Fall Camp – Roster Battles
Below is a look at the CU roster, position-by-position …
Kicking game / Special Teams
Roster: Kickers – Justin Castor, Sr.; Will Oliver; Jr.; Diego Gonzalez, Fr. … Punters – Darragh O’Neill, Jr.; Will Oliver, Jr. … Long-snappers – Ryan Iverson, Sr.; Keegan LaMar, So. (walk-on); Blake Allen, Fr., (walk-on); Trevor Carver, R-Fr. (walk-on); John Finch, Fr. (walk-on)
Anything strange about a roster in which there are more long-snappers than kickers?
Welcome to CU, 2013.
Actually, it’s not that strange. Ryan Iverson is a three-year starter at long-snapper, and is entering his senior season. Four walk-ons will be vying this fall to take over Iverson’s spot next fall, and, if all goes according to plan, earn themselves a scholarship in the process. If Colorado was coming off of a 13-0 season, and had 24 starters returning, this would be one of the more interesting battles of fall camp.
But, the Buffs aren’t coming off of a 13-0 season, so the battle to replace a truly good player in Ryan Iverson will be relegated to stats geeks like me.
The starters at kicker and punter are, barring injury, set for 2013. Darragh O’Neill is already a two-year starter at punter, on the field for all 25 games of his CU career. O’Neill was an honorable mention All-American last year (Sports Illustrated), and was voted by the coaches as an honorable mention All-Pac-12 performer as well. Know this about the Ray Guy watch list nominee … O’Neill’s 43.06 yards per punt average is seventh on the all-time list at Colorado – with five of the six in front of him having earned All-American honors during their careers in Boulder.
The field goal kicker for Colorado will be Will Oliver. The junior didn’t get much of a chance to strut his stuff in 2012, attempting only eight field goals all season (making six). Oliver did convert all 28 extra point attempts last season, so he’s got that going for him, which is nice …
The real drama in fall camp will be the decision as to who will handle kickoff duties. Zach Grossnickle, who left the team and is currently on the roster at Washington, had the most kickoffs in 2012, with 21, followed by Justin Castor, with 17, and Will Oliver, with seven. Perhaps challenging for the job will be Diego Gonzalez, the most recently added name to the CU roster. Gonzalez, from Mexico, was a member of the recruiting Class of 2012, but did not play last season. If his highlights turn out to be prophetic, Gonzalez may turn into CU’s kickoff specialist in 2014, with an eye to being the placekicker of the future.
The CU special teams in 2012, like most of the team, were poor. Thanks to Darragh O’Neill, the Buffs were 21st in the nation in net punting – CU’s highest ranking in any category. After that, though, the numbers were not so good. Colorado was 96th in the nation in punt returns, with Kenneth Crawley (12 for 81 yards) handling 75% of the returns. Kickoff returns were slightly better (71st nationally), with the bulk of the returns going to Marques Mosley (21 for 549 yards, including a 100-yard return for a touchdown against Utah) and Donta Abron (20 returns for 380 yards). While Crawley, Mosley, and Abron all return this fall, no decisions have been made as to the starters for September 1st.
As to covering kicks, the Buffs need work. Colorado was 70th in the nation in punt return defense, but 120th – dead last – in kickoff returns, giving up a whopping 26.4 yards per return. CU’s cause was not helped when the special points leader from a year ago, Josh Moten, was lost for the season this summer with an Achilles tendon injury. The number two and three points performers from last season – linebackers Brady Daigh and Woodson Greer III – are also back, but, considering CU’s lack of depth at linebacker, may not see as much action on return teams as they did a season ago.
Bottom line … Darragh O’Neill has already had 150 punts in his two-year CU career. For comparison’s sake, let’s look at Andy Mitchell, who was the CU punter during the good times (1994-96). Mitchell, in three seasons as CU’s punter, had all of 103 punts. There is a very good chance that O’Neill will pass CU’s career punt leader (Matt DiLallo, 216 punts between 2006 and 2009) this fall. If O’Neill doesn’t get to 67 punts for the year, and has to wait until his senior year to set the all-time punts record, it will be a small victory for the Buffs.
