Spring Practice Primer

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March 7th

Nick Hirschman out for spring practices

The Colorado quarterback competition, in the span of less than a week, has gone from five quarterbacks to three.

First, it was announced that Brent Burnette would not be staying with the team, now Nick Hirschman will miss all of spring practices.

The University of Colorado’s potential spring quarterback duel between sophomores Nick Hirschman and Connor Wood has taken another late twist – another unwanted one for Hirschman.

Hoping to be cleared to participate in most or all of spring drills after undergoing off-season foot surgery, Hirschman suffered the same injury – a broken metatarsal bone – in his other foot over the weekend. He left Colorado Wednesday for his home in Los Gatos, Calif., and is scheduled to undergo surgery later this week.

According to cubuffs.com, Hirschman will miss all of CU’s spring practices, but CU coach Jon Embree said late Wednesday that, “There still will be a competition, it just has to take place in (August) camp.  The position still remains our top priority, the only real difference now is that with Connor being on the scout team last year, this gives him a chance to learn the offense with a little less pressure.”

Spring drills begin Saturday, leaving Wood, who transferred to CU from Texas last fall, and redshirt freshman John Schrock, who walked on last fall, as the Buffaloes’ top two quarterbacks for opening day. Schrock quickly worked his way up the depth chart last August and was No. 3 behind starter Tyler Hansen and Hirschman when the 2011 season opened.

Also on the roster at the position is redshirt freshman Stevie Joe Dorman, a member of CU’s 2011 recruiting class. Colorado signed highly touted California high school quarterback Shane Dillon in February, but he will not be in Boulder until August.

Before Hirschman’s latest setback, Embree had said the recuperative process for the 6-3, 230-pounder would not be rushed, even if it meant holding Hirschman out until after spring break or limiting his work to seven-on-seven passing work.

Other Spring practice notes …

When Embree convened his first CU spring drills last March, he and his staff spent significant time acclimating returning players to a new approach. That groundwork has been laid, which should enable the CU staff to focus more on fundamental improvement than instituting a cultural change.

Embree said a year has produced dramatic results: “There are a lot of things you remember from last year when we were trying to create a certain culture, a certain mindset. A lot of those things you can see now. From Coaches’ Week, I feel good about where we’re headed and that culture being changed. A lot of that is those guys and that leadership council . . . those guys taking ownership and investing in each other.

“This is a team that likes each other and is becoming closer as a team, I can see that. There’s lots of little things that are necessary for you to win and be successful. You can see some of those starting to take shape.”

March 4th

Spring Practice – By the Numbers

15 – The number of spring practices each team is allowed by the NCAA. Colorado will conduct its first spring practice on Saturday, March 10th. The Buffs will go for two weeks, take a week off for spring break (March 24th – April 1st), and then resume practices for the next two weeks. The CU Spring Game will be on Saturday, April 14th. For those who are scoring at home, the practices will be March 10-11-13-15-17-18-20-22 and April 2-3-5-9-10-12-14.

77 – The number of players participating in spring practices in 2012, including 57 scholarship players and 20 walk-ons.

8 – How many scholarship seniors will be a part of spring drills. In addition to the eight seniors, there are 20 juniors, 32 sophomores, and 17 freshmen (15 red-shirt; two true). The 2012 season will be the first since 2000, when the Buffs had nine seniors, in which Colorado has had fewer than ten seniors on the fall roster.  On only two other occasions in the past 30 seasons (1986, nine; 1995, seven) has CU had single digits senior classes.

4 – The number of players who will not be a part of spring practices due to injury. Defensive lineman Nate Bonsu (shoulder), linebacker Doug Rippy (knee), running back Malcolm Creer (knee), and defensive back Jered Bell (knee) are all recovering from surgeries, and are out for the spring. All four are expected to be available by the time fall camp opens in August.

5- How many other players are still on the injured list, but are expected to be available for most, if not all, of spring drills. Linebacker Brady Daigh (wrist), defensive back Sherrard Harrington (hip), offensive tackle Jack Harris (ankle), are wide receiver Alex Turbow (hernia) are all listed as “probable”. Quarterback Nick Hirschman, who underwent foot surgery during the off-season, remains a question mark. Hirschman believes he is close to 100%, but head coach Jon Embree will not force the sophomore back into action. It would not be a surprise if Hirschman was limited in his participation in the first half of practices, giving him an extra three weeks (including spring break) to heal.

