder surgery); Devin Head (off-season shoulder surgery); and Mike Iltis (tore ACL last August). Ryan Miller, who broke his leg during the Florida State game last fall, is listed as a “Full Go” for spring practice. Want to take a stab at a starting lineup for September 5th? It might be as easier to pick the Final Four in your March Madness tournament pool. Best bets at this point would likely include returning starters Nate Solder (LT) and Devin Head (RG), joined by Ryan Miller (RT). At the other guard position, look for Blake Behrens to be challenged by Bryce Givens and Mike Iltis (and don’t completely count out MTM, who could be back this fall). At center, we may have to wait until August to see if Gus Handler or Shaun Simon can assume the duties as true freshmen. This spring, those listed at center on the roster (transfer Evan Eastburn and fellow junior Keenan Stevens) may have to battle for playing time with a guard (Mike Iltis?) who slides over from the guard position.For my part, there would be a certain poetic justice to the following starting lineup on September 5th:

OT – Ryan Miller (Littleton)
OG – Bryce Givens (Mullen)
C – Evan Eastburn (Fairview)

OG – Jack Harris (Chaparrel)
OT – Nate Solder (Buena Vista)

You got it – An all-Colorado high school starting five! (Just in case the Ram fans happen to forget which school is the flagship school for the state of Colorado!). The absolute best part about playing Offensive line bingo with all of this talent? Look again at the roster of players at the top. Look for the number of seniors who are listed. Yup. One. Devin Head. Plus, there are only a handful of juniors this year. The Colorado offensive line could be a force to be reckoned with, not only in 2009, but for years to come!

What we were looking for / What we saw – Tight Ends

Players Lost – None

Lettermen Returning – Riar Geer (Sr.); Patrick Devenny (Sr.); Devin Shanahan (Sr.); Ryan Deehan (So.) Others Returning in 2009 – Luke Walters (Sr.); Ryan Wallace (Fr.) New in 2009 – DaVaughn Thornton (Fr.)

Week Three Update – Tight Ends

With the wide receivers either out with minor injuries, or just not on the field because they are not officially Buffs yet, the tight ends have stolen some of the scrimmage thunder. Overall, the tight ends combined for ten catches for 83 yards and a touchdown in the “situational scrimmage” Friday. “I’ve been really pleased,” said Dan Hawkins of his six tight ends. “I think they’ve all done a nice job and played well.”Projected starter in the group in senior Riar Geer. However, Geer has been withheld from the scrimmages as he is recovering from shoulder surgery and a case of the shingles. Still, Geer is pleased to have some participation after missing last spring due to a suspension after an off-field fistfight. “For me it has been interesting because I am out here not doing anything,” said Geer. “I’ve kind of been able to coach ‘em up a little bit and that’s been kind of fun.” Taking advantage of more reps this spring is sophomore Ryan Deehan, who led the tight ends in the second scrimmage with three catches. “I have a better understanding of what’s going on with the defense, what’s going to happen,” said Deehan. Tight ends coaches is excited about Deehan’s play. “Ryan is playing with more confidence, more speed,” Riddle told DenverPost.com. “He’s still learning, but he’s going to be a big factor for us.”On a team almost devoid of seniors, the tight end unit has four – Geer; Patrick Devenny; Devin Shanahan; and Luke Walters. “It’s very tough to watch, especially with all the success that the tight ends have had,” lamented Riar Geer. “They’re catching balls all over the place.”

Second Week Update – Tight Ends

First scrimmage – April 11th.

If the first scrimmage of 2009 is to be any indication, this fall could be a banner year for the CU tight ends. Led by senior Patrick Devenny’s four catches for 138 yards (two touchdowns), the Buffs’ tight ends accounted for 12 catches overall, going for a total of 224 yards. In addition to Devenny’s efforts, senior Devin Shanahan had three catches for 30 yards, red-shirt freshman Ryan Wallace had three-for-37, and senior Luke Walters had two catches for 29 yards.The last notation has special significance …He is not the most recognized player on the team. He is not the most recognized tight end.He is not even the most recognized senior tight end.Meet Ryan Walters, senior tight end at the University of Colorado.Walters, a transfer from New Mexico, has yet to catch his first pass at CU. He has undergone two knee surgeries, but rather than give up, Walters is planning on making the most of his senior season. “I’ve been running on it for about six weeks now, and, as far as I can tell, it’s as good as it can be and I’ve got nothing to worry about,” Walters told dailycamera.com. “It feels a little weird, but the pain is just a sore. It’s not the sharp pain I used to get that comes with having a fracture.” In a week when two players left the team, Walters’ attitude is refreshing. Despite never seeing the field as a Buff, Walters is still coming to practice. “I know a lot of guys come and go here, but I just don’t feel like it’s my time to give up on it.”The feel good story could also have a happy ending. Despite being a senior on the roster, Walters may appeal to the NCAA for a sixth season, owing to missing two seasons due to injury. “I honestly believe I can help this team get to where it wants to go.”One other tight end made some news this week. DaVaughn Thornton, the Buffs’ 2009 tight end recruit out of East High in Denver, has been spotted at practices the first two weeks. Thornton is amongst a number of 2009 recruits who have visited practice, including Nick Kasa, Quentin Hildreth, Jerry Slota, Zach Grossnickle, and Jack Harris. First Week Update – Tight Ends There was little news in the first week about the tight end corps. The running game will likely produce fewer pass reception opportunities for the group, but may increase their playing time. “You’re going to have a lot more of the two tight end sets,” said sophomore Ryan Deehan, who played as a true freshman last fall. Senior Riar Geer is wearing a blue jersey right now, indicating his limited participation as he recovers from off-season shoulder surgery, giving other players more chances to show their worth.While the tight end position, unlike most of the team, is top-heavy in upper-classmen, there is a new comer looking for playing time this fall. Red-shirt freshman Ryan Wallace, is, in his own words, “a lot bigger and stronger” this spring, having bulked up from 215 to 240 pounds in his red-shirt season. Wallace “knows the offense a lot better”, but may also be utilized by the team in another capacity. Justin Drescher, who was recruited by Colorado almost exclusively as a long-snapper, will be a senior this fall after three very successful (read: you never hear his name) seasons. Ryan Wallace, for his part, practiced this past fall and off-season with the scout team as a long-snapper, and may be used for that purpose in 2010.

Spring Expectations –

Talk about senior leadership. For such a young team, it is unusual to find four seniors in any given unit at CU (in fact, only the linebackers as a unit show four seniors in the two-deep). At the tight end position, however, the Buffs boast four seniors. Riar Geer is the name most familiar to Buff fans, but fellow senior Patrick Devenny actually led the unit in catches in 2008 (14, to Geer’s 13). Both had two touchdown catches last fall. With the Buffs’ offense shifting back to more of a ball-control emphasis, it will be interesting to see how the tight ends are to be utilized. Geer will likely be the primary starter, but with renewed expectations for the running game, all of the tight ends will likely see playing time.Of greatest interest this spring will be to gauge the development of the Ryans – sophomore Deehan and freshman Wallace. Ryan Deehan did see playing time as a true freshman in 2008, catching five balls for 61 yards. Fellow 2008 recruit Ryan Wallace, though, used his red-shirt year last fall, and will play as a freshman in 2009. The Ryans will be the future of the position at Colorado, so having them develop this fall is of paramount concern if there is to be no drop-off at the position in 2010.

What we were looking for / What we saw – Wide Receivers

Players Lost – Patrick Williams; Cody Crawford; Steve Melton; Kendrick Celestine

Lettermen Returning – Scotty McKnight (Jr.); Josh Smith (So.); Jason Espinoza (So.); and Cameron Ham (Jr.)

Others Returning in 2009 – Chance Blackmon (Fr.); Markques Simas (So.)

New in 2009 – Terdema Ussery (Fr.); Jarrod Darden (Fr.); Andre Simmons (JC)

Week Three Update – Wide Receivers

If there was a theme to the first week of practice, it was the musical chairs being played by the offensive line. In week two, the emphasis shifted to the quarterback position, as Matt Ballenger left the team after falling to third string. In week three, there has been a consistent story line involving the wide receiver corps – who is playing well; who is not playing; and who may be playing in the future.As for who is playing well, the Buff receivers have had their fans reaching for their depth charts to figure out the names of the new potential stars. In the first scrimmage, it was sophomore walk-on Jason Espinoza. In the second, it was sophomore walk-on Kyle Cefalo. In Friday’s scrimmage, Cefalo led all receivers with four catches for 66 yards, including a 32-yarder from Cody Hawkins. Cefalo, weighing in at 5’10?, 165-pounds, is not likely to record that many catches all fall. This is in part due to the absence Friday of two starters from last season. Junior wideouts Scotty McKnight (arm strain) and Josh Smith (ankle) were held out of Friday’s scrimmage due to minor injuries (which should not prevent either from playing in the spring game April 25th). With lesser names getting more playing time (sophomore Markques Simas, who is expected to be a starter this fall, had four catches for 32 yards and a touchdown), attention shifted this week to wide receivers who are not yet Buffs, but may be soon.

Last weekend, Stanley Jean-Baptiste from North Carolina visited, but, by week’s end, still had no offer from the Buffs. “(CU wide receivers) coach (Eric) Kiesau said they are going to let me know soon (if CU is going to make him an offer)”, Jean-Baptiste told Rivals.com. “I hope to talk with him (this weekend)”.If the Buffs have been slow to pull the trigger on Jean-Baptiste, it may be because they are hoping to get a commitment from Toney Clemons, who was in Boulder this weekend. Clemons, the former four-star wideout prospect from Pennsylvania who is transferring out of Michigan, has reportedly narrowed his choices down to Colorado and Cincinnati. Second Week Update – Wide Receivers

First scrimmage – April 11th.

While the running backs failed to produce during the first spring scrimmage, the same could not be said about the Colorado receiving corps. Led by sophomore Jason Espinoza, the CU passing game went for 535 yards and ten touchdowns. Espinoza, a walk-on, had seven catches for 154 yards and three touchdowns. Surprisingly, with the huge numbers put up by the passing game, the three anticipated starters this fall, Josh Smith, Scotty McKnight, and Markques Simas, did not contribute significantly. McKnight sat out the practice with an arm strain, while Smith had three catches for 25 yards, and Simas had three catches for 47 yards (though two for touchdowns).While the Buffs’ receivers made headlines on the field at the scrimmage, the news of the week concerning receivers was made off the field.Before the departure of Matt Ballenger from the program, the big story of the week was the closure of spring practices. Before that, the big story of the week was the departure of Chance Blackmon from the team.It was announced this week that red-shirt freshman Chance Blackmon was leaving the University of Colorado, purportedly to go to a program closer to his native Tatum, Texas. In a released statement, Dan Hawkins said, “He has decided to leave the University of Colorado to pursue other opportunities closer to his family.” The loss of Blackmon leaves the Buffs with only three scholarship players. Juniors Josh Smith and Scotty McKnight return as starters, while sophomore Markques Simas, is turning heads as perhaps the next great wide out at Colorado.Former walk-on Jason Espinoza, though, is also looking to make his mark. The sophomore was the odds-on favorite to be the Buffs’ punt returner last fall before breaking his collarbone during August drills. Espinoza returned in week six, only to break his collarbone again.Back in the fold (with the addition of a steel plate and six screws in his shoulder), Espinoza is being looked upon as a contributor for 2009. “This winter, after our runs, some of us would stay after and do one-on-ones,” said Espinoza. “So I feel like that really helped me out.” With the departure of Blackmon and three (or four) new receivers coming to Boulder this fall, Espinoza sees this spring as a great opportunity. “Spring ball is a perfect time for me to show what I can do,” Espinoza told BuffStampede.com. “They give everybody an equal opportunity and I know it is important for me to take advantage of it.”Espinoza and company could be enhanced by yet another recruit this fall. As reported this week, Stanley Jean-Baptiste, according to the North Carolina Tech Preparatory website, will be in town for the weekend, including the scrimmage on Saturday. “I’m excited,” JeanBaptiste said. “I’m just hoping they’ve got nice facilities and a nice atmosphere”. The 6’3?, 190-pound prospect started high school in Miami, but moved to North Carolina to work on his grades and his test scores. While Jean-Baptiste has not yet been offered a scholarship, one may be tendered as early as this weekend.

First Week Update – Wide Receivers

For the wide receiver corps, the 2009 season cannot get here fast enough. The Buffs have been poor in offensive production, and the lack of a game-stretching play-maker at wideout has hurt the team. Last season, in fact, the Buffs produced a grand total of one pass play of 40 yards or more in the first 11 games – and that was a 40-yard screen pass to Demetrius Sumler early in the Texas A&M game (the Buffs did have two long pass completions against Nebraska in the finale).No one is more acutely aware of this fact that Marques Simas. An academic casualty the first two seasons, Simas has vowed to put the “extracurricular activities” behind him. Wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau was “very hard” on Simas last fall. “I would never say, ‘Markques, you lost this game for us’ “, said Kiesau, “I just drilled home the point that you’ve got 100 guys on this football team, and you let them down (by being ineligible)”.Kiesau hopes that the return of Markques Simas will light a fire under Josh Smith as well. “If I’m Josh Smith, and I have a walk-on behind me who didn’t earn any scholarships out of high school, there’s no threat there,” explained Kiesau, “but if I’ve got Markques Simas, who was recruited by everybody in the country and everybody knows who he is, I’ve got to work my tail off.” If the competition from Simas (and red-shirt freshman Chance Blackmon) isn’t enough to get the attention of the incumbents, the news this week that the Buffs are actively recruiting another wide receiver to come in this fall certainly should. There are already three receivers, Jarrod Darden, Andre Simmons, and Terdema Ussery, committed to play for Colorado this fall from the 2009 class, but Kiesau, who was promoted to assistant head coach last month (replacing offensive line coach Jeff Grimes in that role), acknowledged this week that CU is continuing to actively pursue another wide out to play for the Buffs this season.What does this all mean? It seems clear that the Buffs seem determined to improve the wide receiver position this fall.It’s about time.

Spring Expectations –

The Buffs averaged 194.0 yards passing last season, 11th-best in the Big 12. Junior Scotty McKnight led the Buffs in 2008 with 46 catches for 519 yards and five touchdowns. Hardly numbers to get excited about (McKnight’s numbers would have been good enough to rank as the sixth-best receiver at Texas Tech in 2008). What makes this all the more troublesome? After McKnight, the Buff receiving numbers fall off the map. Gone are #2 and #3 receivers, Cody Crawford and Patrick Williams. After McKnight and Josh Smith, whose 29 catches ranked him 4th on the squad, you have to go all the way down to the #11 slot to find another wideout (Kendrick Celestine, who had all of five catches last season – and is no longer with the team).So what is there to look forward to in 2009? February signees Ussery, Darden, and Simmons will not be in Boulder until this summer. As to the returning receivers, Scotty McKnight is reliable, and is well-positioned to lead the Buffs in receiving for the third year in a row. Josh Smith will likely be another starter, attempting to make a name for himself on offense after being a record-setter on special teams (Smith had three touchdowns receiving in the non-conference portion of the CU schedule in 2008; but had no receiving touchdowns in Big 12 play).From where, though, is the excitement to come? Two names will receive a great deal of ink this spring: Chance Blackmon and Markques Simas. Blackmon sat out his true freshman year last season after being the top (okay, only) wide receiver recruit in 2008. Blackmon was a three-star recruit out of Tatum, Texas, and CU fans and coaches will be anxious to see if the red-shirt freshman is ready to compete against Big 12 opposition.