Where dramatic improvement is required, though, is in special teams production. The Buffs must be better at returns, and must – must! – be better at covering kicks, especially kickoffs. Field position, for a team which will have less talent on the field for much of the season, will be a vital statistic if CU is going to be competitive in 2013.
Roster: Cornerbacks – Greg Henderson, Jr.; Harrison Hunter, Jr. (walk-on); Kenneth Crawley, So.; Yuri Wright, So.; Jeffrey Hall, So.; Brandon Brisco, So. (walk-on); John Walker, R-Fr.; Chidobe Awuzie; Fr. … Safeties – Parker Orms, Sr.; Terrel Smith, Sr.; Jered Bell, Jr.; Josh Moten, Jr. (injured, out for the season); Marques Mosley, So.; Richard Yates, So. (walk-on); Isaac Archuleta, So. (walk-on); Alexander Stewart, R-Fr. (walk-on); Tedric Thompson, Fr.; Ryan Moeller, Fr. (walk-on)
Another year older, another year … better? smarter?
Not to state the obvious, but Colorado’s pass defense has been porous at best the past few seasons. Last year, the Buffs’ surrendered completions at a rate of 67.8%, giving up 262 passing yards per game while posting … wait for it … a grand total of three interceptions.
Buff fans can only hope that the necessity of throwing true freshmen into the chaos which has been the CU defensive backfield the past two seasons will start to reap benefits in 2013. First it was Greg Henderson in 2011, playing a freshman record 823 snaps from scrimmage on his way to earning second-team Freshman All-American honors (collegefootballnews.com), along with All-Pac-12 honorable mention recognitiion. Last season, it was Kenneth Crawley’s turn, with Crawley on the field for 642 snaps, the second-highest total for a freshman in CU history. For his efforts, which included 58 tackles, Crawley garnered honorable mention Freshman All-American accolades (collegefootballnews.com).
In fact, last season four freshmen defensive backs – Crawley, Jeffrey Hall, Marques Mosley and Yuri Wright played a combined 1,595 snaps from scrimmage.
Time will tell if that experience will pay dividends in years to come.
While the defensive backfield will rotate through a significant number of players each game, the starting cornerbacks appear to be set. Crawley and Henderson combined for 19 starts last season, finishing the 2012 season and spring camp atop the depth chart. Josh Moten was pegged as Henderson’s primary backup coming out of the spring, but he has already been lost for the season with an Achilles’ tendon injury. Up first to assist Crawley and Henderson now will be John Walker, Yuri Wright, Jeffrey Hall and Harrison Hunter. Of that foursome, Yuri Wright, with 310 snaps in 2012 (21 tackles).
The starting cornerbacks are set, but there is much to be decided at the safety positions. Gone is Ray Polk, who split the starting duties at free safety with Parker Orms in 2012. Orms, however, is listed as the pre-camp starter at strong safety, where he started twice last season (Orms also had two starts at nickel back). When healthy, Orms has played well. Last season, Orms recorded 52 tackles (43 solo), including a career-high 13 tackles (12 solo) in CU’s victory over Washington State. Junior Jered Bell will enter fall camp as the listed starter at free safety, ahead of sophomore Marques Mosley, who started the last four games of the 2012 season at free safety.
Not yet mentioned is senior safety Terrel Smith. Last year, Smith started the first six games at strong safety, and continued in the rotation the remainder of the season. Smith finished second on the team in tackles (behind only linebacker Derrick Webb). Smith finished with 70 tackles last year (48 solo), but, as fall camp opens, he is listed behind Parker Orms on the strong safety depth chart.
As it stands, Colorado returns all of the defensive backfield starts – including starts by nickel backs – except for the seven starts by Ray Polk at safety. As a result, there is plenty of gameday experience in the CU secondary.
So CU has that going for it … which is nice.
Bottom line … Whether the significant playing time seen by CU’s still young defensive backs will turn into better production on Saturdays will depend on any number of factors: The (hopefully better) defensive scheme; the hoped for improved play from the defensive line, putting more pressure on opposing quarterbacks; the offense creating better field position. The list is lengthy.
But those other factors will also be dependent upon the Buffs’ last line of defense actually acting like that …
… the last line of defense.