5/3 – How many scholarship and walk-on defensive linemen Colorado has available for spring. With the dearth of healthy players along the defensive line (while the Buffs wait for Nate Bonsu to heal, and for the nine 2012 recruits to enroll), it is likely that – for the second consecutive year, and the fourth time in seven years – that the Colorado Spring Game will be the Colorado Spring Scrimmage.

30 – The number of pounds gained since last July by Stephane Nembot, going from 280 pounds to 310. Nembot switched last fall from defensive line to offensive line, and will be lining up behind junior Jack Harris at right tackle this spring.

116 – The number of days from the start of spring practice to the first game of the season. The Rocky Mountain Showdown against Colorado State has been moved from Saturday, September 1st to Sunday, September 2nd.

15,655 – The attendance at last year’s Spring Game, the second-highest total in CU history. The attendance record came in 2008, when 17,800 Buff fans turned out, enjoying the prospects of a team coming off of a bowl game in 2007 (not to mention Coach Mac’s call to “Fill Folsom” at the 2008 recruiting luncheon). The previous record for attendance at a spring game was in 1989, when 13,642 were on hand for Sal Aunese’s return to Folsom after being diagnosed with cancer.

1 – Offensive starter returning for the Buffs who is not an offensive lineman. Colorado returns four offensive starters from 2011 – tackle Ryan Dannewitz; center Gus Handler; tackle David Bakhtiari; and wide receiver Paul Richardson. The only other offensive player returning who is not an offensive lineman and who has at least three career starts is DaVaughn Thornton, who has three career starts at tight end (but has now moved to wide receiver).

March 2nd

CU closes “Coaches’ Week” with optimism

For most of the country, it’s difficult to see the state of the University of Colorado football program and project optimism.

A 3-10 record in 2011; a school-record six straight losing seasons.

And, as ESPN’s Ted Miller points out in listing CU’s Jon Embree as the Pac-12 coach facing the most challenges this season, the Buffs are starting over in a number of key positions:

“First, look at the depth chart. Embree must replace his quarterback, top rusher, top two receivers (statistically; junior Paul Richardson is the Buffaloes best offensive player) and his best pass-rusher. While recruiting has been solid, asking freshmen and redshirt freshmen to fill obvious voids probably isn’t going to get very far in the Pac-12. What has become clear is Embree inherited a substantial rebuilding project, one that would tax even Nick Saban. Bowl game? It will be surprising if the Buffs don’t finish in the South Division cellar again.”

Still, it’s spring, a time for every team to be optimistic. As the calendar turns to March, and spring practices are about to begin, it’s hard not to remember the glory years of the not-to-distant past, and believe CU is on a path winning seasons, bowl games, and championship berths.

Colorado head coach Jon Embree likes what he has seen from his young team.

“Coaches’ Week”, which took place this week, consisted of returning players working through eight “stations” ranging from running steps at Folsom Field, doing agility work, running a rope course, and cone and similar drills (video links below).

The team was separated by positions, with the emphasis on personal conditioning and individual competition.

“It’s been real good,” Embree said. “There’s been focus, competition, guys rising up . . . I’ve seen leadership develop.”

Embree said players have been “pushed as far as we can from a mental standpoint,” with the focus on teaching them to “compete when they’re tired and learning to follow directions when they’re tired . . . all things have been done under duress. At each station, you see who can and who can’t (thrive) under pressure.”

Several players have caught the eyes of the head coach already this spring:

Senior tight end Nick Kasa, who moved to offense during the 2011 season, “had a great day Thursday . . . I’m anxious to see him (in spring drills). We’ve got some good guys coming in.”

Embree also acknowledged the “Coaches’ Week” work of senior defensive tackle Will Pericak, junior defensive end Chidera Uzo-Diribe, sophomore outside linebacker Juda Parker, senior safety Ray Polk, and junior receiver Paul Richardson.

