Spring Practice Preview –

Special Teams

Roster: Toney Clemons (Sr.); Arthur Jaffee (Sr.); Brian Lockridge (Sr.); Will Jefferson (Jr.); Justin Castor (So.); Zach Grossnickle (So.); Ryan Iverson (So.); Justin Gorman (R-Fr.)

Players Lost: Aric Goodman; Joe Silipo; Scotty McKnight; Cody Hawkins; Travon Patterson

Numbers Don’t Lie

Yuck.

There was very little which was special about the special teams play by the University of Colorado in 2010.

Colorado was ranked 88th in net punting last year, with Zach Grossnickle struggling to a 35.7 yards net average (Colorado’s opponents’ net average was 40.2). Senior kicker Aric Goodman connected on two-thirds of his attempts (10-for-15), but was only accurate half the time from beyond 30 yards (5-for-10).

In the return game, Colorado was adequate at best. There were several long kickoff returns, with a long of 89 yards by Arthur Jaffee against Iowa State, but the Buffs were unable to come up with a kick returner which they felt comfortable with, as four players posted between eight and 14 kickoff returns during the season. All four – Arthur Jaffee (14); Toney Clemons (10); Brian Lockridge (10); and Will Jefferson (8) – return in 2011, but there are no guarantees that any from that group will be on the field returning kicks this fall. The same problem exists in the area of punt returns, where departed Travon Patterson returned 15 of the 18 punts returned by Buffs in 2010.

While there may be open auditions for kick returners this spring, there is limited competition for the kicking positions …

… which may prove to be unfortunate.

Sophomore Zach Grossnickle handled the punting chores last year, to mixed reviews. Meanwhile sophomore Justin Castor inherits the placekicking job. Castor had his red-shirt burned in the fifth game of the season when his only attempt of the year, a 40-yarder against Missouri, was blocked. Castor did have the opportunity at some kickoffs later in the year, but was not allowed another kicking attempt.

Help may be on the way this fall, in the name of freshman recruit Will Oliver, but for this spring, the kicking jobs are Grossnickle’s and Castor’s to lose. (There are reports that there is walk-on competition on campus this spring. On name cited is that of Jacob Frost, a 2010 graduate of Liberty High School in Bakersfield, California. Another name is that of Darragh O’Neil from Fairview High in Boulder. Neither name, though, was on the roster when spring practice opened on March 11th).

The positions of long-snapper and short-snapper were manned this past season by Joe Silipo and Ryan Iverson, with Iverson, a sophomore, returning this spring.

The all-important job of holder, meanwhile, will need to be filled. Scotty McKnight and Cody Hawkins filled that role for the past several seasons. Justin Gorman, a red-shirt freshman walk-on quarterback (who has been moved to the defensive secondary for spring practice) is one player who may inherit the job. Walk-on senior wide receiver Kyle Cefalo is also taking turns at holder.

With unproven talent at both punter and kicker, and with no clear-cut favorites for kick and punt returners, special teams coach J.D. Brookhart has his work cut out for him. That being said, there is plenty of young talent (and speed) in the Colorado receiving corps and secondary, so there is no reason that a pair of excellent kick returners cannot be produced by this team. As for the kickers, both Grossnickle and Castor were highly ranked kickers coming out of high school. Perhaps with the departure of Aric Goodman (and his patron, Dan Hawkins), these kickers can develop into something special over the next three seasons.

The numbers won’t lie …

Jon Embree outlines his goals for Spring Practice

The Colorado Buffaloes in 2011 will not resemble the Colorado Buffaloes of 2010.

Not if new head coach Jon Embree has anything to say about it.

“I told the guys in the first team meeting that there were things we needed to do,” said Embree. “We had to create an identity of what this program needs to be, and the first thing was mental toughness, and that was going to be how we train, that was going to come from the weight room.

“The next thing was our physical toughness and that comes from how we practice, so we are starting that phase right now, and as we go into spring ball there is going to be a certain way that we are going to learn how to practice. To help them with that I have some clips from when I was at Washington of some of the different drills and different team periods of how you practice, how it should look.”

In order to focus on doing things the right way, Embree indicated that the plan this spring was to K.I.S.S. – “I want to see who can play,” said Embree. “If you throw a lot at guys, and it takes them awhile to pick it up, then you may not get your best players. I want to see who can play, and then we can go back and teach them and get it going … It’s not what I know or Eric knows or Greg Brown knows. It is what they know, and what they can execute. So we are not going to throw a lot at them.”

That is not to say, though, that this spring will be a breaking in period. Embree said he will hold his players accountable for their actions, and is already doing so through winter conditioning. “We have been doing that from day one, not just starting with spring ball,” said Embree. “Competing is an all the time thing. So when they mess up, and they don’t do something, either they are punished, their unit is punished, or that side of the ball is punished to try to create an environment of positive peer pressure.”

What type of punishment is being dispensed? “Well, you bear crawl 100-yards, then you logroll 100-yards, then you summersault 100-yards, and then you jog,” said Embree. “If you can get six of those, or 30 minutes, whatever happens first. One thing they have learned is that if they are going to get punished, don’t eat lunch. They learned that one quick.”

And what mistakes merit such punishment? “Being late to class, just something like that,” said Embree. “It’s a little thing to them, but when you are late off the count or you jump off-sides and you lose the game, then it is not so little. Just again, getting them to understand it all counts, everything we do counts. It can’t just be a sometimes thing.”

It’s also safe to say that Embree was not impressed with the 2010 Buffs. “What shows up to me on tape was we didn’t play hard,” said Embree. “That’s what really showed up on tape. We let the scoreboard affect how we played way too much … You can’t look at the scoreboard. Your job is to beat the guy across from you that play, no matter what happened good or bad before it.”