Roster: Inside – Derrick Webb, Sr.; Brady Daigh, Jr.; Lowell Thomas, Jr.; K.T. Tu’umalo, Jr.; Thor Eaton, So. (walk-on); Clay Norgard, R-Fr.; Addison Gillam, Fr.; Jesse Hiss, R-Fr. (walk-on); Tim McLaughlin, R-Fr.; George Frazier, Fr.; Ryan Severson, Fr. … Outside – Paul Vigo, Sr.; Woodson Greer, Jr.; Hunter Shaw, So. (walk-on); Markeis Reed, Fr.; Kenneth Olugbode, Fr.
It wasn’t all that long ago (was it?) that Colorado churned out NFL linebackers with great regularity. Between 1990 and 1996, Colorado produced two Butkus Award winners (Alfred Williams, 1990; Matt Russell, 1996) and a runner-up (Ted Johnson, 1994). In the decade of the 90’s, the Buffs had an even ten linebackers drafted into the NFL. In the 13 NFL drafts since the 1990’s, however, CU has produced only three draft-worthy linebackers (Sean Tufts, 2004; Jordon Dizon; 2007; and Brad Jones, 2009).
And the cupboard is fairly thin in 2013 as well.
Colorado has a grand total of six – six! – letter-winners back at linebacker this fall, but even that is not the bad news. The bad news is that total of six includes three juniors whose contributions to date speak for themselves: Woodson Greer III (six games; 69 plays, 12 tackles in 2012); K.T. Tu’umalo (one game, 16 plays, one tackle in 2012) and junior Lowell Thomas (no games at linebacker last season; three tackles on special teams).
Getting excited yet?
Okay, Colorado does have Derrick Webb. The senior led the team in tackles as a junior in 2012, recording 88 (61 solo) – 18 more than the two players who came in second on the team. Webb played in all 12 games last season (601 snaps), but also found time to be a top performer on special teams. Webb has been named to the Butkus Award watch list, and was named one of six team captains for the fall.
Hopefully healthy enough to assist Webb on the inside is Brady Daigh. The junior missed much of spring ball with a severe knee sprain, but is listed as probable for fall camp. Last season Daigh played in ten games, with one start (250 snaps). Daigh recorded 40 tackles (31 solo), and was also a prized special teams performer, finishing second on the team with 21 special teams points (good enough to be named the Bill McCartney Award winner for special teams play). This spring, Daigh was named the Dick Anderson Award winner, recognizing “outstanding toughness”.
The other returning letter-winner at linebacker is Paul Vigo. The fifth-year senior started five games in 2012; three on the inside and two outside (he is listed as an outside linebacker in the latest depth chart). Vigo finished the season with 46 tackles (32 solo), including nine in CU’s lone win against Washington State.
With so little returning depth at linebacker, it was not a surprise that coach MacIntyre brought in some immediate help this spring. Enrolling in January were Addison Gillam, the San Jose State grey-shirt who followed Mac & Co. to Boulder and Markeis Reed, who graduated high school last December. Both are likely to see action as true freshmen this fall, with Gillam in particular turning heads this spring.
If the Buffs dig much deeper into the depth chart this fall, it could be a long season. Clay Norgard has returned to linebacker after initially coming to Boulder as a tight end (he played both in high school). Norgard could develop into a very good linebacker, but it would be a great deal to expect much production this fall in his first full season at the position.
Of course, Buff fans can hope that sophomore walk-on Thor Eaton makes his way onto the field. In a season which projects to have few SportsCenter moments, a few spectacular plays from someone named Thor could just make the ESPN highlights …
Bottom line … It is absolutely crucial that Derrick Webb, Brady Daigh, and Paul Vigo stay healthy and productive this fall. If freshmen are forced into the fray against the point-a-minute offenses of the Pac-12 … well, we know what happens next.
Roster: Defensive tackles – Nate Bonsu, Sr.; Josh Tupou, So.; Tyler Henington, So.; Justin Solis, So.; John Tuso, So. (walk-on); Kory Rasmussen, R-Fr.; De’Jon Wilson, R-Fr. … Defensive ends – Chidera Uzo-Diribe, Sr.; Kirk Poston, Jr.; Juda Parker, Jr.; Andre Nichols, Jr. (walk-on); Samson Kafovalu, So.; Derek McCartney, R-Fr; Timothy Coleman, Fr.; Jimmie Gilbert
Colorado will play a base 4-3 defense, with Tyler Henington and Josh Tupou listed as starters at defensive tackle, and Chidera Uzo-Diribe and Samson Kafovalu listed as the starting defensive ends.