“They’ve all been phenomenal,” Embree said. “They’ve literally dominated every time they’ve been up, whoever they’ve gone against, whatever the drill is – they’ve just dominated it. It’s good to see they have that mindset of not just coasting if you’re better than your competition. Every ‘rep’ they’ve gone like it was the last one, the only one. It’s great that they have that mindset, and it’s starting to spread to other guys, it really is.”

If you haven’t been watching the “Coaches’ Week” videos this week, here is your chance to catch up (it’s really worth your time!):

Coaches’ Week – Day One

Coaches’ Week – Day Two

Coaches’ Week – Day Three

Coaches’ Week – Day Four

Coaches’ Week – Day Five

Do Work!! All Day!!

Go Buffs!

March 1st

Brent Burnette / Vince Ewing leaving the team

At least none of the players on the existing roster will have to grayshirt …

Colorado’s roster will be at or below the allowed maximum of 85 scholarships this fall, as two players currently on the roster will not be with the team come August.

Senior quarterback Brent Burnette, who transferred in last January from Arizona Western College, will not be competing for the starting position this fall. Burnette can graduate in May and has elected not to return to the squad. Colorado has four other quarterbacks on the roster – sophomores Nick Hirschman and Connor Wood, as well as red-shirt freshmen Stevie Joe Dorman and John Schrock. With the young talent the Buffs have on hand (not to mention the arrival of freshman recruit Shane Dillon this fall), the quarterback race was not likely to include Burnette. In 2011, when starter Tyler Hansen went down, Burnette was not an option, with the coaching staff opting to go with Hirschman instead.

The second player not returning for his senior season is linebacker Vince Ewing, who has medically retired. Ewing will be classified as a permanent medical, meaning his career is done due to chronic knee problems. But Embree said he wanted Ewing to be “out helping. I want him to be a part of it.” Ewing began his career at CU as a safety, seeing action in six games (all on special teams) as a red-shirt freshman in 2009. Ewing went down with a torn ACL in August of 2010 and was lost for the season. This past fall, Ewing was 7th on the team with 12 special teams points. Still, even with all of CU’s problems with injuries in the defense, was in for only two games and five plays (though he did record two tackles in those five plays).

The loss of Burnette and Ewing actually allows Colorado to head into the fall with less than 85 scholarship players. The Buffs will have 57 scholarship players on hand for spring practices. The Class of 2012 had 28 members, but one of those members, Clay Norgard, enrolled early and will participate in spring drills. That gives Colorado, unless there is further attrition, 84 players on scholarship come August.

So Colorado does have – should another Paul Richardson situation become available – a scholarship to work with this summer.

Other roster moves …

- Sophmore Kyle Washington, who played in eight games (192 plays, 20 tackles) as a defensive back last fall, will experiment at linebacker this spring. Washington played last fall at 6’1″, 200-pounds.

- Junior Parker Orms will experiment at safety. Before being injured last fall, Orms played in six games, registering 39 tackles;

- Junior Paul Vigo, another injury victim last fall, will also be given a look at safety. (The Buffs return starter Ray Polk at one safety position, but are looking for a replacement for Anthony Perkins);

- Sophomore tight end Cordary Allen is on the move again. Allen, at 6’1, 245-pounds, started the 2011 season at tailback, then moved over to practice with the tight ends. This spring, Allen will now ply his trade at defensive end.

February 26th

Spring practices closed

Colorado spring football practices will be closed to the public and media members will be allowed to view only parts of practices, coach Jon Embree said.

“With this being such a young team, I want to keep distractions for those guys at a minimum,” Embree told the Daily Camera. “I don’t want them coming off the field every day feeling like they’re being judged.

“I just want the kids to learn how to play, no anxiety, no nothing.”

Embree said he is leaving open the possibility of having part of fall camp in August open to the public, but that isn’t a sure thing at this point. Last year, the public was able to watch the first 10 practices of fall camp in their entirety. He said that decision will be made later this summer and it will depend, in part, on how the quarterback competition goes this spring.

Red-shirt freshmen to keep an eye on this spring

Colorado had 28 seniors on the team last fall. Normally, a team so rich with senior talent would be expected to red-shirt most, if not all, of its freshman class.