 

 

Secondary

Roster: Jonathan Hawkins (Sr.); Travis Sandersfeld (Sr.); Makiri Pugh (Jr.); Ray Polk (Jr.); Paul Vigo (So.); Jered Bell (So.); Terrel Smith (So.); Deji Olatoye (So.); Josh Moten (R-Fr.); Arthur Jaffee (Sr./walk-on); Jordan Marquez (R-Fr./walk-on); Eric Ghent (R-Fr./walk-on)

Injured, may not practice this spring: Anthony Perkins (Sr.) (knee); Vince Ewing (Jr.) (knee); Parker Orms (So.) (knee)

Players Lost: Jimmy Smith; Jalil Brown; Matt Meyer; Cameron Ham

“No preconceived notions”

A defensive coordinator’s dream: two shut-down cornerbacks.

The Colorado defense in 2010 boasted not one, but two, future NFL draft picks at cornerback. Both were seniors; both seasoned veterans of the Big 12 passing wars.

Jimmy Smith and Jalil Brown afforded the Colorado coaching staff the luxury of focusing on stopping other elements of the opposition’s offensive arsenal, content to leave Brown and Smith out on an island.

The net result? Colorado was 110th in pass defense; 112th in pass efficiency defense; and 91st in scoring defense.

What happened? And, more to the point this spring – how can the Buffs manage to keep matters from getting even worse, now that Jimmy Smith and Jalil Brown are gone?

Greg Brown returns to Colorado as the Buffs’ new defensive coordinator and secondary coach. In his two previous stints, Brown coached CU Thorpe Award winners Deon Figures and Chris Hudson. In between, Brown coached four six NFL teams, and was the co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach for an Arizona Wildcat team which ranked 44th in pass defense and 33rd in scoring defense – much better numbers than those produced in Boulder.

What does Brown have to work with this spring?

Three potential starters are injured, with their status for this spring listed as “TBD”: senior safety Anthony Perkins; junior safety Vince Ewing; and sophomore safety Parker Orms. All three are nursing knee injuries suffered last fall, and will be limited as to the drills and practices in which they will participate.

Perkins was the starter at strong safety before being injured in the Missouri game. Jered Bell, a true freshman last fall, started the next game against Baylor, with fellow true freshman Terrel Smith earning the starting role for the remainder of the season. Smith recorded 60 tackles in only six games, finishing fourth on the team in tackles (all three players who finished above Smith in tackles played in all 12 games).

So, assuming senior Anthony Perkins is a “Full Go” for the fall, the Buffs seem to be ably manned at strong safety.

What about free safety?

At the free safety position, the Buffs have a 23-game veteran, a player who has made 15 starts, including all 12 games last season.

But he might not be there this fall …

Ray Polk moved from running back to safety after his freshman year, and started all 12 games last fall. Polk was second on the team in tackles, with 72. He was on the field for more snaps – 787 – than any other defensive player other than Jalil Brown.

The problem with Polk, however, is that he has also struggled at the position. True, he was second on the team in tackles, but he was not a play-maker. Polk had no sacks, no tackles for loss, only four third-down stops, and only one pass broken up to his credit. For the Buffs to be successful on defense, the free safety position needs to be more productive.

Will Polk even return at the position? There are rumors that Polk may return to the running back corps. The new coaching staff is looking to institute more of a power rushing attack, and while Rodney Stewart and Brian Lockridge have had their share of success, they are not of the physical makeup (6’1, 210-pounds) of Ray Polk.

Still, the rumor may turn out to be just that, a rumor. “Between Ray Polk and Anthony Perkins, they have a compilation of a proven number of starts,” said Greg Brown. “So at safety, we feel we have some experience and guys are going to be able to get lined up and do the right thing.” … Sounds as if Brown is expecting Polk to remain on the defensive side of the ball.

At cornerback, Brown will have a large number of players from which to choose his starters, but all are lacking in game experience.

Senior Jonathan Hawkins has the most experience of any player in the group, playing in nine games last fall. He and walk-on senior Arthur Jaffee, who led the team in special team points last fall, also have the benefit of having already spent time with Greg Brown as a coach (before Brown left for Arizona after the 2009 season).

Two interesting storylines of the spring could involve red-shirt freshman Josh Moten and junior transfer Makiri Pugh. Moten was a quarterback recruit who practiced half the season at cornerback (to rave reviews) before an off-field incident (since resolved) kept him from practicing. With the change in coaching staffs, Moten may also be given a look at quarterback this spring, so we’ll have to track Moten’s progress.

Pugh is a transfer from Georgia who sat out the 2010 season under NCAA transfer rules. Largely forgotten since being interviewed the week of the Georgia game last fall, Pugh may make his presence known on the depth chart before the end of spring drills. Out of high school, Pugh was considered to be the 31st-best cornerback prospect in the nation (Rivals), and had offers from a number of SEC and ACC schools. In 2009, as a red-shirt freshman, Pugh saw action in nine games for Georgia.  

The rosters is filled with potential cornerbacks and nickelbacks, though no one may want to take the field wearing the label of the latter position.

Colorado went through nickelbacks like candy in early 2010. Parker Orms was given the job as a red-shirt freshman last fall, but in his first start, he didn’t make it out of the first quarter, injuring his knee on punt coverage during the Colorado State game, and did not return all season (Orms will be entitled to a medical red-shirt season as a result). Orms was replaced by Travis Sandersfeld, who was injured during  following game against Cal. Sandersfeld’s replacement, Paul Vigo, was subsquently injured during the game against Hawai’i. Against Georgia, the Buffs started linebacker Patrick Mahnke at nickelback, with Jonathan Hawkins and linebacker Liloa Nobriga also receiving starts at the position in 2010.

By the end of the season, some sense of normalcy had been returned to the nickelback position. After starting six different players at the position in the first eight games of year, Sandersfeld started the last four games. Heading into spring drills, the job may be Sandersfeld’s to lose. “Travis Sandersfeld has done nothing but come on and be a steady guy from years past and worked his way up,” said Greg Brown, who also recruited Sandersfeld.

So, who will be in the starting lineup come September?

If the depth chart from last season is a guide, you would look to Anthony Perkins at strong safety, Ray Polk at free safety, Travis Sandersfeld at nickelback, and perhaps Jonathan Hawkins at one cornerback position. The other cornerback? Will it be senior Arthur Jaffee? Junior transfer Makiri Pugh? Sophomore Jered Bell? “Right now, there are no preconceived notions about what is going to happen,” said Brown.