Thing is, the Buffs will hardly ever be in the 4-3. With all of the spread offenses CU will be playing this fall, it’s more realistic that CU will have three linemen on the field at any given time.
And that’s not altogether a bad thing, considering the Buffs’ roster.
Take another look at the starting defensive line (at least heading into fall camp). You’ve got Uzo-Diribe … and three sophomores.
Uzo-Diribe is a proven talent. Elected as one of the Buffs’ six team captains, the senior enters the season 12th on the CU all-time sack list, with 15. He has played 37 career games, tied with two others for the most on the team, with his 17 starts ranking third most by a returning player. Uzo-Diribe had a career-best 43 tackles (37 solo) last season.
The three sophomores? Some (largely unproven) talent –
– Tyler Henington – Henington had a good spring, recording three sacks in four scrimmages, earning the team’s Dan Stavely Award, selected by the coaches as the team’s most improved defensive lineman. Last season … 11 games; 290 snaps; 25 tackles (13 solo).
– Josh Tupou – Tupou earned honorable mention Freshman All-American accolades from collegefootballnews.com. Last season … ten games (seven starts); 343 snaps; 37 tackles (20 solo).
– Samson Kafovalu – Kafovalu played as a defensive tackle last season, but has been listed as a defensive end on the rosters since spring. Last season … ten games (four starts); 249 snaps; 20 tackles (13 solo).
But wait, there’s more … unlike the offensive line, there is actually some depth along the defensive line.
Junior Juda Parker was a regular in the rotation last season, playing in all 12 games (241 snaps), posting 19 tackles (14 solo). Why not a starter ahead of Samson Kafovalu? Well, Parker missed all of spring practices, completing rehab from off-season shoulder surgery. How well Parker has recovered, and how quickly he picks up the new defensive schemes, will go a long ways toward how often Parker is on the field this fall.
Senior Nate Bonsu, meanwhile, has been a consistent, if not spectacular, performer for the Buffs. Bonsu last season played in nine games, in for more snaps (306) than any other returning defensive linemen other than Uzo-Diribe and Tupou. Bonsu had 24 tackles (ten solo).
Another junior, Kirk Poston, will compete for playing time. Poston played in 11 games last fall, recording 20 tackles (13 solo) in 304 snaps.
Throw in some players who have yet to see significant playing time – sophomores Justin Solis and John Tuso, red-shirt freshmen De’Jon Wilson and Kory Rasmussen – and an injured junior, Andre Nichols, and the Buffs have the making of a pretty decent defensive line.
Bottom line … Colorado is deeper along the defensive line than it has been in years, with a disrupting force in Chidera Uzo-Diribe and some talented upcoming players. The fact remains, though, that the CU defense was 115th in the nation in rushing defense last fall, 117th in total defense, and 120th (dead last) in scoring defense, giving up 46.0 points per game.
New enthusiasm for the new coaching staff will only carry this unit – and this team – so far. If Colorado is to be competitive this fall, the defensive line – quite literally – has to be CU’s first line of defense.
Roster: Jack Harris, Sr.; Gus Handler, Sr.; Daniel Munyer, Jr.; Kaiwi Crabb, Jr.; Stephane Nembot, So.; Brad Cotner, So.; Marc Mustoe, So.; Jeromy Irwin; So.; James Carr, So. (walk-on); Alex Kelley, R-Fr.; Vincent Arvia, R-Fr. (walk-on); Ed Caldwell, R-Fr. (walk-on); Gerrad Kough, Fr.; Gunnar Graham, Fr.; Jonathan Huckins, Fr.; Sam Kronshage, Fr.; Colin Sutton, Fr.
Glass half-full Dept. …
Four players with significant starting experience return for the Buffs this fall. Center Gus Handler is a Rimington Award watch list candidate, despite playing in only five games last season. With ankle and knee injuries hopefully behind him, Handler should be able to continue his fine play (only one sack and two pressures allowed in 279 snaps in 2012). Handler could be the next CU offensive lineman drafted, following in the recent footsteps of Ryan Miller and David Bakhtiari, players drafted in the 2012 and 2013 NFL drafts, respectively.