The Buffs in 2011, however, did not have that luxury.

As evidenced by the fact that only one Buff senior, offensive lineman Ryan Miller, was invited to the NFL Scouting Combines this week, the CU senior class was not – by any objective measure – overly talented. This being the case, a number of freshmen were forced into the fray last fall. Cornerback Greg Henderson played every snap in the opener against Hawai’i, becoming only the second true freshman to play every snap in a season opener at any position in school history. Kicker Will Oliver set a freshman scoring record, besting the effort of one Mason Crosby. In all, 15 true freshmen saw action in 2011 for Colorado, with six of them – Henderson, defensive back D.D. Goodson, offensive lineman Alexander Lewis, wide receiver Tyler McCulloch, linebacker Juda Parker, and defensive back Kyle Washington – earning starts during the season.

What of the other true freshmen from the Class of 2011? Which player from that group is the most likely to make a name for himself this spring?

Here are the candidates:

Quarterback Stevie Joe Dorman – Dorman came to Boulder with a great resume and a great lineage … but little in the way of national excitement. As a high school senior in Somerset, Texas, Dorman, who is the nephew of Ty and Koy Detmer, Dorman threw for 3,291 yards and 40 touchdowns in leading his team to a 10-3 record. In his three seasons as a starting quarterback, Dorman put up some gaudy numbers. He finished his career with 94 touchdown passes, good enough for sixth on the all-time list in Texas prep history (and two more than what Chase Daniel, who went on to star for Missouri, posted). Dorman had 9,352 career passing yards, fifth on the all-time list (and just eight yards ahead of one Colt McCoy). Dorman’s 597 completions also put him in fifth place on the all-time Texas prep list, just ahead of McCoy and uncle Koy Detmer. And yet, Dorman was not highly recruited, playing in a lower division in Texas.

Since his arrival in Boulder, Dorman has not been a disappointment, but it is also fair to say that he has not created a buzz, either. Since Dorman signed, Colorado has brought in University of Texas transfer Connor Wood, and has received a letter of intent from Class of 2012 member Shane Dillon. The quarterback competition is open this spring, but, unless, Dorman can make significant inroads in the eyes of the coaches, he may become a career backup at quarterback.

Wide receiver Nelson Spruce – Spruce was considered to be a three-star prospect by both Rivals and Scout. Spruce was the 94th-best wide receiver prospect in the nation in the Class of 2011, according to Scout.com. In his senior year, Spruce had 73 receptions for 1,292 yards and 18 touchdowns. A two-way starter, Spruce was named his league’s Defensive back-of-the-year, with 31 tackles and three interceptions. He is 6’2″, 195 pounds, and runs a 4.5 in the 40.

While the resume appears to be in order, there are several nagging questions about Spruce … First, after Signing Day, 2011, with Spruce in the fold, Colorado signed not one, not two, not three, but four other wide receivers. Tyler McCulloch, transfer Logan Gray, Austin Vincent, and D.D. Goodson all became Buffs last spring. While none the coaches had anything bad to say about Spruce, the post-Signing Day moves spoke for them. Second, while there was no choice but to play Gray last fall, and Goodson saw action in the depleted CU secondary, Spruce remained on the bench.

Offensive lineman Marc Mustoe – Marc Mustoe was considered to be a three-star prospect by both Rivals and Scout. Mustoe was ranked as the 5th-best overall prospect in the state of Colorado by Scout in 2011. Mustoe was ranked as the 51st-best offensive lineman in the nation by Rivals and the No. 5 player from Colorado, while Scout had Mustoe as the 32nd-best offensive tackle best offensive tackle in the country. Mustoe was a SuperPrep All-American and All-Midlands team member, as the publication ranked him as the No. 32 in the region, the No. 3 offensive lineman, and the No. 2 player out of the state of Colorado. PrepStar named Mustoe to its All-Region team, and the Denver Post named Mustoe to its All-Colorado team. Mustoe had committed to UCLA, but was convinced to stay home once the new coaching staff was announced.

Mustoe is a large human being. In high school, he played at 6’7″, 273 pounds, and rand a 5.3 in the 40. With Colorado perennially thin along the offensive line, Mustoe will have a chance to play in 2012.