Colorado secondary coach Greg Brown does have two things going for him: 1) depth – Colorado has a good number of quality backs returning; and 2) versatility – almost every back mentioned above can play any of the positions in the secondary. With Colorado looking at a 3-4 defense – or even a 3-3-5, versatility will be at a premium this fall.

This spring will be crucial … the opener is against Hawai’i, which just happened to lead the NCAA in passing offense in 2010, at 394 yards per game. Quarterback Bryant Moniz, who led the nation in total offense last year, and who had 330 yards passing against the Buffs in Boulder last fall, returns for his senior campaign.

No time like the present to being shoring up those defensive statistics …

 

 

 

Linebackers

Roster: Patrick Mahnke (Sr.); Jon Major (Jr.); Doug Rippy (Jr.); Derrick Webb (So.); Liloa Nobriga (So.); Lowell Williams (R-Fr.); David Goldberg (Sr./walk-on); Gage Greer (R-Fr./walk-on); David Blaha (R-Fr./walk-on) .. This Fall … Brady Daigh (Fr.); Woodson Greer (Fr.); K.T. Tuumalo (Fr.)

Players Lost: B.J. Beatty; Michael Sipili; Evan Harrington (moved to fullback); Tyler Ahles (moved to fullback)

“Where’s the Depth?”

There is a real buzz in the Buff Nation about Colorado’s new attacking defense. Getting away from the 4-3, the Buffs will be playing more 3-4 or even 3-3-5, with new defensive line /linebackers coach Kanavis McGhee unleashing his charges upon unsuspecting quarterbacks in the Pac-12.

Problem is … There isn’t a great deal of depth for the coaches to work with – yet.

Colorado loses two senior starters from its linebacker corps. Michael Sipili led the team in tackles last fall with 94, while fellow senior B.J. Beatty made the most of his 36 tackles (Beatty had five sacks and four other tackles for loss in 2010). Only junior Jon Major, who was injured during the Texas Tech game and did not return for the remainder of the season (though he is a “Full Go” for practice this spring), and Major’s replacement, sophomore Liloa Nobriga, have any starting experience from those remaining on the roster.

Still, depth was apparently not seen as a issue amongst the Colorado coaching staff, as two linebackers in line for significant playing time this fall, seniors Tyler Ahles and Evan Harrington, will be learning the fullback position this spring.

So, other than Major and Nobriga, who does linebacker coach Brian Cabral have to work with this spring?

Senior Patrick Mahnke has 35 games to his credit, including six starts. Last season, Mahnke played in all 12 games, starting three as the Buffs’ nickel back. Junior Doug Rippy has not lived up to expectations, and was in on 27 plays over six games in 2010. Sophomore Derrick Webb earned his first start of his career against Oklahoma last fall, seeing action in seven games overall.

With Colorado moving to more of an attacking style, players who are “hybrids” – too small to be a linebacker; too big for safety – will see a great deal of attention. Patrick Mahnke (6’1, 205-pounds) fits into this mold, as do recruits K.T. Tu’umalo (6’2″, 200-pounds) and Will Harlos (6’4″, 200-pounds).

Another player who could help out in this blending of the linebackers and defensive backs is junior Ray Polk. A former running back recruit, Polk (6’1, 210-pounds) was second on the team last season with 72 tackles. Polk started every game last fall at safety and … is rumored to be back on his way to the offensive backfield.

Two seniors lost to graduation; two other seniors converting to fullback; and a starting junior perhaps moving back to running back.

Apparently, depth at linebacker is not a concern for the CU coaching staff.

We’ll see how the dust settles this spring …

Offensive line

Roster: Ryan Miller (Sr.); Ethan Adkins (Sr.); Shawn Daniels (Sr.); Sione Tau (Sr.); Bryce Givens (Jr.); Ryan Dannewitz (Jr.); Eric Richter (Jr.); David Bakhtiari (So.);  Jack Harris (So.); Gus Handler (So.); Kaiwi Crabb (R-Fr.); Daniel Munyer (R-Fr.); Alex Lewis (Fr.); David Clark (Sr./walk-on) … This Fall: Marc Mustoe (Fr.); Alex Kelley (Fr.); Paulay Asiata (Fr.).

Injured: Mike Iltis (Sr.) (knee surgery- out for spring practice); Blake Behrens (Sr.) (shoulder surgery – out for spring); Max Tuioti-Mariner (So.) (knee injury – out for spring practice)

Players Lost: Nate Solder; Keenas Stevens

“Job Opening: Left Tackle”

In one sense, the Colorado offensive line is fairly set, as four of five starters from last season return. Senior Ethan Adkins started 11 games at left guard last season, and has 20 career starts on his resume. Senior Mike Iltis also had 11 starts last fall, with ten of those at the center position (Note: Iltis suffered a torn ACL against Nebraska, and will not be available for spring practice). Senior Ryan Miller is the most recognizable name amongst the returning lineman. Miller has already played in 38 games in his Colorado career, and has earned 35 starts (including starting all 12 games in 2010 at right guard). Sophomore David Bakhtiari is the baby of the group. Still, as a red-shirt freshman last fall, Bakhtiari played in all 12 games, and had 11 starts at right tackle.

Overall, the foursome has played in 95 games, and has earned 83 starts. Behind them, Rodney Stewart rushed for 1,318 yards, the fifth-highest total in school history.

So, what’s not to love?

Well, for starters, there is the loss of that fifth starter, one Nate Solder. A consensus All-American, Solder is believed to be a shoe-in for the first round of the NFL draft, with some draft boards placing Solder in the top 10-15 picks overall. Solder had 40 career starts, and left the team after starting the last 36 games of his career. Solder was the only Colorado lineman in 2010 to grade out at over 90% (at 94.3%), with 142 finishes/knockdown blocks (Miller was second on the team, with 83), had ten touchdown blocks (Miller; second with six); and graded out with a 99% in the 44-36 win over Kansas State.

Very large shoes to fill.