The other name you know well. Markques Simas was supposed to play a similar role last spring, but academics kept the sophomore-to-be out of the lineup all of last year. Rumors have surrounded Simas’ name all off-season. Despite the Dan Hawkins quote in January that “We’re very excited about Markques. He had just a great semester in the classroom. He made a huge jump, huge strides”, rumors persisted that Simas would not qualify to play. This week, though, in an interview with Scout.com, Simas indicated that he is ready to go, and just as importantly, eligible to play. “School’s a lot more important to me now,” said Simas. “Right now, I’m just getting it done. I’m shooting for a 3.4 or 3.5 (spring semester)”. What about being ready to play this fall, almost three full years since he last played competitively? “I’m hungry,” said Simas. “I can’t wait for spring ball. I can’t wait to show the fans what I can do.”Okay, Markques. We’ll be watching.That goes for the rest of the offense as well.

Spring Practices, 2009 – Defense and Special Teams 

Defense

Defensive Line

Stats

First Scrimmage –

Will Pericak – 2 tacklesTyler Sale – 2 tacklesEric Lawson – 2 tackles, one sackKevin Cooney – one tackleEugene Goree – one tackleTony Poremba – one tackleTaj Kaynor – blocked kick

Second Scrimmage –

Joe Silipo – 3 tackles

Eugene Goree – 2 tackles

Marquez Herrod – 2 tackles

Will Pericak – one tackle

Tyler Sale – one tackle

Eric Lawson – one tackle

Conrad Obi – one tackle

Spring Game –

Eugene Goree – three tacklesMarkquez Herrod – two tackles

Taj Kaynor – two tackles

Quotes of Note –

– “We’re not going to be the weak link”, the rallying cry this off-season for defensive line coach Romeo Bandison

– “Waiting for my time was really hard to deal with. It definitely bothered me. I’ve had my down times. But my teammates picked me up, and I never stopped learning.” – Senior defensive tackle Taj Kaynor, who has been in for just over 100 plays total in his first three seasons, but who has been one of the pleasant surprises of spring practice.

– “I don’t think it matters how talented you are, you are always concerned when you have a lack of experience. We have a lot of young guys. It is what it is. We have a little more experience at linebacker and in the secondary this year, so hopefully those guys will help us out and compliment us, and maybe make up for some of the mistakes we might make.” – Defensive line coach Romeo Bandison.

Depth Chart

Left Defensive End

Marquez Herrod, Jr.

Tony Poremba, So.

Right Defensive End

Conrad Obi, So., AND

Lagrone Shields, So.

Defensive Tackle

Taj Kaynor, Sr.

Will Pericak, Fr.-RS

(Curtis Cunningham, So., injured)

Nose Tackle

Eugene Goree, So.

Eric Lawson, Jr.

Spring recap.

The “weak link” of the Colorado defense did not do a great deal to dissuade the naysayers this spring. None of the defensive linemen had more than three tackles in any of the scrimmages, and while it is true that the CU defense is structured for the linemen to take up space in order to free up the talented linebackers to make plays, the numbers were undeniably paltry. The main road block lying between the Colorado program and consistent success this fall is the defensive line.

One way to eliminate part of the problem is to eliminate one of the players. With the strength of the defense in the linebacking corps, and with the rise of the vertical game in the pass-happy Big 12 forcing defenses to use more nickel and dime packages, it seems only natural for the Buffs to implement more 3-4 sets. While the Spring depth chart still has Colorado playing a 4-3 base defense, look for the personnel groupings, if not the official depth chart, to remove a defensive tackle in favor of a second outside linebacker.

The good news this spring? Taj Kaynor, laboring in the shadows of George Hypolite and Brandon Nicholas for the past three seasons, is listed at the top of the depth chart at defensive tackle. Kaynor, a senior, has been in just over 100 plays in three seasons (by comparison, George Hypolite was in for 668 plays in 2008 alone), but has been making plays and impressing coaches. Similarly, sophomore nose tackle Eugene Goree has made the most of his first time seeing extensive action. “The game speed at the college level is a whole lot faster, so it has taken me awhile to adjust,” said Goree. “I just have to keep working, because I know when I am out there on the field, I have three other defensive linemen who are working just as hard.”

My take? Another football axiom is that you lose one game for every freshman starter you put on the field. In the Buffs’ case, though, the team may just have to take their chances. The CU defensive line, and, indeed, the entire program, got a boost when Nick Kasa opted out of a trip to Gainesville, and stayed home to play for the Buffs. Kasa could be a starter as early as this fall. Similarly, recruit Edward Nuckols may become a fixture in the defensive line as early as 2009. Look for both to come to camp in Boulder in August, and immediately be tested as potential starters.

Best guess – It’s difficult to project a 4-3 defensive line when the Buffs are likely to play more 3-4 sets. Still, if you have to go with four, it’s hard to dispute the four listed atop the depth chart right now. Herrod and Obi at defensive end; Goree and Kaynor at defensive end. Kaynor’s job is most the most vulnerable, with Will Pericak (another converted tight end), and sophomore Curtis Cunningham (injured this spring), competing with newcomer Edward Nuckols for defensive tackle time. On the end, if Nick Kasa is everything everyone expects him to be, he could be a starter by the time Big 12 play begins.

Linebackers

Stats

First Scrimmage –

Marcus Burton – 9 tackles

Michael Sipili – 5 tackles, two sacks

Jeff Smart – 4 tackles, one sack

Douglas Rippy – 3 tackles

Guy Sergent – 3 tackles

Zackary Farley – two tackles, one sack, blocked punt

B.J. Beatty – two tackles

Shaun Mohler – two tackles

Second Scrimmage –

Michael Sipili – 4 tackles

Shaun Mohler – 4 tackles, one sack

Marcus Burton – 4 tackles

B.J. Beatty – 3 tackles

Jeff Smart – two tackles

Brandon Gouin – forced fumble

Josh Hartigan – blocked punt

Spring Game

Marcus Burton – 8 tackles, 2 sacks

Jeff Smart – 7 tackles

Michael Sipili – 6 tackles

B.J. Beatty – 5 tackles, 2 sacks

Zack Farley – 5 tackles

Shaun Mohler – 5 tackles

Quotes of Note –

– “My focus is just getting back, getting comfortable. I haven’t had a lot of experience in the last year and a half” – Red-shirt freshman linebacker Jon Major, who has been out with a torn ACL since last August.

– “It was very frustrating. It was a learning process. Now it’s a matter of just being mentally and physically prepared for whatever is coming.” – Red-shirt linebacker Douglas Rippy, who was not injured last fall, but was red-shirted nonetheless.

– “We’re going to get to the ballcarrier – get what coach (Ron) Collins calls that ‘slobbering dog mentality’ ” – Junior linebacker B.J. Beatty, on the Buffs moving more to a 3-4 alignment in more situations in 2009.

Depth Chart

Mike (Inside/Middle) Linebacker

Marcus Burton, Sr.

Michael Sipili, Jr.

Will (Inside/Weakside) Linebacker

Jeff Smart, Sr.

Shaun Mohler, Sr.

Sam (Outside/Strongside) Linebacker

B.J. Beatty, Jr.

Douglas Rippy, Fr.-RS

Spring recap. Six players had at least five tackles in the Spring game – all were linebackers. If you had any doubt about the strength of the Colorado defense, you need look no further than that statistic. Senior Marcus Burton had the best game of any defender – picking up a team-high eight tackles (including seven solo, also a team high), two sacks, and a fumble recovery. “I think it’s a blessing to have the opportunities I have,” Burton said. “Coach (Hawkins) was just talking about the improvement we’ve made as far as our mental game. I think that helps us to have more of an impact on defense.”

The other linebacker who has made headlines this spring has been B.J. Beatty. In the Spring game, Beatty had five tackles, including two sacks. With the Buffs initiating the 3-4 as more of its base defense, Beatty will see more playing time. Where does Beatty see himself playing this fall? “A combination of outside linebacker and a little bit down on the line,” Beatty said earlier this spring. His personal goals? “Get better; be a leader on and off the field.”

Between the two of them, though, Marcus Burton and B.J. Beatty have a grand total of one career start (Burton, v. Missouri in 2006). Fortunately, there are others with experience returning. Jeff Smart has 22 career starts; Shaun Mohler 10; and Michael Sipili, 4. These players, along with red-shirt freshmen Douglas Rippy and Jon Major, who will see action for the first time this fall, will be counted on to carry the Colorado defense.

My take? It’s always good to scan down the CU linebacker depth chart and see so many familiar names. However, I do have to admit there was something that gave me pause when I was looking at the Spring depth chart. Always tempted to look ahead, I noted the Buffs will have two senior starters (Smart and Burton) this fall, with backups Shaun Mohler and Bryan Stengel also graduating. A hit, yes, but there are still a number of talented Buffs behind them. The junior corps, much thinner by comparison, is represented by Beatty and Sipili. As a result, if you go three deep at the linebacker position, in two years the Buffs will be down to Jon Major and Douglas Rippy, neither of whom have seen action to date. The loss of Katoa to academics hasn’t hit the depth of the linebackers – yet. Here’s hoping 2009 recruits Liloa Nobriga and Derrick Webb turn out to be keepers.

Best Guess – In anticipation of seeing four linebackers on the field for most of 2009, we’ll go with four starters instead of the three on the current depth chart. Jeff Smart is a no-brainer, and Shaun Mohler will not be kept off the field. Marcus Burton has made his case to be a starter in his senior season, and B.J. Beatty is a play-maker. Look for Rippy and Major to get more and more playing time this fall, but may not, barring injury, become starters until 2010.

Defensive Backs

Stats

First Scrimmage –

Patrick Mahnke – 5 tackles, one sack

Arthur Jaffee – 4 tackles

Bret Smith – 3 tackles

Travis Sandersfield – 3 tackles

Vince Ewing – 3 tackles

Jonathan Hawkins – two tackles

Second Scrimmage –

Patrick Mahnke – 6 tackles

Jimmy Smith – 4 tackles

Travis Sandersfield – 3 tackles

Cha’pelle Brown – 3 tackles

Vince Ewing – 3 tackles

Steven Hicks – two tackles

Anthony Perkins – two tackles

Bret Smith – two tackles

Spring Game –

Vince Ewing – 4 tackles

Arthur Jaffee – 4 tackles

Jimmy Smith – 4 tackles

Patrick Mahnke – two tackles

Travis Sandersfield – two tackles

Quotes of Note –

– “Versatility … I mean that’s got to be the key word in the secondary now. We’re so depleted with injuries, so thinned out. It’s been amazing that guys have been able to step up and play different positions” – defensive backs coach Greg Brown, on the efforts of his players this spring.

– “All of us defensive backs have to come out here and perform every day. A few years ago, I could mess up and I was still going to play on Saturday. But now I constantly have someone who can play behind me. It doesn’t matter how long I’ve been here. I have to work for it” – Senior defensive back Ben Burney, who was out all last season with five surgeries, but will be back to full strength this fall.

Depth Chart

Left Cornerback

Jimmy Smith, Jr.

Jalil Brown, Jr.

(Anthony Wright, So., injured)

Right Cornerback

Benjamin Burney, Sr.

Paul Vigo, Fr.

(Cha’pelle Brown, Sr., illness)

Free Safety

Anthony Perkins, So.

Travis Sandersfield, So.

Strong Safety

Patrick Mahnke, So.

Travis Sandersfield, So.

(Ray Polk, Fr.-RS, injured)

Spring recap. Zero interceptions this spring. None. Zip. Nada. Three scrimmages; no picks. If you saw the spring game, you know there were some opportunities for interceptions, but in each instance the defensive back was not able to take advantage. Overall, Hawkins and Hansen had 14 touchdown passes this spring, with no interceptions.

Cause for panic? While it did appear that sophomore cornerback Arthur Jaffee was being picked on by the Colorado quarterbacks during the Spring game, it is worthy of note that Jaffee is listed as third-string cornerback, behind reconstructed Ben Burney and true freshman Paul Vigo (not to mention returning starter Cha’pelle Brown, who will likely reclaim the top spot this fall). In all, six defensive backs expected to make contributions this fall missed significant parts of spring practice. The good news is that all are expected to be at full strength this fall.

At the cornerback position, an area of concern less than twelve months ago, the Buffs appear to be solid. Cha’pelle Brown will return for his senior season after being an honorable mention Big 12 player last season. Making an impression on the other corner is junior Jimmy Smith. Junior Jalil Brown, sophomores Jonathan Hawkins and Anthony Wright, along the aforementioned senior Ben Burney, give secondary coach Greg Brown a multitude of options.

The safety position was supposed to be a question mark this spring, with the graduation of long-time starters D.J. Dykes and Ryan Walters. Instead, sophomores Anthony Perkins and Patrick Mahnke, both thrust into service late during the 2008 season, have quietly and effectively slid into the positions of starters. One player who did enhance his playing opportunities for the fall is sophomore Travis Sandersfeld, who is currently listed as the primary backup for both safety positions.

My take? I’m still going with the “best ballerina in all of Galveston” theory. Yes, the CU pass defense was the best in the Big 12 last season, but that does not mean that the Buffs were great. All that means is that the Buffs, who were 72nd in the nation overall in pass defense, were the best of a sorry lot of Big 12 secondaries. The loss of the leadership of Dykes and Walters will cause growing pains, but there does seem to be a certain swagger returning to the Colorado secondary. The lack of interceptions this spring has to be seen as an anomaly. Good things are to be expected from this group this fall – and even more in 2010.

Best guess – The safety positions seem to be set, with Patrick Mahnke and Anthony Perkins serving now as returning starters. Similarly, Cha’pelle Brown and Jimmy Smith should be the starters at cornerback come September 5th. There is good, young depth at the cornerback position, though the Buffs remain thin at safety. Sandersfeld needs help (Bret Smith? Vince Ewing? Ray Polk?) for Colorado and its fans to feel comfortable at those positions.

Kicking Game / Special Teams

Stats

First Scrimmage –

K – Aric Goodman – 7-9 FG’s (long of 48; misses from 35 and 38); 6-6 PAT’s

P – Matthew DiLallo – 5 punts, 44.6 yd/aver., one blocked

P – Darrell Scott – 6 punts, 37.0 yd/aver.

PR – Josh Smith – 2 returns, 121 yards

Rodney Stewart – 2 returns, 76 yards

Dustin Ebner – 2 returns, 39 yards

Marion Brown – 2 returns, 10 yards

Second Scrimmage –

K- Aric Goodman – 4-6 FG’s (long of 42; misses from 32 and 38); 0-1 PAT”s

P – Matthew DiLallo – 12 punts, 41.3 yd/aver., one blocked

P- Darrell Scott – 8 punts, 39.9 yd/aver.