Along the rest of the line, the Buffs return Jack Harris and Stephane Nembot at tackle and Daniel Munyer at one of the guard positions. The three players combined for 30 starts last season, with Munyer earning honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors.
The remaining starting position will likely be filled by red-shirt freshman Alex Kelley, who received the Joe Romig Award this spring, given annually to the most improved offensive lineman, or junior Kaiwi Crabb, who sat out all of last season.
Can the CU offensive line, without David Bakhtiari, who left early for the NFL, and Alex Lewis, who left early for … Nebraska, actually improve?
“I think we’re capable of that,” Daniel Munyer told the Daily Camera. “Some of us have been through some extremely adverse situations. Some of us, this is our third coaching staff. A lot of us only won one game last year and that builds on you. It motivates you to strive to do better in everything you do. There is only so much someone can take and I really feel all the little stuff and all the big stuff that has been happening with us, it’s made us more collective as a group and wanting to succeed more and to show our fans that we’re here to play for you guys and to play for Colorado and not to make it look like we’re giving no effort.”
Glass half-empty Dept. …
Depth is not a four-letter word, but it may as well be for the Buffs.
The Buffs’ offensive line, prone to injury, cannot afford to lose a single body for a single game this season … an unreasonable prospect.
Yes, Gus Handler is on the Rimington Award watch list, but he played in only five games last season.
Yes, Harris, Nembot and Munyer combined for 30 of a possible 36 starts last season, but look how it was accomplished. Munyer was honorable mention All-Pac-12, but that was perhaps as much for his versatility as his play. Munyer’s 2012 season: three games at right guard; two games at center; three games at right guard; four games at center (and Munyer is presently recovering from a fractured fibula suffered midway through spring practices). Jack Harris also bounced back-and-forth all season in 2012, playing five games at right tackle and six at right guard (after missing most of 2011 with an ankle injury). Stephane Nembot, who may grow into a superstar, was thrown into the fire as a starter four games into his red-shirt freshman season (after converting over from the defensive line).
And those are the best CU has to offer …
After the starting five, the Colorado line is perilously thin. Sophomore Jeromy Irwin enters the fall listed as the primary backup at both right tackle and right guard – a player with all of 72 plays under his belt (with a high of 14 plays in the blowout loss to Oregon). Marc Mustoe, the primary backup at right tackle, has 32 offensive plays in his career portfolio. Sophomore center Brad Cotner has slightly more experience from which to draw upon – 74 total plays – but he is most likely to see action if Gus Handler is hurt.
After those three … you’re done with “experienced” backups. The remainder of the offensive line roster is made up of walk-ons and true freshmen. It is axiomatic in college football that you red-shirt freshmen offensive linemen, but Colorado may not have that option. Instead of bulking up in the weight room and preparing for the speed of the college game, one or more of the freshmen who checked in this summer – Gerrad Kough, Gunnar Graham, Jonathan Huckins, Sam Kronshage, or Colin Sutton – may see action this fall. If this proves true, don’t blame the coaches or the quarterback for the Buffs’ stagnant offense.
It will be the inexperience along the offensive line which is causing the problem.
Bottom line … Much will be written this August about whether Connor Wood can or will be overtaken as the front-runner at quarterback. The savvy Buff fan, though, will keep an eye on the offensive line … and hope everyone stays healthy.
Roster: Scott Fernandez, Sr.; Alex Wood, Sr.; Kyle Slavin, Jr.; Austin Ray, R-Fr.; Sean Irwin, R-Fr.; Connor Center, Fr.; Robert Orban, Fr. (walk-on); Chris Hill, Fr. (walk-on)
Nick Kasa was the Buffs’ go-to tight end in 2012. The former defensive end led all tight ends (and was fourth on the team overall) with 25 catches for 391 yards and three touchdowns. Kasa, however, is now in the NFL, going to the Oakland Raiders in the 6th round of April’s draft.
The question for this season, though, isn’t so much which tight ends will step up, as much as it is how much they will be used in the Mike MacIntyre offense.
The pistol offense doesn’t always feature tight ends, and, with CU lacking star power at the position, the Buff coaching staff could be forgiven for de-emphasizing the role of the tight end.