Colorado’s new offensive line coach, Steve Marshall, will have a number of candidates from which to choose, and how Marshall tinkers with the starting lineup will be one of the most interesting stories to follow this spring. Junior Ryan Dannewitz was listed behind Solder on the depth chart at left tackle last fall. Dannewitz has played in 20 games in his career, but did ot play in 2010, and has never started a game for Colorado. Junior Bryce Givens will be another candidate to replace Solder. Givens has played in fewer games than Dannewitz (11), but does have eight starts to his credit. Last fall, Givens played in three games – against Colorado State; Cal; and Texas Tech – but only in spot duty. The only other returning player listed as a tackle on the 2010 depth chart is senior Sione Tau, who has yet to see action as a Buff.

While it may appear that Steve Marshall only has one position to fill, there may be significant adjustments made to the line this spring. Colorado is shifting to more of a power offense, with fewer spread formations and more two-tight end alignments. The emphasis this spring will be on creating a strong rushing attack, and Marshall may not like what he sees on the film from last season. Yes, Rodney Stewart did have a great year, but overall, the Colorado offense struggled. The Buffs were 85th in the nation in rushing and 79th in total offense. Even with All-American Nate Solder protecting the quarterbacks’ backs, Colorado was 51st in the nation in sacks allowed.

Then there is the question of how well the Buffs adjust to their third offensive line coach in four seasons. Solder is seen as a great talent by NFL scouts, but not necessarily as one which was home grown. In a Sporting News article, “drafnik” Dennis Dillon was asked who were his risky picks. Dillon included Solder, stating, “(Solder) reminds me of that great athlete who’s so raw and technically terrible that he gets beaten,” Ouch. Translation: Solder is high on the draft charts in spite of his coaching at Colorado, not because of it (thank you, Denver Johnson).

Jon Embree has stated at every opportunity that every job is open, and that every player must compete for their job. This will be no different along the offensive line.

On paper, Colorado has a strong nucleus of returning talent, including four of five starters, with three of the four being seniors. There are many teams which would like to have that much experience returning.

Whether those four starters are starters against Hawai’i, however, remains to be seen.

Defensive Line

Roster – Defensive Tackle: Curtis Cunningham (Sr.); Conrad Obi (Sr.); Will Pericak (Jr.); Nate Bonsu (So.); Kirk Poston (R-Fr.)

Roster – Defensive End: Josh Hartigan (Sr.); Nick Kasa (Jr.); Forrest West (Jr.); Chidera Uzo-Diribe (So.); Tony Poremba (Sr./walk-on) … This Fall: Stephan Nembot (Fr.); Juda Parker (Fr.)

Player Lost: Marquez Herrod

“In the trenches”

The intrigue this spring for the Colorado defensive line will be as much about style as substance. What form of defense will Colorado play? How will they be coached?

A look at the Colorado coaching staff shows that Brian Cabral, in addition to being the linebackers coach, is also the “Defensive Run Game Coordinator”. Meanwhile, Mike Tuiasosopo is listed as the “Defensive Line” coach and Kanavis McGhee is listed as the “Defensive Line/Assistant Special Teams” coach.

Three coaches working with the defensive line. In a 3-4 defense, that is a lot of attention for each member of the defensive line unit.

Which may not be a bad idea.

Last fall, the Colorado defense had its moments. The Buffs were decent against the run (48th in the nation), but were 71st in tackles for loss and 91st overall in the only statistic that really matters – scoring defense.

The Colorado coaching staff under Jon Embree has only one word for the 2011 Buff defense: Attack.

Along the defensive line, there is plenty of starting experience, but very little depth. Junior nose tackle Will Pericak led the defensive line in 2010 with 45 tackles and two sacks. Joining Pericak as a mainstay along the defensive line is senior defensive tackle Curtis Cunningham, who had 31 tackles and five tackles for loss last year. Both Pericak and Cunningham have been in the starting lineup for every game the past two seasons. The third member of the band, senior defensive end Josh Hartigan, might have joined his linemates in starting every game if not for a mid-season injury. In Hartigan’s absence, three other lineman received their first career starts in consecutive games, with junior Nick Kasa earning his first start against Texas Tech, then junior Forrest West against Oklahoma, and sophomore Chidera Uzo-Diribe against Kansas. Hartigan then returned to the starting lineup against Iowa State, finishing the last three games as the starter. Rounding out the players returning with experience is sophomore Nate Bonsu, who played in all 12 games as a true freshman in 2009 before sitting out the 2010 season after suffering a knee injury during winter conditioning.

Is the defensive line, as a result, set for 2011?

Hardly.

As noted, the philosophy of the defense is being altered, and, with it, the role of the defensive line. This will make for some intrigue during spring practice …

Will the three starters solidify their roles? Will Nick Kasa live up to the hype surrounding his signing three years ago, when the hometown star de-committed from Florida to stay in Colorado? Will Forrest West, who came on strong at the end of the season (five tackles in the first half of 2010; 15 tackles, including 4 1/2 sacks in the second half), continue to earn more playing time? Will Conrad Obi, in his senior seasons, finally force his way into the starting lineup (28; 0 starts)?

(Note: It is being posted on the internet that sophomore Chidera Uzo-Diribe – according to his Twitter account – underwent some form of surgery on March 22nd. The nature of the surgery, if any, and whether the surgery will have any impact on Uzo-Diribe’s ability to compete this spring, has yet to be announced).

Mike Tuiasosopo and Kanavis McGhee were touted as great recruiters when they were brought in from Arizona and Houston, respectively. Their ability to mold a dominating defensive line, though, remains to be demonstrated.

Class begins March 11th.

 

Wide Receivers

Roster: Toney Clemons (Sr.); Jason Espinoza (Sr.); Will Jefferson (Jr.); Paul Richardson (So.); Jarrod Darden (So.); Keenan Canty (R-Fr.); Kyle Cefalo (Sr./walk-on); Dustin Ebner (Jr./walk-on); Alex Turbow (R-Fr./walk-on); Parker Robbins (R-Fr./walk-on) … This Fall: Nelson Spruce (Fr.); Tyler McCulloch (Fr.).

Players Lost: Scotty McKnight; Kendrick Celestine; Andre Simmons Travon Patterson

In search of the next Scotty

Scotty McKnight finished his career with more receptions, yards, and touchdown catches than any other receiver in Colorado history.