KOR -Darrell Scott – 2 returns, 68 yards

Jalil Brown – one return, 25 yards

Kyle Cefalo – one return, 17 yards

Rodney Stewart – one return, 15 yards

PR – Jason Espinoza – 2 returns, 29 yards

Rodney Stewart – one return, minus-three yards

Spring Game –

K- Aric Goodman – 2-2 FG’s (43 and 50 yards)

P – Matthew DiLallo – 5 punts, 36.6 yd/aver.

P – Darrell Scott – one punt, 48 yards

KOR – Josh Smith – two returns, 90 yards

Dustin Ebner – three returns, 41 yards

Darrell Scott – one return, 37 yards

PR – Jason Espinoza – three returns, 10 yards

Josh Smith – one return, 2 yards

Quotes of Note –

– “On one hand, it is frustrating because you are so close. On the other hand, it doesn’t completely shatter your confidence because you are so close” – Junior kicker Aric Goodman, who went 5-for-14 in 2008, with five of his nine misses hitting the upright.

– “I don’t think anyone will know until we are all working together in the same place. I know we all have the same ultimate goal, which is to have CU’s special teams back on top in the Big 12 in 2009? – incoming freshman kicker Zach Grossnickle.

Depth Chart

Kicker

Aric Goodman, Sr.

(Jameson Davis, So., injured)

Punter

Matt DiLallo, Sr.

Darrell Scott, So.

Kickoff Return

Josh Smith, Jr.

Rodney Stewart, So.

Punt Return

Josh Smith, Jr.

Jason Espinoza, So.

Holder

Scotty McKnight, Jr.

Cody Hawkins, Jr.

Long Snapper / Short Snapper

Justin Drescher, Sr.

Austin Bisnow, Jr.

Spring recap. Aric Goodman – re-born or re-tread? In the spring game, the junior kicker hit on both of his field goal attempts, hitting from 43 and 50 yards out (50!). Granted, there was no rush put on the kicks, and the pressure of 11,000 in April is nothing compared to the pressure of proving himself to 50,000 on September 5th, but Goodman did have a good spring overall. In addition to glowing reports from the coaching staff, Goodman did hit on 13-of-17 attempts in the three scrimmages (8-of-9 on PAT’s). Goodman adopted a two-step approach to replace his three-step approach, and, at least so far, the results have been positive. “For all of spring practice, he’s hit about 90 percent of his kicks,” said special teams coach Kent Riddle of Goodman. “He’s been very good when we’re inside the 25-yard line, and that was a huge emphasis for us going in.”

The punting game, though, remains in flux. Senior Matt DiLallo had a decent, but certainly not great, spring practice. And while DiLallo was trying to recapture the successes of earlier in his career, two other potential competitors made all of the headlines. Sophomore running back Darrell Scott got more than just a courtesy look at punter, getting in 15 punt attempts over the course of the three scrimmages (compared to 22 for DiLallo). Scott has a “cannon for a leg”, according to Riddle. Plus, waiting in the wings, to perhaps compete for both kicking jobs, is incoming freshman Zach Grossnickle.

My take? While it’s easy to make light of Goodman’s statistics, his going 13-of-17 this spring beats the snot of him going 4-of-17. While there will be significant pressure on the junior the first time he attempts a field goal this fall (let’s hope it’s late in the CSU game, with the Buffs already possessing a 35-7 lead), Goodman has done everything asked of him this off-season. More disappointing are the numbers of Matt DiLallo. While some of the stats are skewed (the numbers from the second scrimmage, for instance, had to take into account ball hitting the practice bubble), the senior had the opportunity to show that he was not about to relinquish the starting job to a part-time punter or a true freshman, but he has not done so.

As for the return game, it is good to see Josh Smith listed as the #1 kickoff returner and #1 punt returner. I know that last fall Smith groused about how being asked to return kicks was hurting his ability to thrive as a receiver. Here’s hoping that Smith has now embraced his record-setting performance in 2008, and is setting his sights even higher for 2009. “(Smith) does a really good job of playing without fear back there,” said Riddle. “He does a nice job of catching the ball, and then he’s got speed and he’s very lucid in the open field..”

Best guess – Despite all the publicity about Darrell Scott at punter, and all of the celebration at the signing of Zach Grossnickle at kicker, look for DiLallo at punter and Goodman at kicker to start the 2009 season. Will both still be starting in October? Check back with me on that.

Note – below is a week-by-week, unit-by-unit reveiw of the defense in the weeks leading up to the Spring game:

What we were looking for / What we saw – Defensive Line

Players Lost – Maurice Lucas; George Hypolite; Brandon Nicholas; Jason Brace; Drew Hudgins

Lettermen Returning – Conrad Obi (So.); Curtis Cunningham (So.); Eugene Goree (So.); Marquez Herrod (Jr.); Lagrone Shields (So.); Taj Kaynor (Sr.); Eric Lawson (Jr.)

Others Returning in 2009 – Tyler Sale (Sr.); Will Pericak (R-Fr.); Kevin Cooney (So.); Tony Poremba (So)

New in 2009 – Nick Kasa (Fr.); Edward Nuckols (Fr.); Nate Bonsu (Fr.); J. Forrest West (Fr.)

Week Three Update – Defensive Line

Week Three Update – Defensive Line

Prior to this spring, you would be forgiven if you were not familiar with the name Taj Kaynor. After all, the senior-to-be had not exactly made a huge impression on the field. In for just over 100 plays over three years (including just 20 last season – two tackles), Kaynor labored behind defensive tackle starters Brandon Nicholas and George Hypolite.With four new, highly-rated defensive line recruits on their way to Boulder this fall, Kaynor is making an impression this spring. “Waiting for my time was really hard to deal with,” said Kaynor. “It definitely bothered me. I’ve had my down times. But my teammates picked me up, and I never stopped learning.” Kaynor blocked a field goal attempt in the first scrimmage, and has been a name dropped by Dan Hawkins in several of his post-scrimmage press conferences this week. “It’s been tough on Taj the last couple of years,” said Dan Hawkins. “We’re asking a lot of him and we’re pushing him. It’s showing up. He’s making a lot of plays.” As for the rest of the defensive line, sophomore Eugene Goree, junior Marquez Herrod, and red-shirt freshman Will Pericak have received the most positive press. Pericak, you will remember, was in attendance at many of the practices last spring. The Boulder high graduate didn’t have to travel far to watch the practices, and get some insight as to how best to prepare – for being a tight end. It wasn’t until last fall that the coaches switched Pericak to the defensive line, and now the freshman may be in line for some playing time.Between Kaynor, Goree, Herrod, Pericak and sophomore Curtis Cunningham, who saw playing time last fall but has been limited due to injury this spring, the Buffs are creating a solid nucleus of talent in the defensive line. Still, due to a lack of experience in the group, the Buffs have been playing 3-4 sets for most of the spring.

Second Week Update – Defensive line  First scrimmage – April 11th.

What was bad news for the offensive line at the first scrimmage (93 yards on 30 carries, one touchdown), had to be seen as good news for the defensive line. Yes, the Buffs did have inexperienced players on the offensive line (sophomore guards Ethan Adkins and Sione Tau, neither expected to be starters this fall, played with the first team at the scrimmage), but there still had to be some quiet optimism about how well the defensive line fared.Six players are vying for playing time to replace George Hypolite and Brandon Nicholas at the tackle positions. Between the six, they have played a total of 365 snaps as Buffs. Not a bad total, until you realize that between them, Hypolite and Nicholas were in for 4,148 snaps in their CU careers.Red-shirt senior Taj Kaynor has seen more playing time than ever before. “Don’t count out Taj. So far he has been the surprise of the spring,” said defensive line coach Romeo Bandison. “He is showing up a lot, making some plays. He hasn’t played a whole lot but he is starting to come around. So that is good to see.” For his part, Kaynor, who blocked a field goal attempt at the first scrimmage, wants to take advantage of the opportunity. “This is my last year and I really want to leave a mark, so I do feel a sense of urgency,” said Kaynor. “I feel that every snap … I want to be a force on the defensive line.” Another player making an impression this spring is converted tight end Will Pericak. The red-shirt freshman sat out last fall, learning the position. Now, he is ready to contribute. “He just needs reps,” said Bandison of Pericak. “He is improving everyday.”Overall, while the defensive line renews itself (four recruits coming this fall), Bandison is hoping for patience from the CU faithful. “I don’t think it matters how talented you are, you are always concerned when you have a lack of experience,” said Bandison. “We have a lot of young guys. It is what it is. We have a little more experience at linebacker and in the secondary this year, so hopefully those guys will help us out and compliment us, and maybe make up for some of the mistakes we might make.”First Week Update – Defensive Line

If a unit can be “much-maligned” after only three practices, it would be the defensive line. Perhaps a result of the beefed up offensive line; perhaps due to a lack of starting experience in the lineup; or perhaps just a self-fulfilling prophecy – the defensive line has been subject to most of the negative press this week.For their part, the defensive linemen are not concerned. “Everybody’s really happy; everybody’s ready to go,” said sophomore Conrad Obi, who was in for only 12 plays all of 2008. Obi, who came to Boulder weighing in at 245 pounds, is up to 265. “I want to do really well,” said Obi, “break everyone’s expectations.”Defensive line coach Romeo Bandison is putting on a positive face, at least for now. “I trust these guys and I believe in these guys,” said Bandison of the returning defensive tackles expecting to see the most playing time this spring, including senior Taj Kaynor, junior Eric Lawson, sophomores Curtis Cunningham and Eugene Goree, and red-shirt freshman Will Pericak. “They are nothing like Brandon (Nicholas) or George (Hypolite). So we’re going to be a different defense, but I think those guys can handle it. They can step up and do the job.” If this group cannot handle the job, there are recruits who may be expected to contribute as true freshmen this fall. For his part, defensive tackle recruit Edward Nuckols, when asked about playing this fall by BuffaloSportsNews.net, responded, “They (the CU coaches) said I definitely won’t be red-shirting and will probably be going in with some of the returnees and playing with (fellow freshman defensive tackle recruit) Nate Bonsu.”Regardless of the previous number of letters won by the defensive line starters this fall, the new starters will be inexperienced. How quickly this unit develops into a quality group will go a long way in determining the number of wins the Buffs rack up this fall.With three senior starters gone, there is no area on the Colorado football team which will see more attention from the coaches than the defensive line. Hypolite, Lucas, and Nicholas combined for 94 starts in their CU careers. Theirs are some pretty large shoes to fill.

Of those returning, junior defensive end Marquez Herrod has the most experience. Herrod started the final four games of the 2008 season, and has more career tackles than any other returning lineman (of course, this must come with an asterisk. Herrod had only 14 total tackles in 2008 – the 17th-best total on the team). Also expected to see a great deal of playing time at defensive end this spring is sophomore Conrad Obi. The sophomore from Grayson, Georgia, was in for only 12 plays in all of 2008.In the interior, the players likely to get the most repetitions this spring are sophomores Eugene Goree and Curtis Cunningham. Cunningham played in all 12 games in 2008, though for only about 12 plays per game. Goree saw action in ten games, recording three tackles in 89 snaps.

The only other defensive lineman you will hear about this spring who will likely see action this fall is red-shirt freshman Will Pericak. You may recall that Pericak was recruited out of Boulder High as a tight end, but was switched to the defensive side of the ball during his true freshman year last fall.Sounds pretty bleak, doesn’t it? Perhaps there is a reason that there is much discussion about the Buffs playing more 3-4 defense than in the past, so as to take advantage of the plethora of talented linebackers Colorado can put onto the field of play. Such a switch would not really be too much of a stretch for the CU players, as the Buffs played with three lineman for a good portion of 2008 due to the wide open nature of the pass-happy offenses in the Big 12 ( In fact, one of the reasons Marquez Herrod didn’t get credit for “starting” more games in 2008 is that defensive back Jalil Brown was on the field as a nickel back to open the game seven times).One other factor to keep in the back of your mind if frustration builds this spring concerning the defensive line: Help is on the way. No fewer than four defensive line recruits, including highly regarded Nick Kasa and Edward Nuckols, will hit Boulder this summer.

What we were looking for / What we saw – Linebackers

Player Lost – Brad Jones Lettermen Returning – Jeff Smart (Sr.); Shaun Mohler (Sr.); Marcus Burton (Sr.); Bryan Stengel (Sr.); B.J. Beatty (Jr.); Josh Hartigan (So.); Tyler Ahles (So.);

Others Returning in 2009 – Michael Sipili (Jr.); Brandon Goulin (So.); David Goldberg (Jr.); Jon Major (R-Fr.); Lynn Katoa (R-Fr.); Douglas Rippy (R-Fr.); Guy Sergent (R-Fr.)

New in 2009 – Liloa Nobriga (Fr.); Derrick Webb (Fr.)

Week Three Update – Linebackers

The second scrimmage was “won” by the defense, with the linebackers leading the way. “I thought the ‘backers ran around and were physical out there,” said defensive coordinator Ron Collins after the Friday scrimmage. After challenging the defense to play with more intensity after surrendering over 600 yards of total offense in the first scrimmage, the CU defense came through.The first points of the second scrimmage came from the defense, when junior linebacker Michael Sipili tackled Darrell Scott in the endzone for a safety. Sipili, who had four tackles on the afternoon, was singled out for praise by Collins, as were red-shirt freshman Doug Rippy, junior B.J. Beatty, and senior Marcus Burton. For a unit which has been the strength of the defense for some time, it has been a relatively quiet spring. Based upon reports before the spring practices were closed to the public, it looks as if linebackers B.J. Beatty and Doug Rippy will be used to help the defensive line put pressure on the quarterback from the rush end position, much like Brad Jones did last season when he led the team with seven sacks. If the CSU game was next week, you would likely see Marcus Burton starting in the middle, Jeff Smart at the Will position, and Beatty on the outside. Still, Shaun Mohler is pushing Smart for playing time, and Rippy is rotating with Beatty.This is not even giving mention to Jon Major, still recovering from knee surgery, senior Bryan Stengal, and sophomore Tyler Ahles, all of whom will vie for time with the starters this spring before recruits Derrick Webb and Liloa Nobriga come in this fall.Linebackers coach Brian Cabral has developed a deep and talented pool of linebackers, even without ever getting to see highly recruited Lynn Katoa on the field. The stockpile will be tested this fall, though, as the Buff linebackers are asked to cover for a thin and inexperienced defensive line.

Second Week Update – Linebackers

First scrimmage – April 11th.