But not so fast.
The evidence would suggest that tight ends are going to play a significant role, witness the signing of a tight end, Connor Center, in June. Center is a 6-foot-8, 250-pound tight end/offensive lineman who hasn’t played football in five years. Center pitched for the Christian Brothers Academy baseball team in Albany, N.Y., and decided to return to football after lifting weights this past year.
Center is not likely to see the field of play this fall, red-shirting as he learns his position(s), but the late addition of someone like Center suggests that the tight end position is alive and well in the Mike MacIntyre offensive scheme.
So, who will play a primary role?
With Vincent Hobbs having left the team to be with his family in Texas, look for junior Kyle Slavin to pick up the slack. Slavin, who had 14 catches for 109 yards and a touchdown last season, has gained 25 pounds since arriving in Boulder. Slavin is perhaps the team’s most well-rounded tight end, with skills both as a pass catcher and blocker.
The co-starter coming out of spring practices was senior Scott Fernandez. The senior had a memorable 71-yard touchdown catch against Arizona last fall, but that proved to be his only catch of the year. If Vincent Hobbs is healthy, Fernandez will likely see the field most often as a blocker instead of a receiver. A former fullback, Alex Wood, is listed at tight end in the post-spring depth chart, and will also see time in short yardage situations.
In addition to Connor Center, the Buffs will have two more scholarship freshmen l0oking for playing time, as red-shirt freshmen Sean Irwin (6’4″, 235) and Austin Ray (6’6″, 250) will have the opportunity to contribute for the first time in their careers.
Bottom line … The pistol offense can adjust to its strengths in personnel. That’s a good thing, because, for at least the 2013 season, the tight end position is not a strength.
Roster: Alex Turbow, Sr. (walk-on); Tyler McCulloch, Jr.; Paul Richardson, Jr.; D.D. Goodson, Jr.; Keenan Canty, Jr.; Justin Gorman, Jr. (walk-on); Wesley Christensen, Jr.(walk-on); Nelson Spruce, So.; Colin Johnson, R-Fr. (walk-on); Jeffrey Thomas, Fr.; Bryce Bobo, Fr.; Elijah Dunston, Fr.; Devin Ross, Fr.
[First, a roster note. There has been a great deal of speculation about whether some of the above names will still be on the roster come August 5th. For now, let’s not engage in speculation or rumor. The above list represents the roster posted on the CU website, and we’re going with that. There will be plenty of time to reduce the above list when attrition has been confirmed.]
What do we know?
Paul Richardson is perhaps the Buff most likely to be named to All-Pac-12 teams come December. Richardson demonstrated during spring practices and during the spring game that he has recovered from the torn ACL he suffered during the last week of spring practices in 2012. Richardson enters his junior season 25th in school history in receptions (73) 21st in receiving yards (1,069) and ninth in touchdowns (11) … despite only playing portions of two seasons.
Can Richardson, a Biletnikoff award watch list nominee, have performances like he had against Cal in 2011 (284 yards receiving, smashing the school-record of 222 yards)?
Buff fans can only hope.
What don’t we know?
Who will take the pressure off of Richardson.
The first players to get the chance are the leading receivers from 2012 (and the players alongside Richardson on the depth chart at the end of the spring), Nelson Spruce (44 catches for 446 yards and three touchdowns in 2012) and Tyler McCulloch (34 catches for 436 yards and two touchdowns). The pair, however, only produced one 100-yard game between them (Spruce going for 103 against Washington State), and that’s not going to cut it if CU is going to produce more victories than losses in 2013.
Buff fans are hoping a Thomas – in this case freshman Jeff Thomas, as Gerald Thomas has left the team – might provide the answer. Thomas has shown sparks of brilliance, but it’s no longer practices or scrimmages.
For the CU passing game to be successful in 2013, it may fall to a true freshman to have a breakout season. There have been positive reports from the summer workouts that the true freshmen have been impressive. Perhaps Bryce Bobo, Elijah Dunston, or Devin Ross will become a household name in the Buff Nation by the end of the season.
That’s a great deal to ask of a true freshman, but … for an offense which ranked 96th nationally in pass offense in 2012 … CU fans will take the chance.