While McKnight is off to prove to NFL scouts that he can translate his prowess in Boulder into similar success in the big leagues, he leaves behind some significant shoes to fill.

Two players with significant playing time will help to fill the void, as senior Toney Clemons and sophomore Paul Richardson return. Clemons has eight starts to his credit, and was second on the team in catches in 2010, with 43 for 482 yards and three touchdowns. Despite the high number of catches (just seven behind McKnight), and a team-best 73-yard touchdown reception (against Hawai’i), however, Clemons failed to capture the attention of the Buff Nation.

Instead, the excitement about the future of the receiving corps rests with Paul Richardson. Signed by the Buffs just two days before the start of fall camp, the true freshman had a late on-the-field start to his 2010 season as well. In the first half of the campaign, Richardson had seven catches for 64 yards and no touchdowns. In the second half of 2010, though, Richardson posted 27 catches for 450 yards and six scores. With the graduation of Scotty McKnight, Buff fans will be looking even more to Richardson to lead the receivers.

After Clemons and Richardson, where will the Buff coaches turn to for help?

Two potential senior wide receivers, Andre Simmons and Kendrick Celestine, did not have their scholarships renewed. The only remaining scholarship upper-classmen who remain on the roster are senior Jason Espinoza and junior Will Jefferson. Espinoza has played in 25 games in his Colorado career, and has earned five starts. However, Espinoza sees most of his playing time on special teams, and had only one catch (for 13 yards) in 2010. Meanwhile, Buff fans have been waiting for Will Jefferson to have a breakout game/season, but such a breakout has yet to happen. Last fall Jefferson, who has ten starts to his credit, had 14 catches for 177 yards and one touchdown.

The only other scholarship receivers on the roster this spring are sophomore Jarrod Darden and red-shirt freshman Keenan Canty. This spring will be an audition for both of these players. It is time for them to either distinguish themselves, or make plans to be buried on the depth chart as the Buff coaching staff makes a concerted effort to bring in new and fresh talent to the position.

Colorado will be implementing a west coast offense this spring. “It’s going to be the quarterback making the decision based upon what the defense does to distribute the ball correctly,” said passing coordinator J.D. Brookhart. “It’s a very quarterback-driven offense. So what you see on Sundays is what you’re going to see on Saturdays here.”

With more emphasis on a strong running game and better use of the tight ends (see below), the wide receivers do not have to be great for the Buffs to be successful.

The receivers do, however, have to be very good. And right now, other than Paul Richardson, there is not much in the lineup to put fear into the hearts of Pac-12 defensive backs.

Perhaps this spring a receiver or two will prove me wrong.

Tight Ends

Roster: Ryan Deehan (Sr.); Matthew Bahr (Sr.) (injured/out for spring practice); DaVaughn Thorton (So.); Kyle Slavin (R-Fr.); Harold Mobley (R-Fr.); Henley Griffon (R-Fr.); Alex Wood (So./walk-on); Matt Allen (So./walk-on).

Player Lost: Luke Walters

“We’ve got to be smart how we use them”

The University of Colorado football team in 2011 will be more physical on offense.

Okay, so that’s not really a secret. But the emphasis on the strong running game will also mean more two-tight end sets, which translates into more opportunities for the tight ends on the roster to make a contribution and see playing time. “I think that as grow through spring, we’ll probably have a little better idea of how they fit our system, because the system is flexible,” said tight ends coach J.D. Brookhart. “You don’t have to line up in two tight ends and run downhill all the time. You can do some different things.”

The best blockers will likely get the first opportunity to see the playing field, and senior Ryan Deehan is the best of the bunch. Deehan already has 36 games under his belt, and 18 starts. Last year, Deehan had 25 catches for 249 yards and a touchdown. “Deehan is an interesting kid because he was all over the field,” said tight ends coach J.D. Brookhart. “He’s a smart kid. Those guys will allow you to be more flexible with things, when you can put them in multiple positions.”

After Deehan though, there is little experience. Converted offensive lineman Matt Bahr will be working with the tight ends, while third-year sophomore DaVaughn Thornton and red-shirt freshmen Henley Griffon and Kyle Slavin will be trying to make an impression this spring.

“I think if you look at the tight ends specifically, you have some different body types,” said Brookhart. “Some are more adept to the run game, some more to the pass game who were kind of more recruited to the spread offense.

“I think we’ve got to be smart how we use them. I think they’ve made a good commitment to the 6 a.m. (off-season workouts), and things we’ve seen from them. They want to be good, and that’s half the battle.”

The second half of the battle – adjusting to the new offense, and showing that they are entitled to be on the field this fall, begins March 11th.

Quarterbacks

Roster: Tyler Hansen (Sr.); Brent Burnette (Jr./Transfer); Nick Hirschman (R-Fr.); Justin Gorman (R-Fr./walk-on) … This Fall: Stevie Joe Dorman (Fr.)

Player Lost: Cody Hawkins

Iron sharpens iron

Colorado has a returning senior at quarterback, a senior who has had starts in each of his first three seasons. None of his competition for the starting job has so much as a snap behind center at the Division 1-A level.

So, a no-brainer that Tyler Hansen will be the starter against Hawai’i?

Nope.

“It’s nothing new,” said Hansen, who has had to contend with Cody Hawkins for starting time the past three seasons. While Hansen has posted 2,822 career passing yards, he only has 15 career touchdowns to offset 17 career interceptions. Hansen was the starter for all of the 2010 season until he suffered a ruptured spleen against Texas Tech, missing the remainder of the campaign. While Hansen is a “full go” for practice this spring, how well he adapts to another quarterbacks coach and another offensive scheme will be one of the most talked about issues of the 2011 spring practices.

“I like it, actually,” said Hansen of having his third quarterbacks coach (Rip Scherer) in his four years in Boulder. “Different opinions will make you better. The more opinions the better. I think the different techniques to coaching help. Coach (Mark) Helfrich was a hands-on guy, and coach (Eric) Kiesau was a lot different than that. I’m looking forward to coach Scherer and seeing what his techniques are to coaching.”