Glass half full: the Colorado defense shut down the offensive rushing attack. Glass half empty: the Colorado defense could not stop the offensive passing attack, and were particularly vulnerable to passes to the tight ends, usually the responsibility of a linebacker. Senior linebacker Jeff Smart was not discouraged. “It went well,” Smart said after the scrimmage. “The offense threw in a few things we haven’t seen in practice, but for the most part it went well.” Senior linebacker Marcus Burton led all defenders with nine tackles, while junior linebacker Michael Sipili contributed five tackles and two sacks.For the 2009 season to go “well”, though, it will largely be up to the linebackers to make that happen. With an inexperienced line, Colorado has been playing a great deal of 3-4 defense, in order to get another talented linebacker on the field to help off-set personnel deficiencies on the line. To compliment the experience of seniors Jeff Smart, Marcus Burton, and Bryan Stengel, along with juniors Michael Sipili and B.J. Beatty, members of the recruiting class of 2008 are ready to make their marks.Shaun Mohler, a junior college transfer, saw action last season, as is projected as a starter this fall.Two talented freshmen, Douglas Rippy and Jon Major, will make their debuts in 2009. Major, who may have played last season, tore his ACL last August and was out for the year. “My focus is just getting back, getting comfortable,” said Major, who had his blue jersey (injured/no contact) removed just this week. “I haven’t had a lot of experience in the last year and a half.” Rippy, for his part, could have played, but was red-shirted nonetheless. “It was very frustrating. It was a learning process,” said Rippy of 2008. “Now it’s a matter of just being mentally and physically prepared for whatever is coming.”

The fourth member of the talented linebacker corps from 2008, Lynn Katoa, will not be seeing action as a Buff. It was announced this week, almost as an after-thought, that Katoa had left the program. Embroiled in legal difficulties after enrolling early last spring, Katoa never achieved eligibility academically, even though his legal issues had been resolved. Listed as “Not Practicing / Spring” on the spring football roster, Katoa was not expected to be eligible to participate with the team until the spring of 2010, if ever. Then, this week, without further comment, it was confirmed that Katoa will not be returning to the team.Katoa was a much more heralded recruit than either wide receiver Chance Blackmon or quarterback Matt Ballenger, but his removal from the team roster was far less shocking. As a result, the announcement of the third vacancy on the CU roster this week received far less fanfare.

First Week Update – Linebackers

First, there is the elephant in the room bearing the name of Lynn Katoa. The story of the heralded recruit from the 2008 recruiting class has been well chronicled. Held out last spring due to off-field incidents, Katoa was academically ineligible to participate last fall, and is again ineligible this spring. Fact is, the widely held consensus now is that it is unlikely that Katoa will ever see the field in a Buff uniform.For those linebackers who are on the field this spring, there are many opportunities to shine. With the implementation of more 3-4 sets, the plethora of linebacker talent can be utilized. Getting a great deal of attention this first week is junior linebacker B.J. Beatty, heir apparent to the one starter lost from last season, Brad Jones. Beatty was making a push for more playing time last August, but a fractured fibula in his left leg kept him out of four games early on. Where does Beatty see himself contributing? “A combination of outside linebacker and a little bit down on the line,” Beatty told Scout.com. His personal goals? “Get better; be a leader on and off the field.” Linebacker coach and assistant head coach Brian Cabral, even with the loss of Katoa, is not lacking for options.

Back are senior Jeff Smart and junior Shaun Mohler, #1 and #2 on the tackle charts from 2008. Also likely to see a great deal of playing time as spring practice develops are junior Michael Sipili, senior Marcus Burton, and red-shirt freshman Douglas Rippy. One name you will not hear much about this spring who may be a major contributor this fall is red-shirt freshman Jon Major, who participation is limited this spring due to off-season knee surgery. Those who are out there getting the playing time in the Buffs’ 3-4 sets better have, as B.J. Beatty put it, “an attack mentality”. Said Beatty, “We’re going to get to the ballcarrier – get what coach Collins calls that ‘slobbering dog mentality’ “.A good showing from the linebackers will certainly help hide deficiencies on the line ….

First, the bad news. It appears that highly touted linebacker prospect Lynn Katoa will not be on the field this spring. Katoa, a five-star recruit in 2008, enrolled early so he could be available for spring practice last season, but was later arrested and charged with second degree assault. Katoa agreed to a deferred sentence in July, and would have been eligible to participate last fall if he had been academically eligible.This spring, while Katoa has reportedly kept out of trouble off the field, he is apparently not much closer to qualifying academically. It is being reported in the Daily Camera and In Denver Times that Katoa did poorly in the classroom this past fall, and it is unlikely that he can make up enough ground academically to be eligible for the fall campaign. “We’re helping him prioritize his life right now,” Dan Hawkins told B.G. Brooks, formerly of the Rocky Mountain News. When asked if Katoa would play this spring, Hawkins replied, “doubtful”.

So, where’s the good news? Fortunately, the Colorado Buffaloes never seem to have a shortage of quality linebackers. Gone from the 2008 squad is Brad Jones, but the other two starters from 2008, seniors Jeff Smart and Shaun Mohler, return. Jeff Smart led the team in tackles last season (4th in the Big 12), while Mohler was second on the team in that category. Jones and Smart lead a quartet of senior linebackers into the 2009 season, with Marcus Burton and Byron Stengel also back for their final campaigns.The best bet to replace Brad Jones in the starting lineup is junior B.J. Beatty. Beatty missed four of the first five games of 2008 with a fractured fibula, but played in the final seven games of the season. Other candidates for significant playing time who have game experience are junior Michael Sipili and sophomore Josh Hartigan. Two names from the 2008 recruiting season not named Katoa are Douglas Rippy and Jon Major. While not as well publicized as Lynn Katoa, both red-shirt freshman were highly recruited. Major tore an ACL last fall, but will be back for at least limited duty this spring, and should be ready to go full speed this fall. A “Full Go” for this spring will be Doug Rippy. Rippy told Scout.com that red-shirting in 2008 “turned out to be a good, positive, thing”, giving the freshman more time to learn the playbook and CU’s defensive schemes. As to the Buffs playing more 3-4 this fall, Rippy said that such a move will only enhance his chances to play. “I love rushing the passer”, he said. If that means that he is moved to defensive end? “Wherever the coaches want me to play, I’ll play.” Regardless of position, Rippy expects to have an impact. “Keep working hard and stay humble,” says Rippy of his plans. “I definitely look forward to playing this fall.”This summer, 2009 recruits Liloa Nobriga and Derrick Webb will hit the Boulder campus. However, with entrenched senior starters, and a number of quality backups, it does not seem likely that either will be asked to play as a true freshman. Look for spring practice to be an opportunity for Beatty to assert himself as the third starter, with Sipili, Hartigan, Major and Rippy positioning themselves to be quality contributors in 2009, and starters in 2010.

What we were looking for / What we saw – Secondary

Players Lost – Ryan Walters, D.J. Dykes, Gardner McKay, Joel AdamsLettermen Returning – Benjamin Burney (Sr.); Cha’pelle Brown (Sr.); Jalil Brown (Jr.); Jimmy Smith (Jr.); Anthony Wright (So.); Anthony Perkins (So.); Patrick Mahnke (So.); Jonathan Hawkins (So.); Travis Sandersfield (So.);

Others Returning in 2009 – Bret Smith (Jr.); Matt Meyer (So.); Stephen Hicks (R-Fr.); Vince Ewing (R-Fr.); Paul Vigo (R-Fr.); Ray Polk (R-Fr.)

New in 2009 – Parker Orms (Fr.); Deji Olatoye (Fr.)

Week Three Update – Secondary

The Buffs’ secondary, the best in the Big 12 last season, has been a patchwork this spring. While thankfully there have been no serious injuries, the CU defensive backs have been far from full strength.Tops on the M*A*S*H roll-call this week was Cha’pelle Brown. The senior cornerback, who has played in every game in his CU career (37 to date), has been limited this spring after contracting giardia this off-season. The illness, contracted by eating contaminated food or drinking tainted water, has caused Brown to lose a significant amount of weight. “I’ve got a long way to go, but I’m all right,” said Brown, who said he has no idea how he contracted the disease. “I’ve got a lot of weight to gain back and get healthy.” Cha’pelle Brown is not the only defensive back limited this spring. This week Jonathan Hawkins and Jalil Brown returned to action after sitting out much of the first two weeks. Anthony Wright has missed all of spring ball after suffering a partially torn ACL, while Paul Vigo pulled a hamstring on the first day of practice, and is just now getting back into the rotation. Finally, there is Ben Burney (“Bionic Ben”) is limited this spring as he continues to rehab from his five surgeries in the past year.Still, defensive backs coach Greg Brown is pleased with the efforts of his unit. “Versatility … I mean that’s got to be the key word in the secondary now,” Brown told INDenverTimes.com. “We’re so depleted with injuries, so thinned out. It’s been amazing that guys have been able to step up and play different positions.”

Brown singled out sophomore safety Patrick Mahnke, who led the team with six tackles in the second scrimmage, as an example of how well the defensive backs have adjusted. “Mahnke spent two solid days as a starting corner and did a heck of a job,” said Brown of the player expected to start at safety this fall. “I’m really proud of our guys playing different positions.”Overall, coach Brown is not concerned. “We like the guys we’ve got,” said Brown. “We obviously haven’t arrived yet. We’re right in the middle of learning and creating some chemistry … We’re just in the process of getting to know each other and how we’re going to play.”

Second Week Update – Secondary

First scrimmage – April 11th.

The best secondary in the Big 12 in 2008 returned, if only for one morning, to the form of earlier seasons. Between them, Cody Hawkins and Tyler Hansen hit on 31-of-51 passes for 535 yards and ten touchdowns. Yuck. In their defense, most of the players who will be on the field against Colorado State were on the Folsom Field sideline for the first scrimmage. Missing in action, for a variety of (minor) injuries, were cornerbacks Ben Burney, Jalil Brown, Cha’pelle Brown, Anthony Wright, and Jonathan Hawkins.While there is concern about how the first scrimmage unfolded, CU defensive backs coach Greg Brown is not concerned about the defensive backfield overall. “We’ve got some players back who have proven themselves on the field as good players,” said Brown. “We have some good depth and we feel like we’re on track to be leaders on defense and that we should wear that mantle with pride.”Replacing both starting safeties is the primary focus of the spring. Sophomores Anthony Perkins and Patrick Mahnke were on the field for the finale against Nebraska, replacing injured senior starters Ryan Walters and D.J. Dykes, and are the front-runners for the starting jobs. “(Perkins) is smart,” said Brown. “He’s a heads-up player, he has ball skills. He knows what he’s doing and he’ll tackle”. As for Perkins’ backfield mate, Greg Brown said, “A big smile comes to my face when we talk about Pat Mahnke. He was a true freshman last year; we didn’t have the luxury of red-shirting him. He can make big plays. He’s smart, he’s tough, and he still has three more years of eligibility.” Mahnke had five tackles and a sack at the first scrimmage.Two players who will not get much ink this spring, but who will be in the mix this fall, are freshmen Paul Vigo and Ray Polk. Both will practice at safety, but took odd roads getting to the defensive practice fields. Vigo was a 2008 recruit, but was a “grey-shirt”, delaying enrollment until this January. This gives Vigo five years to play four, starting this fall. Ray Polk, a heralded 2008 running back recruit, has switched to safety, but is sitting out this spring after enduring surgeries on both shoulders.

First Week Update – Secondary

The feel good story in the secondary from the first week of spring practice has to be the return of senior cornerback Ben Burney. As a junior in 2007, Burney led the team in defensive snaps, being in on 796 snaps and recording 55 tackles. Starting right after the end of the 2007 season, though, Burney endured no fewer than five surgeries (both shoulders, a knee, and both wrists) to get back on the field for his senior season. Burney will not get many headlines come scrimmage time this spring. “I will be held back a little bit. I’m not going to be hitting,” said Burney. “But it just feels great to be out here.”Despite Burney’s resume, he is not guaranteed a starting spot upon his return to full duty this fall. Senior Cha’pelle Brown and junior Jalil Brown saw the most playing time in 2008, with junior Jimmy Smith and sophomore Jonathan Hawkins also in the mix (sophomore Anthony Wright will not be participating for much of the spring after spraining his knee “jumping a fence” – I’ll leave the speculating to you). This week a number of back up players saw playing time as potential starters sat out for various reasons – Cha’pelle Brown did not participate much in week one due to a stomach virus; Jalil Brown is limited in his participation as he recovers from off-season shoulder surgery; and freshman Paul Vigo sat out much of the first week nursing a hamstring injury.While the cornerback situation sorts itself out, the Buffs are looking for two new safeties this spring. Sophomores Anthony Perkins and Patrick Mahnke have the most playing experience, and are performing well (a hit Mahnke put on Speedy Stewart on a screen pass this week turned some heads). Sophomore Travis Sandersfield, who played mostly special teams last fall, has also been noticed.One player who will not get a mention this spring, but who is noteworthy nonetheless, is former running back Ray Polk. The red-shirt freshman will be sitting out this spring after undergoing surgeries on both shoulders.The good news about the secondary is that, a year removed from being the weak link on the team, the unit is well-stocked. “All of us defensive backs have to come out here and perform every day,” Burney told BuffStampede.com. “A few years ago, I could mess up and I was still going to play on Saturday. But now I constantly have someone who can play behind me. It doesn’t matter how long I’ve been here. I have to work for it.”

Well, are you a “glass half full” kind of fan, or a “glass half empty”?

If you prefer looking at the Colorado secondary from the optimist’s point-of-view, you can note that the Buffs’ defensive backfield, seen as a liability heading into the 2008 season, was the best in the Big 12 at defending the pass. The downside? Nationally, the Buffs, giving up 215.33 yards/game, were ranked 72nd.Glass half-full – the CU secondary is loaded with quality young talent at the corners.Glass half-empty – the Buffs lose two safeties, Ryan Walters and D.J. Dykes, who had 54 career starts between them. Colorado also loses cornerback Gardner McKay, who had 12 career starts, including ten in 2008.At cornerback in 2009, the Buffs will likely turn to senior Cha’pelle Brown and junior Jalil Brown, two players who saw most of the playing time in 2008 amongst the cornerbacks. Cha’pelle Brown, according to defensive backs coach Greg Brown and defensive technical intern Ashley Ambrose, has “NFL potential”. That does not mean that there will not be intrigue this spring at the cornerback position, however (especially with Jalil Brown, recovering from off-season shoulder surgery, listed as “Limited” for spring drills).One back who will receive a great deal of attention will be senior Ben Burney. Burney, who has 36 games (including 15 starts) to his resume, sat out all of 2008 while undergoing through no fewer than five off-season surgeries (for those keeping score, that would be both shoulders, both wrists, and a knee). Burney is listed as a “Full Go” for spring practice, but Burney knows he is still making his way back. “Knowing I’m only at 80 percent right now makes me really confident for when summer comes and I do have all my muscles back and I have all my speed,” Burney told the Daily Camera. “Basically, my body wasn’t made for football, but after getting all these staples and sutures and stuff in me, I’m now made to play football.” Burney has played both cornerback and safety in his CU career, so the story to follow over the next few months is where Burney sees most of his playing time.