Bottom line … Richardson should get his yards, and his share of scores. But opposing teams will double and triple team Richardson. It will be up to the rest of the cast to step up if Colorado is to have an impressive passing game this fall.
Roster: Josh Ford, Sr.; Tony Jones, Jr.; Malcolm Creer; Jr.; Christian Powell, So.: Donta Abron, So.; Terrence Crowder, R-Fr.; Michael Adkins, Fr.; Phillip Lindsay, Fr.
Colorado’s top four rushers from 2012 return this fall.
And thus endeth the good news.
The Buffs were 109th in the nation in rushing last season, posting only 110 yards per game, with a 3.11 average rush (the competition, meanwhile, averaged 226 yards rushing per game, gaining almost six yards per carry).
These numbers beg two questions: Who will be carrying the ball for Colorado this fall?; and 2) Will they be any more successful than the backs in the most recent years past?
It appears that the answer to the first question is Christian Powell. The sophomore running back led the Buffs in rushing in 2012, going for 691 yards on 158 carries. Powell also had seven rushing touchdowns, more than twice anyone else on the team.
Powell emerged from spring practices as the number one running back on the depth chart, and was one of nine running backs from the Pac-12 named to the Doak Walker award watch list. “Christian had a great spring,” CU running backs coach Klayton Adams told BuffPlaybook.com on July 12th. “He is a big back (6’0″, 240-pounds) that is plenty fast. He is very elusive for a big guy, and catches the ball well out of the backfield.”
According to coach Adams, Powell is a good player, but even a better person. “He is definitely a special type of athlete and person”. For Powell, the feeling is mutual. “Everyone has adapted well to the new coaching staff,” said Powell. “You can feel the difference in team chemistry.”
If not Powell, then who? The post spring depth chart says Tony Jones. The junior was second on the team in rushing last season, with 63 carries going for 320 yards and three touchdowns. “I expect Powell and Tony Jones to battle for the starting role,” said Adams. “Both showed a lot of talent in the spring.”
With the introduction of the pistol offense to Boulder, there will be plenty of carries – and pass receptions – for other backs on the roster. Senior Josh Ford, junior Malcolm Creer (if he stays with the team, no official announcement yet), and sophomore Donta Abron each bring a different talent set to the team.
Then there are the freshmen, who can make an immediate impact on CU’s fluid depth chart. Redshirt freshman Terrence Crowder underwent knee surgery last November, and missed spring ball during his rehabilitation. Joining Crowder in the competition this August are true freshmen Michael Adkins and Phillip Lindsay.
Multiple options, diverse talents.
But can they answer the second question posed above: Will they be any more successful than the backs in the most recent years past?
My pat answer … which holds true for much of the Buffs’ units in 2013 … They can’t be any worse.
Bottom line … Christian Powell will likely have the most carries on the team to start the season, but it will be the back who can demonstrate a combination of talents – including catching the ball out of the backfield and protecting the quarterback on pass plays – who will see the most playing time this season.
Roster – Jordan Webb, Sr. (injured); Connor Wood, Jr.; Jordan Gehrke, So. Stevie Joe Dorman, R-Fr; Sefo Liufau, Fr.
Remember when Colorado had waaaay too many quarterbacks on the roster? Remember when there were questions as to why yet another quarterback, Jordan Gehrke, was brought in after Spring practices were concluded?
That was so two months ago.
What was shaping up to be a seven-way battle for the starting position has been hit by severe attrition. First, senior Jordan Webb went down with a torn ACL in a non-contact injury this spring. Webb is recovering, and may be available to play this fall, but will not be ready by the opener.
Then … Nick Hirschman left the team. Announcing his decision, the co-starter coming out of spring practices (along with Connor Wood), Hirschman stated that he had set a goal as being the starter after the Spring game, and, when that didn’t happen, it was time for him to move on. Hirschman later landed at Akron, where he will play for the Zips.
Then … Shane Dillon left the team. Dillon came to Boulder as a football star, but left in search of a basketball future. “I always kind of felt my decision that I had to play football was forced upon me a little bit,” Dillon said in his press release. “People told me I had to make a decision by the end of my junior year between football and basketball because quarterbacks all seemed to commit pretty early. Basketball has always been my passion, and even though I really enjoyed my year here, I felt the time is now for me to make the change.”