Will having a new offense level the playing field between Hansen and his competition? “I’m not really worried about that,” Hansen said. “I think whatever they ask me to do, I can do it … I’ve got to be a leader even more than I already have. I’ve got to invest myself in the offense and really learn the offense pretty good, because the old offense we had last year, I knew it inside and out.”

New head coach Jon Embree appreciates the fact that Tyler Hansen is not coming into spring ball assuming he has the job. “Tyler’s not walking around like, ‘I have this job’,” Embree said.

So, who is the competition?

This spring, the main contenders are red-shirt freshman Nick Hirschman and junior college transfer Brent Burnette. Hirschman has the advantage of having been in Boulder last season; Burnette has the advantage of having been on the playing field, albeit at Middle Tennessee in 2009 and at Western Arizona Junior College last season. Still, those advantages are tempered – Hirschman, along with Hansen, has to learn a new system; while Burnette was not exactly spectacular when he was on the playing field, earning only one start, with 1,219 yards, 11 touchdowns and six interceptions in seven games last season.

Still, the starting job is open. “Nick is not walking around like, ‘Oh, I’m just the backup’, and neither is Brent,” said Embree. “I think it’s great because like I’ve talked about, they’ve got to learn to compete. Iron sharpens iron. The better your backup is, the better your starter is. If you beat him out, you beat him out.”

While spring practice does not begin until March 11th, the competition has already begun. “They have all been very competitive,” said Embree. “They all show their face around here a lot, asking questions and wanting to learn the new offense that we’re still in the process of putting together.”

Any other players in the mix?

Walk-on red-shirt freshman Justin Gorman is on the roster, but it would be a surprise if he rose dramatically up the depth chart. There has also been speculation that former high school quarterbacks Josh Moten (now a red-shirt freshman cornerback) and/or Harold Mobley (now a red-shirt freshman tight end) might also be given a look at quarterback this spring, but, with all the work that the coaching staff has to do to orient the likely quarterback candidates to the new offense, Moten and Mobley may be given only a courtesy look, if they are given one at all.

The other potential candidate to start on September 3rd against Hawai’i will not be participating in spring ball. Incoming true freshman Stevie Dorman will be given a chance this fall. “Stevie’s advantage is that the guys who are here only have 15 days,” said Embree. “It’s not one of those things in a normal situation where Tyler had been in this offense for four years, or Hirschman is going into his third year in the offense and knowing all of the nuances.

“So, depending on how fast they learn, and depending what he’s capable of learning, because that window is so short, he has a chance. If he can learn quicker than them to show his skills, he’ll put himself in position to play.” It also won’t hurt Dorman’s chances that the offense the Buffs are installing is similar to the offense which he played in high school at Somerset, Texas.

Still, you would have to assume, at least for now, that the job is Tyler Hansen’s to lose. “I’ve got to be (a leader) the same way with this offense,” said Hansen. “If I do that, I think I can have a pretty good shot at being a leader and a playmaker on this team.”

All eyes will be on the quarterbacks … starting March 11th.

Running backs

Roster:  Running backs – Rodney Stewart (Sr.); Brian Lockridge (Sr.); Quentin Hildreth (So./Walk-on); Tony Jones (R-Fr.); Trea Jones (R-Fr.); Cordary Allen (R-Fr.); Josh Ford (R-Fr./Walk-on) … This Fall: Rashad Hall (Fr.); Malcolm Creer (Fr.).

Roster: Fullbacks – Tyler Ahles (Sr.); Evan Harrington (Sr.); Scott Fernandez (So./Walk-on).

Player Lost: Corey Nabors

Aces and spaces

In bridge, the term refers to a player who has been dealt several aces, but does not have any supporting face cards, or much depth in those suits.

At the University of Colorado, the term refers to the depth chart at running back.

Colorado does have two quality returning seniors. In 2010, Rodney Stewart posted 1,318 rushing yards, the fifth-highest total in CU history. “Speedy” was able to get the tough yards despite his diminutive size (5’6″, 175-pounds), and was able to stay healthy for the entire season for the first time in his career. Stewart’s potential running mate, Brian Lockridge, suffered an ankle sprain against Georgia in early October, ending his season with only 146 yards on 35 carries. In his stead, wide receiver Will Jefferson picked up some carries later in the season, but it appears that the junior wideout will be returning his attentions this fall to being a full-time wide receiver.

After seniors Stewart and Lockridge, both of whom are a “full go” for practice this spring, there is no depth. No juniors, no scholarship sophomores. Just “spaces”.

It wasn’t meant to be this way. In 2007, Colorado received letters-of-intent from junior college running back P.T. Gates and incoming freshman Devan Johnson, but neither player saw action at running back at Colorado. The big haul came in 2008, when Colorado signed (along with throw-in Rodney Stewart) two of the top ten running back recruits in the nation – Darrell Scott (now with South Florida) and Ray Polk (now a junior safety for the Buffs). In 2009, Colorado failed to sign any running backs.

Which leads us to the Class of 2010. Colorado signed three running backs last February, and all three red-shirted last fall. Looking to make an impact this spring will be Tony Jones, a Rodney Stewart clone at 5’7″, 180-pounds, and two bigger backs, Cordary Allen (6’1, 230-pounds) and Trea’ Jones (5’10”, 190-pounds). Also in the mix is a sophomore walk-on, Quentin Hildreth.

Joining this trio in the backfield this spring are two other “newcomers”, though not to the team. Former linebackers Tyler Ahles and Evan Harrington, both seniors, are being asked to give it a go at fullback this season. Ahles and Harrington join walk-on sophomore Scott Fernandez, who saw action at fullback last season in goal line situations.

As Colorado is clearly attempting to bulk up its running game, the early name to watch amongst the newcomers is probably Cordary Allen, the largest of the red-shirt freshmen. Allen may be the coaches’ first choice to provide the larger back in a two-back offense, serving as as additional blocker for Stewart and Lockridge, while also serving as a short-yardage back.