Also in the mix at cornerback this spring will be junior Jimmy Smith and sophomore Jonathan Hawkins. One player, though, who should have been vying for playing time who will have to wait until fall is sophomore Anthony Wright. Wright reportedly sprained an MCL and partially tore an ACL just recently, and will miss spring practice.At safety, there are a number of players to keep an eye on over the next month. Sophomore Anthony Perkins started the final two games of 2008 at safety in place of the injured D.J. Dykes. Fellow sophomore Patrick Mahnke made his first career start in the season finale against Nebraska when Ryan Walters was unable to play. Based upon how 2008 ended, Perkins and Mahnke will likely be on the first team this spring. Other names which will receive plenty of ink as the safety positions get settled include three freshmen. Two are red-shirts – Vince Ewing and the converted running back Ray Polk. The other newbie is technically a true freshman. Paul Vigo was recruited as part of the 2008 class, but was a grey-shirt, sitting out this past fall and enrolling at CU this spring. Vigo remains a true freshman, with five years to play four.

What we were looking for / What we saw – Kicking Game / Special Teams

Player Lost – Tom Suazo (P)

Lettermen Returning – Matthew DiLallo (P – Sr.); Aric Goodman (K – Jr.); Jameson Davis (K-So.); Justin Drescher (SN – Sr.); Josh Smith (KR – Jr.); Jason Espinoza (KR – So.); Demetrius Sumler (KR – Jr.)

Others Returning in 2009 – Austin Bisnow (SN – Jr.)

New in 2009 – Zach Grossnickle (K/P – Fr.)

Week Three Update – Kicking Game / Special Teams Bad weather forced the Buffs into the bubble for the second scrimmage. Illness and injuries cut the scrimmage short. As a result, the “situational scrimmage” did not have the usual statistics. In the area of special teams, however, there was more than usual to chew on. Case in point: the Buffs ran only 65 plays from scrimmage – but ran 20 punts. Matt DiLallo punted 12 times for a 41.3 yard average (long of 55 yards), while Darrell Scott punted eight times for an average of 39.9 (long of 52). Should we take these stats with a grain of salt? Of course, especially when you figure in that some numbers aren’t accurate (how often will you see a stat sheet with a disclaimer: “estimated punt distances that hit bubble ceiling”?). Still, it is significant that Darrell Scott is getting a good number of punt attempts. If Scott can be seen as a legitimate threat at punter, it will force CU opponents to spend more practice time preparing for the Buffs’ special teams, as Scott would clearly be a threat to take off on a fake punt at any time. At the bare minimum, having Scott practice gives DiLallo, who has fallen off the past two seasons after a promising freshman campaign, some spring competition to keep him sharp.

Are there any special team numbers of value from this week? Yes, Darrell Scott had two kickoff returns – one of 36 yards; the other for 32. Jason Espinoza had a 27 yard punt return. And Rodney Stewart was running with the special teams as well, recording both a punt and kickoff return. These are names to keep in mind should Josh Smith not be available at any time this fall (as was the case for the second scrimmage).

As for the weekly Aric Goodman watch – there are mixed numbers. Not only are there positives and negatives for Goodman from the second scrimmage – there are contradictory numbers. On the official CU stats sheet, it shows that Goodman connected on four-of-six field goal attempts. A look at the numbers, though, show he was successful from 38, 42, and 33 yards, and missed from 32, 38, and 33 – or three of six. Equally contradictory are the PAT stats. Goodman is listed as being 0-1 in the stats, but in the scoring summary it shows that he was 1-3 (either number is not good. PAT conversions should run in the 90’s).For his part, Goodman remains confident. Despite going 5-for-14 in 2008, including a stretch of eight straight misses, the junior kicker looks to the bright side. Goodman did make his last two attempts of the season, and, of the nine misses, five hit the goal post and one was blocked. “On one hand, it is frustrating because you are so close,” said Goodman. “On the other hand, it doesn’t completely shatter your confidence because you are so close.”Changing to a two-step approach this spring seems to have helped, at least in the area of Goodman’s confidence. “When I go out there to kick, I think I am going to make it,” said Goodman. “I haven’t hit an upright yet this spring, so that’s good.”Goodman concluded, “Hopefully, I didn’t just jinx myself”.We hope so too, Aric.

Second Week Update – Special Teams

First Scrimmage – April 11th.

Junior kicker Aric Goodman continued his fine work this spring, connecting on either six-of-nine or seven-of-nine field goal attempts (depending on which account you read), including a 48-yarder. Goodman, who has shortened his approach from three steps to two steps, is pleased with his work to date. “It’s a confidence and a comfort thing”, said Goodman after the scrimmage. “Everything seems to be slowing down for me now. I’m just feeling better all the way around.” As for the punting game, Matt DiLallo had five punts for an average of 44.6 yards/kick, while Darrell Scott had six punts for an average of 37.0 yards.While Aric Goodman’s kicking has been a positive throughout much of the spring, many are still expecting him to be supplanted as kicker this fall, In addition to the return of Jameson Davis, out this spring with knee surgery, Goodman will compete with 2009 recruit Zach Grossnickle. “Summer school starts the first week of June, and I’ll be moved up to the dorms and moved in by then,” said Grossnickle. The senior at East high in Denver has attended several spring practices. “I”ve been kicking some every week,” said Grossnickle, “but it will feel good to get into a regular routine and work with the other guys.”Grossnickle is gracious when asked about starting this fall. “I don’t think anyone will know until we are all working together in the same place,” said Grossnickle. “I know we all have the same ultimate goal, which is to have CU’s special teams back on top in the Big 12 in 2009.”For the Buffs to get to the top of the Big 12, there is still some work to do. One last glass half full / glass half empty statistic from the April 11th scrimmage: Kick returner Josh Smith, who set numerous return records last season, returned two kickoffs for 121 yards on Saturday – a 60.5 yards per return average. A great stat – or a scary one?Time, and more practices, will tell.

First Week Update – Kicking Game / Special Teams

Okay, so it’s grimace time. The totals from 2008 will stick with Buff fans (6-17 on field goal attempts) until September. Zach Grossnickle’s presence is still months away, and Jameson Davis (1-3 in ‘08) is sidelined with knee surgery. So, how’s the Buffs’ only scholarship kicker available this spring, Aric Goodman (5-14), doing? Fine. Thanks for asking. According to Kyle Ringo’s report at BuffaloSportsNews, Goodman has been “money” in practice, hitting on “probably 90 percent of his kicks so far.” Goodman has adopted a two-step approach which seems to be working for him.Yes, it’s only spring practice, and the Buffs haven’t even been outside the bubble yet. Still, a report that Goodman is making 90 percent of his practice kicks is certainly better than a report that he is setting records for hitting practice field goal posts …The interesting news from special teams this week involves a former high school punter, one Darrell Scott. The sophomore running back has been practicing withe the punting unit, utilizing a rugby-style approach (three linebackers in front, taking a few steps to the side before kicking). With Scott’s running abilities, lining him up at punter creates a whole new world of possibilities for the Buffs. Even if Scott’s presence on the field only serves to force opponents out of their normal punt return patterns, requiring them to use a more straight up defense, the formation will work to the Buffs’ advantage.The other special teams news of the week also involves player position moves. Offensive guard Ryan Miller (6’8″, 280) and offensive tackle Nate Solder (6’9″, 300) have been placed on the kick blocking unit. The move already seems to being playing dividends, as Miller bull-rushed his way to a blocked field goal attempt at Friday’s practice.Week one of Spring Practice, 2009, was, according to Dan Hawkins, “about the best first week we’ve had. They’re running around great, their attitude is great, the camaraderie was good.”

—–

Week Three Update – Defensive LinePrior to this spring, you would be forgiven if you were not familiar with the name Taj Kaynor. After all, the senior-to-be had not exactly made a huge impression on the field. In for just over 100 plays over three years (including just 20 last season – two tackles), Kaynor labored behind defensive tackle starters Brandon Nicholas and George Hypolite.With four new, highly-rated defensive line recruits on their way to Boulder this fall, Kaynor is making an impression this spring. “Waiting for my time was really hard to deal with,” said Kaynor. “It definitely bothered me. I’ve had my down times. But my teammates picked me up, and I never stopped learning.” Kaynor blocked a field goal attempt in the first scrimmage, and has been a name dropped by Dan Hawkins in several of his post-scrimmage press conferences this week. “It’s been tough on Taj the last couple of years,” said Dan Hawkins. “We’re asking a lot of him and we’re pushing him. It’s showing up. He’s making a lot of plays.” As for the rest of the defensive line, sophomore Eugene Goree, junior Marquez Herrod, and red-shirt freshman Will Pericak have received the most positive press. Pericak, you will remember, was in attendance at many of the practices last spring. The Boulder high graduate didn’t have to travel far to watch the practices, and get some insight as to how best to prepare – for being a tight end. It wasn’t until last fall that the coaches switched Pericak to the defensive line, and now the freshman may be in line for some playing time.Between Kaynor, Goree, Herrod, Pericak and sophomore Curtis Cunningham, who saw playing time last fall but has been limited due to injury this spring, the Buffs are creating a solid nucleus of talent in the defensive line. Still, due to a lack of experience in the group, the Buffs have been playing 3-4 sets for most of the spring.Second Week Update – Defensive line  First scrimmage – April 11th.What was bad news for the offensive line at the first scrimmage (93 yards on 30 carries, one touchdown), had to be seen as good news for the defensive line. Yes, the Buffs did have inexperienced players on the offensive line (sophomore guards Ethan Adkins and Sione Tau, neither expected to be starters this fall, played with the first team at the scrimmage), but there still had to be some quiet optimism about how well the defensive line fared.Six players are vying for playing time to replace George Hypolite and Brandon Nicholas at the tackle positions. Between the six, they have played a total of 365 snaps as Buffs. Not a bad total, until you realize that between them, Hypolite and Nicholas were in for 4,148 snaps in their CU careers.Red-shirt senior Taj Kaynor has seen more playing time than ever before. “Don’t count out Taj. So far he has been the surprise of the spring,” said defensive line coach Romeo Bandison. “He is showing up a lot, making some plays. He hasn’t played a whole lot but he is starting to come around. So that is good to see.” For his part, Kaynor, who blocked a field goal attempt at the first scrimmage, wants to take advantage of the opportunity. “This is my last year and I really want to leave a mark, so I do feel a sense of urgency,” said Kaynor. “I feel that every snap … I want to be a force on the defensive line.” Another player making an impression this spring is converted tight end Will Pericak. The red-shirt freshman sat out last fall, learning the position. Now, he is ready to contribute. “He just needs reps,” said Bandison of Pericak. “He is improving everyday.”Overall, while the defensive line renews itself (four recruits coming this fall), Bandison is hoping for patience from the CU faithful. “I don’t think it matters how talented you are, you are always concerned when you have a lack of experience,” said Bandison. “We have a lot of young guys. It is what it is. We have a little more experience at linebacker and in the secondary this year, so hopefully those guys will help us out and compliment us, and maybe make up for some of the mistakes we might make.”First Week Update – Defensive LineIf a unit can be “much-maligned” after only three practices, it would be the defensive line. Perhaps a result of the beefed up offensive line; perhaps due to a lack of starting experience in the lineup; or perhaps just a self-fulfilling prophecy – the defensive line has been subject to most of the negative press this week.For their part, the defensive linemen are not concerned. “Everybody’s really happy; everybody’s ready to go,” said sophomore Conrad Obi, who was in for only 12 plays all of 2008. Obi, who came to Boulder weighing in at 245 pounds, is up to 265. “I want to do really well,” said Obi, “break everyone’s expectations.”Defensive line coach Romeo Bandison is putting on a positive face, at least for now. “I trust these guys and I believe in these guys,” said Bandison of the returning defensive tackles expecting to see the most playing time this spring, including senior Taj Kaynor, junior Eric Lawson, sophomores Curtis Cunningham and Eugene Goree, and red-shirt freshman Will Pericak. “They are nothing like Brandon (Nicholas) or George (Hypolite). So we’re going to be a different defense, but I think those guys can handle it. They can step up and do the job.” If this group cannot handle the job, there are recruits who may be expected to contribute as true freshmen this fall. For his part, defensive tackle recruit Edward Nuckols, when asked about playing this fall by BuffaloSportsNews.net, responded, “They (the CU coaches) said I definitely won’t be red-shirting and will probably be going in with some of the returnees and playing with (fellow freshman defensive tackle recruit) Nate Bonsu.”Regardless of the previous number of letters won by the defensive line starters this fall, the new starters will be inexperienced. How quickly this unit develops into a quality group will go a long way in determining the number of wins the Buffs rack up this fall.With three senior starters gone, there is no area on the Colorado football team which will see more attention from the coaches than the defensive line. Hypolite, Lucas, and Nicholas combined for 94 starts in their CU careers. Theirs are some pretty large shoes to fill.Of those returning, junior defensive end Marquez Herrod has the most experience. Herrod started the final four games of the 2008 season, and has more career tackles than any other returning lineman (of course, this must come with an asterisk. Herrod had only 14 total tackles in 2008 – the 17th-best total on the team). Also expected to see a great deal of playing time at defensive end this spring is sophomore Conrad Obi. The sophomore from Grayson, Georgia, was in for only 12 plays in all of 2008.In the interior, the players likely to get the most repetitions this spring are sophomores Eugene Goree and Curtis Cunningham. Cunningham played in all 12 games in 2008, though for only about 12 plays per game. Goree saw action in ten games, recording three tackles in 89 snaps.The only other defensive lineman you will hear about this spring who will likely see action this fall is red-shirt freshman Will Pericak. You may recall that Pericak was recruited out of Boulder High as a tight end, but was switched to the defensive side of the ball during his true freshman year last fall.Sounds pretty bleak, doesn’t it? Perhaps there is a reason that there is much discussion about the Buffs playing more 3-4 defense than in the past, so as to take advantage of the plethora of talented linebackers Colorado can put onto the field of play. Such a switch would not really be too much of a stretch for the CU players, as the Buffs played with three lineman for a good portion of 2008 due to the wide open nature of the pass-happy offenses in the Big 12 ( In fact, one of the reasons Marquez Herrod didn’t get credit for “starting” more games in 2008 is that defensive back Jalil Brown was on the field as a nickel back to open the game seven times).One other factor to keep in the back of your mind if frustration builds this spring concerning the defensive line: Help is on the way. No fewer than four defensive line recruits, including highly regarded Nick Kasa and Edward Nuckols, will hit Boulder this summer.What we were looking for / What we saw – Linebackers

Player Lost – Brad Jones Lettermen Returning – Jeff Smart (Sr.); Shaun Mohler (Sr.); Marcus Burton (Sr.); Bryan Stengel (Sr.); B.J. Beatty (Jr.); Josh Hartigan (So.); Tyler Ahles (So.);

Others Returning in 2009 – Michael Sipili (Jr.); Brandon Goulin (So.); David Goldberg (Jr.); Jon Major (R-Fr.); Lynn Katoa (R-Fr.); Douglas Rippy (R-Fr.); Guy Sergent (R-Fr.)

New in 2009 – Liloa Nobriga (Fr.); Derrick Webb (Fr.)