Offensive lineman Stephane Nembot – Nembot was one of the prized recruits of the Colorado Class of 2011 … as a defensive end. Nembot was considered to be a three-star defensive end prospect by both Rivals and Scout. Rivals considered Nembot to be the 51st-best defensive end in the country, while Scout rated Nembot as the 70th-best defensive end. A Scout evaluation said of Nembot:  “he might be the most intriguing prospect in the West.” Nembot came to the United States from Cameroon, looking to play basketball, but quickly turned to football. Still, Nembot has only played football competitively for one year, so there is a great deal of raw talent for the Colorado coaching staff to mold. Nembot’s “size and upside are off the charts”.

At the end of August camp last fall, Nembot switched from the defensive line to the offensive line. At 6’7″, 270-pounds, Nembot is about the same size as Marc Mustoe, but is considered to be more agile. Those who have watched him play indicate Nembot has – despite his inexperience at the position – a good chance to be as good or better than other underclassmen at the position.

Offensive lineman Brad Cotner – Cotner was originally a member of the Class of 2010, but did not have the grades to go anywhere except Venture Community College (where he didn’t play football, preserving his eligibility). While still in high school, Cotner earned second-team All-Ventura County and first-team All-Marmonte League honors at center, helping to lead Westlake to the Division Northern 3 CIF Championship.  In starting all 14 games, he did not allow a quarterback sack or get flagged for any penalties, and allowed his man to pressure the QB on just two occasions.  Westlake was an offensive juggernaut, averaging 408 yards of offense (218 rushing) and outscoring the opponent 580-219, including nine games with 40-plus points; the team boasted a 2,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard rusher and a 1,000-yard receiver, the latter being fellow CU recruit Nelson Spruce.

At 6’4″, 290-pounds, Cotner has the build for a center. Last season, as a red-shirt freshman, Daniel  earned the start at center in the first three games of the season. Munyer was replaced at starter by Gus Handler, however, for the final ten games of 2011. With two centers returning who have starting experience, it is unlikely that Cotner will have an impact in 2012, but he is bing groomed to be the Buffs’ starting center in the future.

Linebacker Jermane Clark – Jermane Clark  came to Boulder as something as an unknown quantity, and remains so to this day (Clark is so far off the radar that the spelling of his name is in question. Often, Clark’s first name is listed as “Jermaine”. The CU website, though, lists him as “Jermane”, so we’ll go with that). Clark was considered to be a two-star prospect in the Class of 2011 by both Rivals and Scout.   ESPN listed Clark as the No. 10 outside linebacker out of the state of North Carolina in 2010. “Jermane is a very versatile player, very good athlete,” said Oak Ridge head coach Otis Yelverton. “He played running back, receiver, a little linebacker and a little safety for us. He is a good, smart player.” As to Clark’s transfer from R.J. Reynolds high in Winston Salem, North Carolina, Yelverton said, “Basically the reason he came to Oak Ridge is to get recruited. His high school coach didn’t do a very good job of putting out his film and promoting him. He is finally getting the attention he deserves.”

Clark is 6’2″, 200-pounds, and runs a 4.6 in the 40 yard dash. He is alternatively listed at linebacker, defensive back, or just “athlete”. Clark is listed by CU as a defensive back, though he will likely fit in as one of the many hybrid linebacker/defensive back/nickel back players CU has on its roster.

Defensive back Sherrard HarringtonHarrington likely would have played as a true freshman in the Colorado M*A*S*H unit of a secondary in 2011, but suffered a stress fracture in his hip last summer, and sat out the fall campaign. In high school, Harrington was considered to be a three-star prospect by Rivals, though was unrated by Scout until he committed to Colorado. That made him worthy of two stars. Harrington was a SuperPrep All-Midatlantic team member, as the publication rated Harrington as the No. 36 player in the region, the 7th-best cornerback, and the 11th-best player overall from the Washington D.C. area. As a senior, Harrington was in on 55 tackles, including five for loss and two sacks. Harrington ran two of his three interceptions back for scores, and had 13 pass break-ups.