That being said, Buff fans will be keeping an eye on all three of the red-shirt freshmen. Other than Stewart and Lockridge (and other than Jefferson and Justin Torres, who had 14 carries as a freshman last fall, but has since left the team), there isn’t a single collegiate carry amongst the backs on the Colorado roster. If nothing else, the Buff coaching staff must begin to look towards 2012. While it would be great to see Rodney Stewart go over a 1,000 yards again in 2011, and while it would make an interesting story to watch Stewart chase the record of his position coach (Stewart has 2,744 career rushing yards, needing 1,197 yards to surpass Eric Bieniemy for the all-time Colorado rushing lead), the much better story for Colorado as a team would be to see one of more of the red-shirt freshmen emerge as the next star at running back for Colorado.

The testing begins this spring. If the firm of Jones, Allen and Jones can’t get the job done in March and April, Buff coaches may turn to true freshmen this fall, with Rashad Hall and Malcolm Creer joining the roster this summer.

Pick your favorite baby Buff back this spring, and see how well they fare.

Due to Colorado’s “Aces and spaces”, you may be looking at the feature back for the Buffs in 2012.

31 Replies to “Spring Practice Preview”

  1. Tyler Hansen: I would think he would have a leg up because he has experience. Since Colorado will be using a pro-style attack the question will be…can he fit?

    Jack Harris: Harris was a four-star recruit and I haven’t heard anything about him. Can he step up and crack the two deep?

    Jarrod Dardon: Besides Toney Clemons he’s the only receiver who’s 6’4. I think it’s important to have a receiver who’s big and can jump.

  2. Many of the cats I’d watch for have been mentioned but here’s a few more:

    1) Parker Orms – he’s slow, he’s too small Yada yada. Kid’s a playmaker with a nose for the ball and a knack for coming up big when needed most. Before the CSU game he’d been dominant in Fall camp. Look for him to bust out.

    2) Toney Clemons – a bit of an under performer last year, he’s got all the tools and tons of potential;just needs someone to turn him loose. This staff will do just.

    3) Will Harlow(?) – a big active tough kid, perfect for special teams. If the new regime is serious about upgrading this aspect of the team, expect to see more of guys like this on the field.
    3(a) Keenan Canty same as above but as a kick returner.

    1. I heard Orms was a sub 4.5 guy

      Ditto on Harlow. I would be surprised if he doesnt get some snaps this year as well. Especially with 2 LBs heading over to the O

    2. Canty would have been my next guy, quick and fast but small.
      I really hope Orms is fully recovered for the season, but that’s unlikely.
      Bonsu should be completely ready to go.

      It will be interesting to see how many true freshman do get on the field.

  3. On another note
    Stuart thanks for your hard work on the site.

    I think it will be very interesting to see just how much we have, based on a fresh set of eyes looking at the talent pool. It was clear that there were times the best were not getting on the field. So, we will see how much of that was really happening.
    Guys like:
    Rippy
    Kasa
    Thorton
    could really have a lot of talent but we never got to see it.

    1. +1!

      I’ve been meaning to thank you for a while too Stuart. You and I actually have a few things in common. I’ve been a lifetime CU fan, went to MSU, and now I’m living in Butte. You should let the Montana Buff fans know if you ever plan on going to Boulder. A friend and I are looking at going to either the Oregon or WSU game this fall. It’s going to be a long drive!

      1. Justin,
        Thanks for the kind words. I have driven to Boulder so many times that I have lost count. There is not a single gas station, rest stop, or fast food joint in Wyoming that I haven’t visited. Give me a mile marker anywhere in Wyoming, and I can tell how far it is to the next town, how far you have traveled from Bozeman, and how much longer it will take to get to Boulder.

        (My wife won’t drive down to Boulder with me anymore. I have been known to read the newspaper while I’m driving, and for some reason she doesn’t think that’s safe! In my defense, there’s not much to hit in eastern Wyoming – except for the occasional antelope!).

        1. But it’s almost all interstate! I haven’t been this excited for the season to start in a long time. I’ll let you know which game we end up going to. In the meantime, keep up the great work!

  4. 1. Nate Bonsu: As you think back to his freshman year, he seemed like the only guy up front with some real meat to him, and able to take on double teams. I think he could be a great 3-4 guy taking up multiiple blockers.
    2. Terrel Smith: the guy was agressive and had some speed to go with it. To ebe 4th on the team in tackels and only play 6 games in impressive. He brought some passion and excitement to a position that really needed it.
    3. Forrest West: From what i saw in games the guy was a force off the edge when he was in, and made some great stops. Coming down on 3rd level, and attcking the passer. Need to get and keep both him and Kasa on the field.

  5. 1.) N. Hirshman – T. Hansen was a better fit for the Hawkins system and he still never really “owned” the position. Asking him to be a pocket passer AND return from a ruptured spleen seems like a tall order. Hirshman seems to fit the new mold better than anyone.

    2.) N. Bonsu – The playing time he received as a true freshman was impressive and the physical transformation from an 18 year old to a 20 year old is often significant.

    3.) Any RB not named “Speedy” -I’m not knocking Stewart. He’s a great Buff and has contributed as much as anyone over the last few years. I do, however, think our offense would be much improved by the inclusion of an RB who can be involved in the passing game and, most importantly, get yards after contact. He does a great job getting to the second level but I rarely remember him breaking tackles. I think our OL was under appreciated by the former coaching staff and may have more to do with Stewart’s success than most of us have acknowledged.

    I love the new coaching staff’s core philosophy: play physical, run the ball, take special teams very seriously. PAC-12 teams are very talented, but would you call any of the intimidating? Harbaugh did a nice job with this formula at Stanford and they have a color palate for a mascot. We wear black. We play in the snow. We have a 1,500 pound ungulate storming the field. I really hope coach Embo can make us the bullies of this new conference.

    GO BUFFS!!!!

  6. 1. Bryce Givens, OT. When you lose a guy like Nate Solder, you always wonder who is going to replace him and you hope he is half as good as the guy you lost. I think it is put up or shut up time for Bryce, we stole him away from Nebraska 3 years ago as a big 4 star OT but he never really translated it to the field, I’m hoping he has a big spring and is a starter next fall.
    2. Doug Rippy, LB. I’m not sure how many fans even know who he is, but I have followed him ever since he stepped onto the field and I think with his size and quickness he could be a really good player and with several linebackers graduating we could use all the help we can get.
    3. Eric Bienemy, OC. I know we are supposed to be talking about players, but we have been waiting forever to see a good offense on the field. Hawkins promised and high powered throwing attack and we never saw it, and now the new staff is promising a smash mouth running game, a more pro style offense. I think with all the promising pieces we have on offense, there will be a lot of pressure for EB to put some points up on the board.