Week Three Update – Linebackers

The second scrimmage was “won” by the defense, with the linebackers leading the way. “I thought the ‘backers ran around and were physical out there,” said defensive coordinator Ron Collins after the Friday scrimmage. After challenging the defense to play with more intensity after surrendering over 600 yards of total offense in the first scrimmage, the CU defense came through.The first points of the second scrimmage came from the defense, when junior linebacker Michael Sipili tackled Darrell Scott in the endzone for a safety. Sipili, who had four tackles on the afternoon, was singled out for praise by Collins, as were red-shirt freshman Doug Rippy, junior B.J. Beatty, and senior Marcus Burton. For a unit which has been the strength of the defense for some time, it has been a relatively quiet spring. Based upon reports before the spring practices were closed to the public, it looks as if linebackers B.J. Beatty and Doug Rippy will be used to help the defensive line put pressure on the quarterback from the rush end position, much like Brad Jones did last season when he led the team with seven sacks. If the CSU game was next week, you would likely see Marcus Burton starting in the middle, Jeff Smart at the Will position, and Beatty on the outside. Still, Shaun Mohler is pushing Smart for playing time, and Rippy is rotating with Beatty.This is not even giving mention to Jon Major, still recovering from knee surgery, senior Bryan Stengal, and sophomore Tyler Ahles, all of whom will vie for time with the starters this spring before recruits Derrick Webb and Liloa Nobriga come in this fall.Linebackers coach Brian Cabral has developed a deep and talented pool of linebackers, even without ever getting to see highly recruited Lynn Katoa on the field. The stockpile will be tested this fall, though, as the Buff linebackers are asked to cover for a thin and inexperienced defensive line.

Second Week Update – Linebackers

First scrimmage – April 11th.

Glass half full: the Colorado defense shut down the offensive rushing attack. Glass half empty: the Colorado defense could not stop the offensive passing attack, and were particularly vulnerable to passes to the tight ends, usually the responsibility of a linebacker. Senior linebacker Jeff Smart was not discouraged. “It went well,” Smart said after the scrimmage. “The offense threw in a few things we haven’t seen in practice, but for the most part it went well.” Senior linebacker Marcus Burton led all defenders with nine tackles, while junior linebacker Michael Sipili contributed five tackles and two sacks.For the 2009 season to go “well”, though, it will largely be up to the linebackers to make that happen. With an inexperienced line, Colorado has been playing a great deal of 3-4 defense, in order to get another talented linebacker on the field to help off-set personnel deficiencies on the line. To compliment the experience of seniors Jeff Smart, Marcus Burton, and Bryan Stengel, along with juniors Michael Sipili and B.J. Beatty, members of the recruiting class of 2008 are ready to make their marks.Shaun Mohler, a junior college transfer, saw action last season, as is projected as a starter this fall.Two talented freshmen, Douglas Rippy and Jon Major, will make their debuts in 2009. Major, who may have played last season, tore his ACL last August and was out for the year. “My focus is just getting back, getting comfortable,” said Major, who had his blue jersey (injured/no contact) removed just this week. “I haven’t had a lot of experience in the last year and a half.” Rippy, for his part, could have played, but was red-shirted nonetheless. “It was very frustrating. It was a learning process,” said Rippy of 2008. “Now it’s a matter of just being mentally and physically prepared for whatever is coming.”

The fourth member of the talented linebacker corps from 2008, Lynn Katoa, will not be seeing action as a Buff. It was announced this week, almost as an after-thought, that Katoa had left the program. Embroiled in legal difficulties after enrolling early last spring, Katoa never achieved eligibility academically, even though his legal issues had been resolved. Listed as “Not Practicing / Spring” on the spring football roster, Katoa was not expected to be eligible to participate with the team until the spring of 2010, if ever. Then, this week, without further comment, it was confirmed that Katoa will not be returning to the team.Katoa was a much more heralded recruit than either wide receiver Chance Blackmon or quarterback Matt Ballenger, but his removal from the team roster was far less shocking. As a result, the announcement of the third vacancy on the CU roster this week received far less fanfare.

First Week Update – Linebackers

First, there is the elephant in the room bearing the name of Lynn Katoa. The story of the heralded recruit from the 2008 recruiting class has been well chronicled. Held out last spring due to off-field incidents, Katoa was academically ineligible to participate last fall, and is again ineligible this spring. Fact is, the widely held consensus now is that it is unlikely that Katoa will ever see the field in a Buff uniform.For those linebackers who are on the field this spring, there are many opportunities to shine. With the implementation of more 3-4 sets, the plethora of linebacker talent can be utilized. Getting a great deal of attention this first week is junior linebacker B.J. Beatty, heir apparent to the one starter lost from last season, Brad Jones. Beatty was making a push for more playing time last August, but a fractured fibula in his left leg kept him out of four games early on. Where does Beatty see himself contributing? “A combination of outside linebacker and a little bit down on the line,” Beatty told Scout.com. His personal goals? “Get better; be a leader on and off the field.” Linebacker coach and assistant head coach Brian Cabral, even with the loss of Katoa, is not lacking for options.

Back are senior Jeff Smart and junior Shaun Mohler, #1 and #2 on the tackle charts from 2008. Also likely to see a great deal of playing time as spring practice develops are junior Michael Sipili, senior Marcus Burton, and red-shirt freshman Douglas Rippy. One name you will not hear much about this spring who may be a major contributor this fall is red-shirt freshman Jon Major, who participation is limited this spring due to off-season knee surgery. Those who are out there getting the playing time in the Buffs’ 3-4 sets better have, as B.J. Beatty put it, “an attack mentality”. Said Beatty, “We’re going to get to the ballcarrier – get what coach Collins calls that ‘slobbering dog mentality’ “.A good showing from the linebackers will certainly help hide deficiencies on the line ….

First, the bad news. It appears that highly touted linebacker prospect Lynn Katoa will not be on the field this spring. Katoa, a five-star recruit in 2008, enrolled early so he could be available for spring practice last season, but was later arrested and charged with second degree assault. Katoa agreed to a deferred sentence in July, and would have been eligible to participate last fall if he had been academically eligible.This spring, while Katoa has reportedly kept out of trouble off the field, he is apparently not much closer to qualifying academically. It is being reported in the Daily Camera and In Denver Times that Katoa did poorly in the classroom this past fall, and it is unlikely that he can make up enough ground academically to be eligible for the fall campaign. “We’re helping him prioritize his life right now,” Dan Hawkins told B.G. Brooks, formerly of the Rocky Mountain News. When asked if Katoa would play this spring, Hawkins replied, “doubtful”.

So, where’s the good news? Fortunately, the Colorado Buffaloes never seem to have a shortage of quality linebackers. Gone from the 2008 squad is Brad Jones, but the other two starters from 2008, seniors Jeff Smart and Shaun Mohler, return. Jeff Smart led the team in tackles last season (4th in the Big 12), while Mohler was second on the team in that category. Jones and Smart lead a quartet of senior linebackers into the 2009 season, with Marcus Burton and Byron Stengel also back for their final campaigns.The best bet to replace Brad Jones in the starting lineup is junior B.J. Beatty. Beatty missed four of the first five games of 2008 with a fractured fibula, but played in the final seven games of the season. Other candidates for significant playing time who have game experience are junior Michael Sipili and sophomore Josh Hartigan. Two names from the 2008 recruiting season not named Katoa are Douglas Rippy and Jon Major. While not as well publicized as Lynn Katoa, both red-shirt freshman were highly recruited. Major tore an ACL last fall, but will be back for at least limited duty this spring, and should be ready to go full speed this fall. A “Full Go” for this spring will be Doug Rippy. Rippy told Scout.com that red-shirting in 2008 “turned out to be a good, positive, thing”, giving the freshman more time to learn the playbook and CU’s defensive schemes. As to the Buffs playing more 3-4 this fall, Rippy said that such a move will only enhance his chances to play. “I love rushing the passer”, he said. If that means that he is moved to defensive end? “Wherever the coaches want me to play, I’ll play.” Regardless of position, Rippy expects to have an impact. “Keep working hard and stay humble,” says Rippy of his plans. “I definitely look forward to playing this fall.”This summer, 2009 recruits Liloa Nobriga and Derrick Webb will hit the Boulder campus. However, with entrenched senior starters, and a number of quality backups, it does not seem likely that either will be asked to play as a true freshman. Look for spring practice to be an opportunity for Beatty to assert himself as the third starter, with Sipili, Hartigan, Major and Rippy positioning themselves to be quality contributors in 2009, and starters in 2010.

What we were looking for / What we saw – Secondary

Players Lost – Ryan Walters, D.J. Dykes, Gardner McKay, Joel AdamsLettermen Returning – Benjamin Burney (Sr.); Cha’pelle Brown (Sr.); Jalil Brown (Jr.); Jimmy Smith (Jr.); Anthony Wright (So.); Anthony Perkins (So.); Patrick Mahnke (So.); Jonathan Hawkins (So.); Travis Sandersfield (So.);

Others Returning in 2009 – Bret Smith (Jr.); Matt Meyer (So.); Stephen Hicks (R-Fr.); Vince Ewing (R-Fr.); Paul Vigo (R-Fr.); Ray Polk (R-Fr.)

New in 2009 – Parker Orms (Fr.); Deji Olatoye (Fr.)

Week Three Update – Secondary

The Buffs’ secondary, the best in the Big 12 last season, has been a patchwork this spring. While thankfully there have been no serious injuries, the CU defensive backs have been far from full strength.Tops on the M*A*S*H roll-call this week was Cha’pelle Brown. The senior cornerback, who has played in every game in his CU career (37 to date), has been limited this spring after contracting giardia this off-season. The illness, contracted by eating contaminated food or drinking tainted water, has caused Brown to lose a significant amount of weight. “I’ve got a long way to go, but I’m all right,” said Brown, who said he has no idea how he contracted the disease. “I’ve got a lot of weight to gain back and get healthy.” Cha’pelle Brown is not the only defensive back limited this spring. This week Jonathan Hawkins and Jalil Brown returned to action after sitting out much of the first two weeks. Anthony Wright has missed all of spring ball after suffering a partially torn ACL, while Paul Vigo pulled a hamstring on the first day of practice, and is just now getting back into the rotation. Finally, there is Ben Burney (“Bionic Ben”) is limited this spring as he continues to rehab from his five surgeries in the past year.Still, defensive backs coach Greg Brown is pleased with the efforts of his unit. “Versatility … I mean that’s got to be the key word in the secondary now,” Brown told INDenverTimes.com. “We’re so depleted with injuries, so thinned out. It’s been amazing that guys have been able to step up and play different positions.”

Brown singled out sophomore safety Patrick Mahnke, who led the team with six tackles in the second scrimmage, as an example of how well the defensive backs have adjusted. “Mahnke spent two solid days as a starting corner and did a heck of a job,” said Brown of the player expected to start at safety this fall. “I’m really proud of our guys playing different positions.”Overall, coach Brown is not concerned. “We like the guys we’ve got,” said Brown. “We obviously haven’t arrived yet. We’re right in the middle of learning and creating some chemistry … We’re just in the process of getting to know each other and how we’re going to play.”

Second Week Update – Secondary

First scrimmage – April 11th.

The best secondary in the Big 12 in 2008 returned, if only for one morning, to the form of earlier seasons. Between them, Cody Hawkins and Tyler Hansen hit on 31-of-51 passes for 535 yards and ten touchdowns. Yuck. In their defense, most of the players who will be on the field against Colorado State were on the Folsom Field sideline for the first scrimmage. Missing in action, for a variety of (minor) injuries, were cornerbacks Ben Burney, Jalil Brown, Cha’pelle Brown, Anthony Wright, and Jonathan Hawkins.While there is concern about how the first scrimmage unfolded, CU defensive backs coach Greg Brown is not concerned about the defensive backfield overall. “We’ve got some players back who have proven themselves on the field as good players,” said Brown. “We have some good depth and we feel like we’re on track to be leaders on defense and that we should wear that mantle with pride.”Replacing both starting safeties is the primary focus of the spring. Sophomores Anthony Perkins and Patrick Mahnke were on the field for the finale against Nebraska, replacing injured senior starters Ryan Walters and D.J. Dykes, and are the front-runners for the starting jobs. “(Perkins) is smart,” said Brown. “He’s a heads-up player, he has ball skills. He knows what he’s doing and he’ll tackle”. As for Perkins’ backfield mate, Greg Brown said, “A big smile comes to my face when we talk about Pat Mahnke. He was a true freshman last year; we didn’t have the luxury of red-shirting him. He can make big plays. He’s smart, he’s tough, and he still has three more years of eligibility.” Mahnke had five tackles and a sack at the first scrimmage.Two players who will not get much ink this spring, but who will be in the mix this fall, are freshmen Paul Vigo and Ray Polk. Both will practice at safety, but took odd roads getting to the defensive practice fields. Vigo was a 2008 recruit, but was a “grey-shirt”, delaying enrollment until this January. This gives Vigo five years to play four, starting this fall. Ray Polk, a heralded 2008 running back recruit, has switched to safety, but is sitting out this spring after enduring surgeries on both shoulders.

First Week Update – Secondary

The feel good story in the secondary from the first week of spring practice has to be the return of senior cornerback Ben Burney. As a junior in 2007, Burney led the team in defensive snaps, being in on 796 snaps and recording 55 tackles. Starting right after the end of the 2007 season, though, Burney endured no fewer than five surgeries (both shoulders, a knee, and both wrists) to get back on the field for his senior season. Burney will not get many headlines come scrimmage time this spring. “I will be held back a little bit. I’m not going to be hitting,” said Burney. “But it just feels great to be out here.”Despite Burney’s resume, he is not guaranteed a starting spot upon his return to full duty this fall. Senior Cha’pelle Brown and junior Jalil Brown saw the most playing time in 2008, with junior Jimmy Smith and sophomore Jonathan Hawkins also in the mix (sophomore Anthony Wright will not be participating for much of the spring after spraining his knee “jumping a fence” – I’ll leave the speculating to you). This week a number of back up players saw playing time as potential starters sat out for various reasons – Cha’pelle Brown did not participate much in week one due to a stomach virus; Jalil Brown is limited in his participation as he recovers from off-season shoulder surgery; and freshman Paul Vigo sat out much of the first week nursing a hamstring injury.While the cornerback situation sorts itself out, the Buffs are looking for two new safeties this spring. Sophomores Anthony Perkins and Patrick Mahnke have the most playing experience, and are performing well (a hit Mahnke put on Speedy Stewart on a screen pass this week turned some heads). Sophomore Travis Sandersfield, who played mostly special teams last fall, has also been noticed.One player who will not get a mention this spring, but who is noteworthy nonetheless, is former running back Ray Polk. The red-shirt freshman will be sitting out this spring after undergoing surgeries on both shoulders.The good news about the secondary is that, a year removed from being the weak link on the team, the unit is well-stocked. “All of us defensive backs have to come out here and perform every day,” Burney told BuffStampede.com. “A few years ago, I could mess up and I was still going to play on Saturday. But now I constantly have someone who can play behind me. It doesn’t matter how long I’ve been here. I have to work for it.”

Well, are you a “glass half full” kind of fan, or a “glass half empty”?