Harrington is 6’1, 168-pounds, and runs a 4.4 in the 40. He is listed as “probable” for spring practices, and is looking to have a greater impact on the team than that of the recruiter of his H.D. Woodson teammated, the “D.C. Three” – defensive backs Kenneth Crawley and John Walker; defensive end De’Jon Wilson – to Boulder as part of the recruiting Class of 2012.

Others looking to have an impact …

- While still a true freshman, offensive lineman Alex Kelley was part of the CU recruiting Class of 2011. Injured while running along the beach last summer, Kelley gray-shirted last fall, enrolling at CU this January. Kelley still has five years to play four, so he could still red-shirt this fall.

- There are a number of preferred walk-ons who are red-shirt freshmen this spring, with one or two who could make an impact. The walk-on red-shirt freshman on the CU roster are: quarterback John Schrock; fullback Nick Plimpton; defensive linemen Kyle Koch, Casey Walker, and John Tuso; defensive backs River Thompson, Brandon Brisco, and Richard Yates; and long-snappers Keegan LaMar and Clayton Jones. Schrock has developed a cult following amongst some Buff fans, and may have an impact on the quarterback competition. Fullback Nick Plimpton will likely get the most reps amongst the walkons this spring, as Colorado only has one other fullback, true freshman Clay Norgard, available this spring.

February 22nd

Quarterback competition may be more heated than expected

This spring, Colorado will be auditioning for the role of starting quaterback.

For the first time in six seasons, the Buffs will open the fall campaign with a starter not named Hawkins or Hansen. Even though there are five quarterbacks on the roster – senior Brent Burnette, sophomore Nick Hirschman, sophomore Connor Wood, redshirt-freshman Stevie Dorman and red-shirt freshman John Schrock – many in the Buff Nation are ready to hand over the keys to the Buff offense to Connor Wood even before he has taken his first snap with the first team offense. This sentiment was only enhanced when it was announced that Hirschman, Wood’s perceived chief competition (at least until Shane Dillon enrolls this summer), would be out for some if not all of the spring practices off-season foot surgery.

Now, it appears, at least to Hirschman, that the competition to earn the starting role will be “on” from the first day of spring practices, March 10th. A reported tweet of Hirschman, “So close to 100 percent rehab does the body good”, lends credence to the report that the sophomore, who has one career start under his belt (a less than auspicious effort against Arizona State), will be a “full go” for most of the spring.

For his part, Connor Wood is looking forward to the competition.

“From my experience at UT, it made us become leaders through our actions and verbally,” Wood told the Daily Camera. “It challenged us as quarterbacks to really compete against each other. I believe it made Garrett (Gilbert), Case (McCoy), David (Ash) and I better quarterbacks through that competition in the spring and the summer. We were working our tails off trying to beat each other out, and I believe it made the team better.

“So I believe having this open quarterback competition will force all the quarterbacks on this roster to maybe get out of their comfort zone a little bit and to really step up.”

Wood understands that, even though he has received raves from teammates for his work last fall, and is being looked upon by Buff fans as a potential savior for the program, that nothing has been earned, nothing is guaranteed. “I believe that no spot is secured for sure going into spring. So everyone is going to have to work their tail off and it’s going to bring out the best in everyone. It’s going to break some guys. It’s going to make some guys better. But I think the constructive competition within the team is going to be great for us.”

The job is Wood’s to lose, but some healthy competition from Hirschman will not hurt him … or the Buffs.

3 Responses to “Spring Practice Primer”

  1. Nice work Montana! I like the recognition your web page gets on espn.

  2. Al

    The competition is really healthy and can create the starting QB who will help advance the program sufficiently to make attracting 4* plus QB’s easier – it should also give newbies the opportunity to RS and develop within the system thereby making the quality of the QB tier better and better. The top teams always have a reserve QB in the wings who has almost as much talent as the starter. VK should be having an orgasm sometime before or just after Mar. 1 with the anticipation that will be building. I haven’t seen Wood play so no prediction. If a dog fight ensues, bring it on…. that’s what top programs are supposed to do. Don’t count anyone out…. let’s separate the crème de la crème from the fat-free stuff.

  3. Michael

    Make mine Wood in a dog fight with Hirsch and maybe Schrock.

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