    I wish nothing but the best to the coaching staff and I hope we can resurrect the returning players from the graves that Hawkins had them in.

    Go Buffs.

  7. I want to try to get a discussion thread going here……..

    I’m curious about which young players everyone is keeping an eye on, in terms of development. We all sort of know what to expect from guys like Stewart, Lockridge, Itis, Cunningham, etc. But I’m wondering who everyone is keeping their eye on in terms of (potential) development this spring (I’m hoping to get a few replies on this. For me, my top three are:

    #1) Deji Olatoye – A year (or so) ago we were hearing about how awesome this guy was, and he was likened with Dion Figures and Jimmy Smith. Then fall came, and we hardly heard is name mentioned. Was he in Hawkins’ dog house? Or was the previous hype just fluff? The Buffs desperately need someone to step up at corner. Perhaps the return of G. Brown will reignite his development…

    #2) Nick Hirschman– The future of the QB position may rest in his hands. He looked good in the spring game last year, and it appeared he quickly beat out the RS-Freshmen last year (Clark Evans and Lobato). It will be a good sign if he competes tightly for the starting job. It will be a bad sign if he finishes spring camp as the #3 guy (I seriously doubt that Brent Burnette is a high caliber QB).

    #3) DaVaughn Thornton – I honestly thought we would see more of this guy last year. We need more young playmakers. I hope he is one of them.

    1. 1. Jared Bell, CB. I view Bell and Olatoye as two of the most important Buffs this coming season. Based off of hype over the past few years and both player’s size, it would be ideal to see them starting in the two giant holes Smith and Brown left.
      2. Nick Kasa, DL. Kasa is now the highest caliber player to play for CU not named Ryan Miller. Considering the lack of highly touted guys and the bust that Darrell Scott was, Kasa needs to be a difference maker on this team. He’s got a great opportunity to do so this year.
      3. Derrick Webb, LB. It’s looks like Webb will have the first shot to replace Sipili in the middle. Although he’s a bit undersized, he has the athleticism to be special.

      1. 1. Terrel Smith, DB. We heard so much about his hitting and instinct and we saw some flashes.

        2. Doug Rippy, LB. He is a physical specimen but has never really gotten on the field.

        3. Chidera Uzo-Diribe, DE. Whenever he was on the field good things were happening last year, but did not get a ton of snaps.

        Overall, I think we will be surprised by a few players who never really got their chance under Hawkins because of the weird rotations and playing time decisions. I certainly didn’t understand why certain talented players were not in games while others who supposedly “practiced well” were.

        1. “Overall, I think we will be surprised by a few players who never really got their chance under Hawkins because of the weird rotations and playing time decisions.”

          True this. I am going to be watching p/k Castor and Grossnickle – to find out if they can actually kick, instead of being used primarily as threat and motivation for last year’s “kicker” …

    2. I agree with Thornton and Hirschman. Another guy I look to have a breakout year is Jon Major. I also agree that we will have some other surprises coming out of the Hawkins void. Some of his player selections baffled me. I keep going back to Andre Simmons who was completely wasted while he was here. I think he was the guy who caught the bomb from Hirschman in the spring game. The few times I saw him in the game he was always wide open. Also gotta remember who was the WR coach for a year….or was it longer than that? I have a feeling things like “nice smiles” got in the way of putting the best combo of players on the field.

  8. NICK –

    A friend with connections told me this Friday’s practice is open to fans from 4 to 6 p.m., but don’t expect to see a whole lot. I haven’t found this published anywhere, but maybe the FB office will post it.

    He said it could be in Folsom, but more likely down the hill at the practice fields across the creek.

  9. I hope that the rumor regarding Polk transferring back to RB is just that, a rumor. As a RSFr. he looked lost at Safety, and at times last year he was out of position, but it was really his first full year at the college level. It was stated a few times that as a RB he ran pretty straight up, and that usually is not a good style for the college or pro level (it’ll get you hurt more often than not). I feel he should be allowed to stay at safety, and hopefully with some imagination and help from the front 7 the secondary will not have so much pressure.I would imagine with G Brown back and a year under his belt that Polk will become a very good safety, and don’t forget he has 2 more years to perform at the position.

  10. Stuart, great site, and how do you find the time with the practice of law and the great fishing in your area, in the summer? You mention that we will have to see what the two new DL coaches can do with the players available. I feel we are in good hands there, as if Kanavis is as good a coach as a player he will be what we have needed, and having lived in Tucson for the last 9 years I can assure that Tuiasosopo is a great DL coach and the players will love him. He has great football genes and I have seen him take unheralded players here at the UofA and develop them into very good college football players.

    1. Harold,

      You are quite correct – I’ve amended the article and the poll.

      Bonsu sat out all of 2010 after suffering a knee injury during winter conditioning last year. Here’s hoping that Bonsu is healthy and ready to make an immediate contribution.

  11. Nick Kasa was very highly recruited out of High School and I havee been waiting for him to dominate and haven’t seen it yet. Do you think he will make that transition under the new coaching staff? He certainly has the size to do it.

    1. Sam,

      I’m not sure why Kasa has not become the dominant player he was projected to be. There is even some internet chatter about Kasa moving to tight end, which I feel would be a big mistake.

      I’m hoping that the combination of Mike Tuiasosopo and Kanavis McGhee will be able to bring out the best in Kasa, and that he will have a breakout year.

  12. Stuart,

    Your effort is phenomenal. Thank you for all of the work you put into this site. If I may buy you an adult beverage at the Spring Game, let me know. It’s the least I can do.

    From another of those who attended during the truly dark years (1980 -1985)!

    1. War Buff,
      Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend this year’s spring game.
      I may take you up on the offer this fall … 🙂

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