If you prefer looking at the Colorado secondary from the optimist’s point-of-view, you can note that the Buffs’ defensive backfield, seen as a liability heading into the 2008 season, was the best in the Big 12 at defending the pass. The downside? Nationally, the Buffs, giving up 215.33 yards/game, were ranked 72nd.Glass half-full – the CU secondary is loaded with quality young talent at the corners.Glass half-empty – the Buffs lose two safeties, Ryan Walters and D.J. Dykes, who had 54 career starts between them. Colorado also loses cornerback Gardner McKay, who had 12 career starts, including ten in 2008.At cornerback in 2009, the Buffs will likely turn to senior Cha’pelle Brown and junior Jalil Brown, two players who saw most of the playing time in 2008 amongst the cornerbacks. Cha’pelle Brown, according to defensive backs coach Greg Brown and defensive technical intern Ashley Ambrose, has “NFL potential”. That does not mean that there will not be intrigue this spring at the cornerback position, however (especially with Jalil Brown, recovering from off-season shoulder surgery, listed as “Limited” for spring drills).One back who will receive a great deal of attention will be senior Ben Burney. Burney, who has 36 games (including 15 starts) to his resume, sat out all of 2008 while undergoing through no fewer than five off-season surgeries (for those keeping score, that would be both shoulders, both wrists, and a knee). Burney is listed as a “Full Go” for spring practice, but Burney knows he is still making his way back. “Knowing I’m only at 80 percent right now makes me really confident for when summer comes and I do have all my muscles back and I have all my speed,” Burney told the Daily Camera. “Basically, my body wasn’t made for football, but after getting all these staples and sutures and stuff in me, I’m now made to play football.” Burney has played both cornerback and safety in his CU career, so the story to follow over the next few months is where Burney sees most of his playing time.

Also in the mix at cornerback this spring will be junior Jimmy Smith and sophomore Jonathan Hawkins. One player, though, who should have been vying for playing time who will have to wait until fall is sophomore Anthony Wright. Wright reportedly sprained an MCL and partially tore an ACL just recently, and will miss spring practice.At safety, there are a number of players to keep an eye on over the next month. Sophomore Anthony Perkins started the final two games of 2008 at safety in place of the injured D.J. Dykes. Fellow sophomore Patrick Mahnke made his first career start in the season finale against Nebraska when Ryan Walters was unable to play. Based upon how 2008 ended, Perkins and Mahnke will likely be on the first team this spring. Other names which will receive plenty of ink as the safety positions get settled include three freshmen. Two are red-shirts – Vince Ewing and the converted running back Ray Polk. The other newbie is technically a true freshman. Paul Vigo was recruited as part of the 2008 class, but was a grey-shirt, sitting out this past fall and enrolling at CU this spring. Vigo remains a true freshman, with five years to play four.

What we were looking for / What we saw – Kicking Game / Special Teams

Player Lost – Tom Suazo (P)

Lettermen Returning – Matthew DiLallo (P – Sr.); Aric Goodman (K – Jr.); Jameson Davis (K-So.); Justin Drescher (SN – Sr.); Josh Smith (KR – Jr.); Jason Espinoza (KR – So.); Demetrius Sumler (KR – Jr.)

Others Returning in 2009 – Austin Bisnow (SN – Jr.)

New in 2009 – Zach Grossnickle (K/P – Fr.)

Week Three Update – Kicking Game / Special Teams Bad weather forced the Buffs into the bubble for the second scrimmage. Illness and injuries cut the scrimmage short. As a result, the “situational scrimmage” did not have the usual statistics. In the area of special teams, however, there was more than usual to chew on. Case in point: the Buffs ran only 65 plays from scrimmage – but ran 20 punts. Matt DiLallo punted 12 times for a 41.3 yard average (long of 55 yards), while Darrell Scott punted eight times for an average of 39.9 (long of 52). Should we take these stats with a grain of salt? Of course, especially when you figure in that some numbers aren’t accurate (how often will you see a stat sheet with a disclaimer: “estimated punt distances that hit bubble ceiling”?). Still, it is significant that Darrell Scott is getting a good number of punt attempts. If Scott can be seen as a legitimate threat at punter, it will force CU opponents to spend more practice time preparing for the Buffs’ special teams, as Scott would clearly be a threat to take off on a fake punt at any time. At the bare minimum, having Scott practice gives DiLallo, who has fallen off the past two seasons after a promising freshman campaign, some spring competition to keep him sharp.

Are there any special team numbers of value from this week? Yes, Darrell Scott had two kickoff returns – one of 36 yards; the other for 32. Jason Espinoza had a 27 yard punt return. And Rodney Stewart was running with the special teams as well, recording both a punt and kickoff return. These are names to keep in mind should Josh Smith not be available at any time this fall (as was the case for the second scrimmage).

As for the weekly Aric Goodman watch – there are mixed numbers. Not only are there positives and negatives for Goodman from the second scrimmage – there are contradictory numbers. On the official CU stats sheet, it shows that Goodman connected on four-of-six field goal attempts. A look at the numbers, though, show he was successful from 38, 42, and 33 yards, and missed from 32, 38, and 33 – or three of six. Equally contradictory are the PAT stats. Goodman is listed as being 0-1 in the stats, but in the scoring summary it shows that he was 1-3 (either number is not good. PAT conversions should run in the 90’s).For his part, Goodman remains confident. Despite going 5-for-14 in 2008, including a stretch of eight straight misses, the junior kicker looks to the bright side. Goodman did make his last two attempts of the season, and, of the nine misses, five hit the goal post and one was blocked. “On one hand, it is frustrating because you are so close,” said Goodman. “On the other hand, it doesn’t completely shatter your confidence because you are so close.”Changing to a two-step approach this spring seems to have helped, at least in the area of Goodman’s confidence. “When I go out there to kick, I think I am going to make it,” said Goodman. “I haven’t hit an upright yet this spring, so that’s good.”Goodman concluded, “Hopefully, I didn’t just jinx myself”.We hope so too, Aric.

Second Week Update – Special Teams

First Scrimmage – April 11th.

Junior kicker Aric Goodman continued his fine work this spring, connecting on either six-of-nine or seven-of-nine field goal attempts (depending on which account you read), including a 48-yarder. Goodman, who has shortened his approach from three steps to two steps, is pleased with his work to date. “It’s a confidence and a comfort thing”, said Goodman after the scrimmage. “Everything seems to be slowing down for me now. I’m just feeling better all the way around.” As for the punting game, Matt DiLallo had five punts for an average of 44.6 yards/kick, while Darrell Scott had six punts for an average of 37.0 yards.While Aric Goodman’s kicking has been a positive throughout much of the spring, many are still expecting him to be supplanted as kicker this fall, In addition to the return of Jameson Davis, out this spring with knee surgery, Goodman will compete with 2009 recruit Zach Grossnickle. “Summer school starts the first week of June, and I’ll be moved up to the dorms and moved in by then,” said Grossnickle. The senior at East high in Denver has attended several spring practices. “I”ve been kicking some every week,” said Grossnickle, “but it will feel good to get into a regular routine and work with the other guys.”Grossnickle is gracious when asked about starting this fall. “I don’t think anyone will know until we are all working together in the same place,” said Grossnickle. “I know we all have the same ultimate goal, which is to have CU’s special teams back on top in the Big 12 in 2009.”For the Buffs to get to the top of the Big 12, there is still some work to do. One last glass half full / glass half empty statistic from the April 11th scrimmage: Kick returner Josh Smith, who set numerous return records last season, returned two kickoffs for 121 yards on Saturday – a 60.5 yards per return average. A great stat – or a scary one?Time, and more practices, will tell.

First Week Update – Kicking Game / Special Teams

Okay, so it’s grimace time. The totals from 2008 will stick with Buff fans (6-17 on field goal attempts) until September. Zach Grossnickle’s presence is still months away, and Jameson Davis (1-3 in ‘08) is sidelined with knee surgery. So, how’s the Buffs’ only scholarship kicker available this spring, Aric Goodman (5-14), doing? Fine. Thanks for asking. According to Kyle Ringo’s report at BuffaloSportsNews, Goodman has been “money” in practice, hitting on “probably 90 percent of his kicks so far.” Goodman has adopted a two-step approach which seems to be working for him.Yes, it’s only spring practice, and the Buffs haven’t even been outside the bubble yet. Still, a report that Goodman is making 90 percent of his practice kicks is certainly better than a report that he is setting records for hitting practice field goal posts …The interesting news from special teams this week involves a former high school punter, one Darrell Scott. The sophomore running back has been practicing withe the punting unit, utilizing a rugby-style approach (three linebackers in front, taking a few steps to the side before kicking). With Scott’s running abilities, lining him up at punter creates a whole new world of possibilities for the Buffs. Even if Scott’s presence on the field only serves to force opponents out of their normal punt return patterns, requiring them to use a more straight up defense, the formation will work to the Buffs’ advantage.The other special teams news of the week also involves player position moves. Offensive guard Ryan Miller (6’8″, 280) and offensive tackle Nate Solder (6’9″, 300) have been placed on the kick blocking unit. The move already seems to being playing dividends, as Miller bull-rushed his way to a blocked field goal attempt at Friday’s practice.Week one of Spring Practice, 2009, was, according to Dan Hawkins, “about the best first week we’ve had. They’re running around great, their attitude is great, the camaraderie was good.”

Spring Expectations –

Saved the best for last!

Just kidding.

Okay, no way to sugar-coat it. The Colorado kicking game was abysmal last year. Junior Aric Goodman made only five of 14 field goal attempts, including a stretch of eight straight missed field goals after connecting on the game-winner in overtime against West Virginia. You know the story – Goodman was awarded a scholarship upon making the kick against the Mountaineers, then proceeded to hit every goalpost in the mid-west during the month of October. Goodman did not have any laurels to rest upon this off-season, and so he changed his kicking style, going from a three-step approach to a two-step. “I just thought the first step sometimes was maybe taking me too far forward or too far outside of where I needed to be,” Goodman told the Boulder Daily Camera. “Getting rid of the step, ultimately, puts me in the spot every time where I feel my foot should be.””I feel like I’m a lot more consistent recently. I haven’t lost any distance or anything. So I feel like I’m kicking a lot better.”

Whether Goodman’s efforts will lead to a better success rate on the field remains to be seen. The only certainty is that Goodman will have plenty of opportunity this spring to demonstrate his new-found confidence. Heralded recruit Zach Grossnickle will not be in camp until this summer, and the only other scholarship place-kicker for the Buffs, sophomore Jameson Davis, is out for the spring after off-season knee surgery.Senior punter Matt DiLallo is in similar position to Aric Goodman (at least for the spring) – unchallenged. DiLallo was impressive at punter as a freshman in 2006, averaging 43.8 yards per kick. In 2007, the averaged dipped to 40.11. When DiLallo’s numbers did not improve last season (he finished with a 40.49 average for 2008), the junior was replaced in the starting lineup for the final three games by senior Tom Suazo. DiLallo may be facing a make-or-break spring, demonstrating his ability to hold onto the punting job this fall.

The return game for the Buffs does offer some storylines this off-season. Junior Josh Smith set several return records for CU last fall, including the most kickoff returns in a season (50), kickoff return yards in a season (1,276), and total kick return yards, punts and kickoffs, in a season (1,568, completely annihilating the old record of 953 yards set by Roman Hollowell in 2001). Yet, despite the records, Smith related to the press on several occasions during the 2008 season that he felt that his kick return duties were distracting from his ability to be a greater factor in the passing game. If Smith does not come back as a regular in the return game, look for sophomore Jason Espinoza, who broke his collarbone not once but twice last season, to fill the void.

[Your comments… ]

Archive Game of the Week – Colorado v. Texas – Big 12 Championship Game – December 1, 2001

BCSThe Bowl Championship Series, with a mixture of polls, computer computations, and a little confusion, had taken a body blow with the Buffs’ 62-36 upset of Nebraska. The Cornhuskers had been ranked #1 in the BCS standings, with undefeated Miami ranked #2. Had Nebraska taken care of business against the Buffs, and handled the (presumed) rematch with Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship game, the computers would have matched the best two teams in the nation. The CU win, however, set in motion a series of upsets wherein a number of title contenders had the opportunity to make reservations for the Rose Bowl, only to falter.

The first to fall was Oklahoma, which was surprised at home by Oklahoma State, 16-13, the day after the CU/Nebraska game.The Big 12 upsets paved the way for 9-1 Florida, now ranked #2 behind Miami, to earn a ticket to the Rose Bowl and the national championship game. On December 1st, #1 Miami took care of its business, holding off #14 Virginia Tech, 26-24, to finish its regular season as the nation’s only undefeated team. But Florida could not follow through, falling at home to #5 Tennessee, 34-32. The Florida/Tennessee game ended just before kickoff of the Colorado/Texas game. The #3-ranked Longhorns were well aware, as they ran onto the Texas Stadium field to face the Buffs, that a win over CU would mean a bid to the Rose Bowl and an opportunity to play for the national championship.Colorado, though, was not interested in other team’s opportunities. These Buffs had dreams of their own.

December 1st – Texas Stadium       #9 Colorado 39, #3 Texas 37

Big 12 Championship game

Colorado running back Chris Brown followed up his record six touchdown performance against Nebraska with a three touchdown effort against Texas as the Buffs defeated the Longhorns, 39-37, to win CU’s first Big 12 title. The Buffs turned four turnovers by Longhorn quarterback Chris Simms into 26 first-half points in eliminating yet another contender for the national championship. The first quarter was dominated early on by the Longhorns, looking very much like a team destined to play for the national title. Freshman running back Cedric Benson scored on a five-yard run to cap a six-play, 85-yard drive on UT’s first possession. Two series later, the Longhorns were deep in CU territory, looking to pad their 7-0 lead. Memories of the 41-7 rout of the Buffs by the Longhorns in October were being relived by the 7,000 CU faithful in the highly-partisan crowd. Texas fans waved roses.

Then, the play of the game.

Junior linebacker Aaron Killion picked off a Chris Simms pass, returning it 73 yards to the Texas 12-yard line. Three plays later, Chris Brown scored on a ten-yard run to tie the score and shift the momentum to the Buffs. The Brown touchdown, with 2:21 left in the first quarter, tied the score at 7-7, and set in motion a 29-3 run by the Buffs to put CU in control.Jeremy Flores gave the Buffs a lead they would never relinquish with a 39-yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter. Simms’ second interception, this one by linebacker Joey Johnson, set up a 64-yard scoring drive by the Buffs, highlighted by a 51-yard run by Bobby Purify. Flores missed the extra point after Brown’s one-yard touchdown, but the Buffs were up 16-7.After a Texas field goal, the Buffs received a gift from Chris Simms in the form of a fumble. Simms was sacked by DeAndre Fluellen, with the Texas quarterback’s fumble being recovered at the Texas 22 by Matt McChesney. It took the Buffs only one play to score, with Bobby Pesavento hitting Daniel Graham for a 22-yard touchdown, putting the Buffs up 22-7.

It took the Buffs only three more plays to score again, as on the third play of the Longhorns’ next possession, Chris Simms was picked off, this time by Medford Moore. The sophomore safety returned the interception 64 yards for a touchdown, and with 2:32 left in the first half, almost exactly a full quarter after being behind 7-0, Colorado had a 29-10 lead.As had been the case with Nebraska a week earlier, however, the game was not finished. The Longhorns rallied behind quarterback Major Applewhite, subbing for the injured and ineffective Simms. Applewhite hit B.J. Johnson on a 79-scoring strike moments after Moore’s interception, giving the Longhorn faithful hope for the second half.