Then … John Schrock left the team. The walk-on sophomore was well down the depth chart after spring practices, Schrock left in order to concentrate on academics. “It was a tough decision for John as he does love football, but we talked and he is serious about becoming a doctor,” CU head coach Mike MacIntyre said. “He decided it was in his best interests to leave the team to concentrate on his academics. He is a fine young man and I think he will be successful in his pursuits.”
So – who’s left?
It looks very much like the job is Connor Wood’s to lose. Wood was named as one of CU’s six captains for the fall, and has a leg up on the remaining competition. Wood is well into learning his fourth offense, counting his time at Texas and his two seasons at CU. He says MacIntyre’s and offensive coordinator’s Brian Lindgren’s offense – the pistol – is the most accommodating of the four because it is “much simpler. I’ve been in the West Coast offense, the Texas/Boise State offense . . . I think this is the most simple and streamlined.
“The way they call plays and the verbiage used, it flows well with the run game and pass game,” Wood told cubuffs.com. “I like it; it’s less thinking for me. When a quarterback can think less, he can concentrate on the coverage instead of the wording of the play and what to call … His approach to coaching us is much more . . . I don’t want to say relaxed because he’s a detail guy and he wants things done a certain way, but the way he approaches us, it’s the relationship – not just with me, but the other quarterbacks. We don’t feel pressure to perform from him. He just says go out and play. He instills a belief in us.
“And that’s what coach MacIntyre does with the team. Coach Lindgren has done a good job of showing us that he believes in us. It makes things more fun that way. It’s a game. You work so hard in the summer, so hard in the weight room during the early spring, you spend so much watching film. If you’re on the field and not having fun, then what are you doing? You’ve wasted a ton of time.”
Wood must be considered to be the favorite, but Sefo Liufau and Jordan Gehrke will both be given a fair shot. Both arrived on campus June 2nd, three weeks before the rest of the incoming Class of players, just to try and absorb as much of the offense as possible before the start of Fall Camp August 5th.
“I’m a competitor,” Gehrke told cubuffs.com. “Every quarterback comes in to compete for the starting job. Only one gets it. I’m excited to be in this situation, coming from a junior college and getting a chance to play in the Pac-12. Every day that starting spot is on my mind. I wake up and know I’m blessed to have a chance to compete for that job.”
Gehrke believes he will be up to speed in MacIntyre’s offense and able to compete as he envisions. “I’m starting to learn the offense and feel really comfortable,” he said. “The routes and everything are pretty similar to what I’ve been in . . . I’ve gotten really familiar with this one in a couple of weeks.
“I’ve been studying the playbook every day, watching film every day . . . even when other the other quarterbacks are getting reps, I’m taking mental reps. I’m sitting back thinking what would I do in this situation? I’m reading the defense and understanding the plays, the protections. I’m getting myself prepared because come August I know it’s going to be a short window to really show yourself.”
From their time together in player-organized summer practices and passing drills, junior receiver Tyler McCulloch said Gehrke “seems to have picked up the offense really well. He gets the ball out fast (and) he’s got a very good throwing motion. He’s just a cool kid.”
Connor Wood is also impressed with his competition. “For as young as Sefo is, he’s really picking up the offense, and so is Jordan,” Wood said. “They’ve just kind of been thrown into it, but it does help them how the offense is structured. With this staff it’s much more shortened and condensed; it’s not very wordy. It’s easier for a guy like Jordan who’s been in junior college and out of high school for a while to pick up something like that. And for Sefo, too. There’s simplicity within complexity in it.”
Does the lack of numbers at the quarterback position bother coach MacIntyre?
“No not at all,” MacIntyre told Scout.com. “Of course we would like to have more, but we want young men who are committed to being here, that have truly bought in to what we are doing and the fact that hearts are completely in it. We only had three and four quarterbacks at San Jose State. We just have to find the right ones that will make this team better.”
Head coach Mike MacIntyre has indicated that he may not make a decision on the starting quarterback until the week before the Colorado State game. The announcement may in fact not come in the next few weeks. Hopefully, though, any delays will be attributable to an effort to keep the Rams guessing.
Bottom Line: If Connor Wood hasn’t demonstrated that he is the clear choice as the starting quarterback by mid-August, then … it could be a very long season.