The Buffs turned a 29-17 halftime edge into a 36-17 lead early in the third quarter on Chris Brown’s third touchdown run, this one from 11 yards out. But it almost wasn’t enough as Texas scored the next 13 points of the game. After two field goals, the Buffs were nursing a 36-23 lead with 9:10 to play. On a fake punt gone awry, backup quarterback Robert Hodge took the snap and promptly passed the ball to Texas’ Roderick Barnes, who returned the interception 54 yards for a score to cut the Buffs’ lead to 36-30. It was a game again.It was then left for the Buffs, who had overcome adversity and negative press all season long, to silence the critics one last time. A 16-play, 51-yard drive, which included a successful fourth-and-one quarterback sneak by Bobby Pesavento and a personal foul against Texas for roughing CU punter Mark Mariscal, took all but 1:58 off of the game clock. The time consuming drive was culminated by a 43-yard field goal by Jeremy Flores, giving the Buffs a 39-30 advantage.

A final touchdown pass by Applewhite to Johnson brought the Longhorns to within two points, 39-37. By the time Texas scored, however, there were only 31 seconds to play. When Daniel Graham fell on the ensuing onsides kick, Colorado was the Big 12 Champion for 2001.

“When we left the hotel I told them we were a team of destiny,” said Gary Barnett. “We have great resolve, spirit, and team chemistry. We’ve had the attitude that there’s no excuse for not winning.” Chris Brown, who rushed for 182 yards on 33 carries, shared the spotlight with Bobby Pesavento and Jeremy Flores. Pesavento, who outshone counterpart Chris Simms with his solid effort, was actually injured in the second quarter but refused to come out. “I didn’t want to come out of this game,” said Pesavento, who received a pain-killing shot at halftime. “I would have done anything to stay in.”Jeremy Flores saved his coach from some embarrassing questions after the game. Flores’ second field goal, coming from 43 yards out with 1:58 to play, gave CU its winning margin, allowing Gary Barnett to joke about the ill-advised fake punt with 9:10 left. “I’m thankful for Jeremy Flores kicking that field goal to save my butt,” said Barnett. Flores, who had lined up for a 38-yard field goal before the Buffs were called for delay of game, was unshaken, just as the Buffs had been all season. “I was just telling myself, I said, ‘Jeremy, this is what you’ve been waiting for your whole life. You’re prepared for this, let’s do it, let’s knock it down,’ ” Flores said.

He did, and the Buffs were Big 12 Champions.

Conference Call

Brad couldn’t wait.

As Texas took time out to stop the clock and ice CU kicker Jeremy Flores, the phone rang. I was watching the Colorado/Texas game at home in Bozeman with Randy, and hadn’t expected to talk with Brad until after the contest. I had spoken with Brad at halftime, and all I remember from that conversation was saying that I was as nervous as anyone could rightfully be with their team up 19 points at the break. The pessimist in me feared Major Applewhite and the spark he had provided the Longhorns just before the half would carry over into the second half of play.Now the Buffs were lining up for what would be a game-clinching field goal. Three points which would give CU a two-score lead with less than two minutes to play, and Brad couldn’t wait. He wanted to be on the phone with Scott and I as the Buffs clinched their first Big 12 championship. He got Scott connected on a conference call, and we watched together as Jeremy Flores kicked his way into CU football lore.

The feeling of euphoria was tempered as Applewhite quickly drove Texas down the field. The Buffs’ defense held off the Longhorns long enough that everyone in the stadium knew that a Texas comeback would hinge on a successful onsides kick. There was silence on the phone line after Texas scored with 31 seconds left and took the field for the onsides effort.It was only fitting that Daniel Graham, one of the most heralded Buffs (he would go on to be honored as the nation’s best tight end with the John Mackey award two weeks later) would recover the onsides kick.

Game over.

One very satisfying kneel down by quarterback Bobby Pesavento later, the Buffs were champions.Our feelings as fans were echoed by the players. Senior guard Andre Gurode, looking up through the hole in the roof of Texas Stadium, stared at the full moon. “Is it really true?”, Gurode asked no one in particular. “I’ve never seen anything so beautiful in my life.”Defensive lineman DeAndre Fluellen rushed back to the locker room right after the final gun, only to return with a video recorder. “And fifty years from now, when I’m sitting around with my kids and grandkids watching this tape,” Fluellen said, “this night will look every bit as good as it does right now. It’s better than I ever could have imagined.”

Better than anyone could have imagined.

A team which had gone 3-8 the season before, and which had fallen at home in its opener against an unheralded Fresno State team, had no reason to believe that an opportunity to play for a championship was possible. But this team believed. Winners of five in a row, including the last two against teams ranked in the top three in the nation, the 10-2 Buffs were Big 12 champions. Colorado had earned the right to represent the conference in the Fiesta Bowl.Was there any reason to expect more? All of the sudden, with the rash of losses by title contenders, the Buffs were in a position to look beyond Tempe. “Right here, right now, there is no better college football team in the country,” said senior safety Michael Lewis. “I know it in my heart: The Colorado Buffaloes are No. 1.”Brad, Scott, Randy and I, connected by phone lines and the ABC television network to the celebration going on down on the Texas Stadium floor, were not about to argue.

Now What?

When the Associated Press poll came out the weekend after the CU/Texas game, the Buffs had moved up from #9 in the poll to #4. Ahead of the Buffs were unanimous #1 Miami, #2 Tennessee (up from #5 after defeating then #2 Florida), and #3 Oregon. Just behind the Buffs at #5 was Nebraska. In the Bowl Championship Series standings, Miami and Tennessee were #1 and #2, followed by Nebraska and Colorado.The only game of consequence left to be played was the Southeastern Conference championship game. #2 Tennessee was set to play #21 LSU, the surprise winner of the SEC West. All Tennessee had to do was take care of business, handle the Tigers, and the Rose Bowl would match #1 Miami v. #2 Tennessee. The BCS would have fulfilled its role of placing the best two teams in a championship game.In a season where nothing seemed to go according to form, the two-touchdown underdog Tigers handled Tennessee, 31-20, to win the SEC title and a berth in the Sugar Bowl.

What was left for the BCS was to pick amongst three less than perfect candidates:

1) #2 Oregon. 10-1 on the season. Pac-10 champions. But the Ducks had only defeated one BCS team, defeating Washington State, 24-17, while losing to its other BCS opponent, Stanford, 49-42. Strength of schedule all but eliminated the Ducks in the eyes of the computers;

2) #3 Colorado. 10-2 on the season. Big 12 champions. But the Buffs had two losses, and no team had ever played for the national championship with two losses, much less ever won one. Still, Colorado was the hottest team in the nation, having just knocked off two top five teams, Nebraska and Texas, in successive weeks; or

3) #4 Nebraska. 11-1 on the season. The #1 team for a portion of the season, the Cornhuskers had only one blemish on their record. But what a blemish it was: a 62-36 thrashing by Colorado. How could the computers put a team in the national title game which had not even won its own division, let alone its own conference?

When the final BCS standings were announced December 10th, the answer came – Nebraska. The Cornhuskers out-pointed the Buffs by the minuscule margin of .005. The final score, once the polls, computers, strength of schedule, and quality wins were tallied, stood at: Nebraska, 7.23; Colorado, 7.28. Nebraska would play Miami in the Rose Bowl for the national championship.How small was the final margin? As it turned out, the Tennessee/LSU game was not the only important game played on the last weekend of the season. In a game made up from the lost weekend after September 11th, TCU upset Southern Mississippi by two points. If TCU, Nebraska’s opening game opponent, had lost, Nebraska’s strength of schedule would have dropped by .28, more than enough to put Colorado into the Rose Bowl.

A review of the season’s results produced a series of similar “what if?” scenarios. Any number of a combination of events would have had Colorado in the Rose Bowl.”It’s hard to be gracious at this moment,” said Gary Barnett after the announcement, “but we will obviously accept and be excited about playing Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl.” CU running back Bobby Purify echoed the players’ sentiments, “It’s disappointing because we feel we are a better team than Nebraska. We feel we are better than most teams right now. We’re just going to have to go out and play well against Oregon and prove to the nation how good we really are.”And what of Oregon? A conference champion (unlike Nebraska) with only one loss (unlike Colorado), many felt that the Ducks were the recipient of the greatest slight. “I thought this morning we were in,” said Oregon coach Mike Bellotti. “I saw both polls and knew we were #2 in both polls. I thought, ‘What a great deal’. I was gut shot when I watched the TV and saw it.”

Talk began almost immediately of a split national title. If Miami defeated Nebraska in the Rose Bowl, there would be a unanimous choice. If Nebraska were to upset the Hurricanes, however, there was room for a split. The USA Today/ESPN Coaches’ polls was obligated to award its national championship to the winner of the Rose Bowl. The writers for the Associated Press poll had no such contractual obligation. With #2 Oregon facing #3 Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl, the possibility remained that the winner of the Fiesta Bowl would be awarded a piece of the national championship pie.On New Year’s Day, 2002, one team in the Fiesta Bowl played like it wanted to prove it deserved to play in Pasadena.Unfortunately for Buff fans, that team was Oregon.

[As you know, Oregon went on to defeat Colorado, 38-16, in the Fiesta Bowl. It was not enough, though, for the Ducks to climb past #1 Miami in the polls. #1 Miami thumped Nebraska, 37-14 (the Hurricanes were up 37-0 before allowing the Cornhuskers some consolation). In the final poll, Miami was #1, followed by Oregon. Nebraska, unable to win its own division, finished 8th, while the Big 12 Champion Colorado Buffaloes finished 9th].

[Your comments… ]

The Buffs and the 2009 NFL Draft

Draft Day – 2009

It was a relatively quiet draft for Buff fans, with only linebacker Brad Jones being chosen in the two day event. Jones was chosen by the Green Bay Packers in the seventh round (218th pick overall). “I think he gives us a guy that can really run, has coverage ability, and is a pretty productive pass rusher,” said Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson, “so we thought he was a nice get there in the seventh round.”Jones knows that he is fighting an uphill battle to make the opening day roster, but he is undeterred. “No matter where I was picked or if I was an undrafted free agent, I’m going to work the same,” said Jones. “It’s definitely part of a dream realized (being chosen in the NFL draft). But the real work starts when I arrive there.”

Other Buffs from the 2008 senior class hoping to make an NFL roster this fall include defensive tackle George Hypolite, signed as a free agent by Jacksonville, center Daniel Sanders, signed by St. Louis, wide receiver Patrick Williams, signed by Green Bay, and defensive end Maurice Lucas, signed by Atlanta.Colorado has been shut out of the NFL draft only twice in the past 25 seasons (2000 and 2005), with the last draft with only one Buff being taken coming in 1985 (Lee Rouson, 8th round, #213, by the New York Giants. Rouson would go on to enjoy a seven year career in the NFL). In the Big 12 overall, the conference fared well early, but did not have a high number of picks overall.

All tolled, there were seven Big 12 players chosen in the first round, a record for the conference (six first-rounders went in the 2003 draft), but only 28 players were selected overall, tied for the 2nd-lowest total in conference history (24 in 2000). Missouri led the way, with six selections, followed by Oklahoma with five. While Tigers fans could rightly celebrate this year’s draft, don’t expect a repeat any time soon. Yes, Missouri did have six picks in 2009. The previous 12 NFL drafts during the Big 12 era, though, Missouri had only 15 total draft picks. (CU, by contrast, has had 41 picks in the Big 12 era.)

Shut out of the 2009 draft were Iowa State (for first time since 2004) and Kansas (third time in four years; sixth time in 11 years without a drafted player for the Jayhawks). Texas Tech had a top ten pick (Michael Crabtree, wr, to San Francisco, with the #10 pick) for the first time since Donny Anderson went to the Packers in 1965.Joining Colorado with only one player drafted were Kansas State and Oklahoma State (though both of their picks were first-rounders).

Nebraska’s highest pick was linebacker Cody Glenn in the 5th round. Glenn’s choice was interesting on two fronts. First, Glenn, picked 158th overall, marked the second year in a row that no Cornhusker was chosen in the first four rounds. That hasn’t happened to Nebraska since 1969-70.The other interesting aspect concerning the Glenn pick is that Glenn, not happy about being chosen so low, told reporters that his draft status had been down-graded because of his late-season suspension. While the reasons for the suspension were not disclosed by the school, Glenn told the Washington Post that he was dismissed from the team because “I got caught up selling some tickets that I wasn’t supposed to be doing.”

This revelation created a fire-storm early in the week, because if Glenn was scalping tickets, and had been dismissed from the team as a result, his action was not only an NCAA violation, but the team was in violation for not reporting the transgression. The next day, Glenn indicated that he had lied about the ticket-scalping. “It was me being dumb, just trying to have people leave me alone,” said Glenn. “It’s something I said that I probably shouldn’t have, looking at it now”.Ya’ think? Good luck, Redskins, with this winner.

One thing not cleared up in this little mini-drama … What exactly did Cody Glenn do to get booted from the Cornhuskers last fall? As with the mystery of how many licks it takes to get to the middle of a Tootsie lollipop – the world may never know.

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 second off-season for 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 cuatthegame@gmail.com  Go Buffs!

6 Responses to “Spring Practices – “I think it was the best spring we’ve had””

  1. Rick

    Walkons – agree with the three you mention, but Alex Wood and Trevor LeBarge are also players to watch.

  2. Rick

    Hey, I do wish Austin Hinder well, BUT…

    he was not all state in 2008.

    In 3A, that honor went to Dakota Stonehouse of Glenwood Springs, and the second team QB in 3A was Garrett Griffeth, D’Evelyn.

    Hinder was mentioned as “honorable mention” in 3A in both Post and News All-State teams, but not first team or second team.

  3. Eric

    So many great CU football games over time. So many more yet to come. Thank you for all the hard work to compile this info. This is MY first choice for tracking the BUFFS. 10 and no.

  4. Ryan Corrick

    Man, I just wanted to say great job with this site. Im a huge Buff fan and faithful alum…just love what you do here and cant wait to check in during the Sprng to get some updates. A lot of us follow this site pretty religiously. Again, thanks and GO BUFFS!!!

  5. Phil Pilgrim

    I was at that title game for the buffs vs. Notre Dame and was seated high in the end zone opposite of where Rocket Ismail lined up to take the punt. I saw the flag drop as he broke containment and ran all the way to the end zone. Of course my heart sank, and I was thinking, that Notre Dame never has bad luck at the end of a game, so I guessed the flag had to be on Colorado. When I realized it was instead on Notre Dame for clipping, I was elated. What isn’t mentioned is that this same year, Nebraska AD Bob Devaney was on t.v. imploring big 8 coaches to support the huskers with their votes in the coached poll. Then, when Nebraska lost to Georgia Tech, it was later revealed that the NU coach voted Tech no. 1 which cost CU a sweep of both polls for it’s no. 1 ranking.

Leave a Reply


Copyright 2017 cuatthegame.com - Website design and development by BridgeWorks