Spring Grades – Offense

While grading the Colorado football team is more difficult this year due to the closing of spring practices from the public, there is enough cumulative information available to start taking a look at how the 2012 Buffs are shaping up … at least until 27 true freshmen hit campus this summer.


Spring Game statistics – Sophomore Connor Wood, 7-of-10 passing for 137 yards and two touchdowns; red-shirt freshman John Schrock, 3-of-8 passing for 26 yards; red-shirt freshman Stevie Joe Dorman, two-for-two passing for 34 yards. Did not participate: sophomore Nick Hirschman (injured); incoming true freshman Shane Dillon; likely junior transfer Jordan Webb).

Prior to the Spring game, Colorado head coach Jon Embree said transfer Connor Wood had “finished (the spring) strong,” but added that Wood “needs to relax . . . sometimes he presses, whether it’s over-gripping the ball or trying to throw it real hard. He just needs to relax. But he had a good spring.”

Of Wood’s performance at the Spring game, Embree “I thought No. 5 was sharp. He missed a couple of deep balls . . . but I thought he played well.”

Embree said Wood, a sophomore, was good with his decision-making: “That’s always the No. 1 thing with quarterbacks . . . and I thought he was better with his accuracy in the shorter passes.”

CU quarterbacks coach Rip Scherer gave this assessment of Wood to cubuffs.com. Scherer said that Wood’s “failure” to make a decisive move into the starting position, “is more an indication that we want to have an opportunity to evaluate Nick and Shane (Dillon) than it is an indictment (of Wood). I did not go into this spring feeling like we had to, or necessarily would, come out of the spring with a starter. Because of the extenuating circumstances of a young freshman that we have a lot of confidence in and a guy that’s been in the offense that’s demonstrated some good things in the past . . .

“Now, if Connor would have just been lights out, that scenario might have changed. But my expectation level with Connor was more realistic than that. He didn’t have any ‘reps’ in the offense (last fall) so there was still going to be a learning curve. It was going to be hard for a guy to go from not knowing the offense to being an accomplished starter in 15 practices. This has been an opportunity for Connor to grow and get a lot of ‘reps’ and make up some ground – not necessarily on the field but on himself in terms of learning the offense. So when preseason does come it’ll be a little more of a level playing field for him.”

While Wood was destined to receive a great deal of reps with the No. 1 offensive unit this spring, the absence of Nick Hirschman may have allowed for a fourth candidate to throw his hat into the ring, red-shirt freshman John Schrock. Scherer called Schrock “real solid . . . he gives you a lot of confidence that he’s going to do the right thing. He makes good decisions. Probably right now of all the quarterbacks, he knows the offense better than anybody.

“That’s a credit to him, his work ethic and his intelligence. There’s a comfort level with John. At the very least, there’s always going to be a role for him. Now how that role plays out depends on how the other guys come in and how he fares in competition.”

However long the quarterback competition drags on this August, one thing is clear, “Whoever our quarterback is, he’s going to be a first-year starter,” said Scherer. “Whoever that guy is will be better in game eight than he is game one. But we need to make sure by game one he’s good enough in making good decisions and in his leadership and understanding of the offense that we can take advantage of the plays that come available to us.”

Quarterbacks spring grade: Incomplete. With so much still to be determined, it is hard to assess the state of the race for the starting job. Connor Wood would have to be the leading candidate, but by default. Had Hirschman not been injured the week before the start of spring practices, Wood’s position atop the depth chart this April would have meant a great deal more.

Running backs

Spring Game statistics – Junior Josh Ford, eight carries for 141 yards and two touchdowns; sophomore Tony Jones, four carries for 23 yards; sophomore D.D. Goodson, five carries for 19 yards; sophomore Justin Gorman, two carries for 13 yards and one touchdown.

In 2011, Rodney Stewart became the first CU Buff to lead the team in rushing for four straight seasons. The task of replacing Stewart will likely fall to Tony Jones, who subbed for Stewart late last season when Stewart was injured. Jones was second on the team in rushing last fall, with 297 yards on 78 carries.

“Tony actually has been pretty consistent,” offensive coordinator and running backs coach Eric Bieniemy told cubuffs.com during spring practices. “He’s been running the ball exceptionally well. Obviously, it goes in conjunction with everybody. The O-line is coming off the ball, the tight ends are doing a great job. The thing I want to keep pointing out is that those big plays don’t just happen by chance.”

Jones, who played in all 13 games last season mostly as Rodney Stewart’s backup, said his spring goals were to “pay attention to details like coach Bieniemy always says . . . I’ve tried to sharpen up on everything, stay focused, and take my game to another level since I’m trying to be a starter.”

For those who witnessed junior Josh Ford tear up the second-team defense for 141 yards on only eight carries, there are two items worthy of note. First, this is not Ford’s first highlight reel Spring game. Last April, Ford went for 164 yards on 17 carries in the Spring game. Then, when the 2011 season rolled around, Ford was rarely utilized. Other than the Arizona State game, in which Ford posted ten carries for 73 yards, Ford accumulated only 12 carries and 55 yards in four other games in which he participated. Second, if there were any thoughts that Ford had put together a great spring behind closed doors, Ford dropped behind D.D. Goodson to third on the post-spring depth chart, released the day before the Spring game.

While Jones, Ford and Goodson will be the likely candidates to try and fend off the challenges of incoming freshmen Donta Abron, Terrence Crowder and Davien Payne, there is something to be said for the fullback position at Colorado this spring.

Last season, the new Colorado coaching staff ran an offense which required fullbacks, but had to do so inheriting a roster devoid of such players. Former linebackers Tyler Ahles and Evan Harrington were moved into the position, but both were seniors, forcing the Buffs to start over again this spring.

Two incoming freshmen have been recruited to play fullback at Colorado, with Clay Norgard enrolling early in order to participate in spring drills. While Norgard will have to battle with junior walk-on Alex Wood and incoming freshman Christian Powell for the starting job come August, it was a step up for the Buffs to be able to run their offense with a recruited fullback leading the running backs through the hole.

Running back / Fullback spring Grade: B-/B … With the loss of the Buffs’ one true offensive star, wide receiver Paul Richardson, to a season-ending knee injury, and with a new starter this fall at quarterback, the CU offense must rely on the running game in 2012 to have any chance of success. Last season, Colorado ranked 106th in the nation in rushing offense, and that was with four-year starter at running back in Rodney Stewart, and a three-year starter at quarterback in Tyler Hansen. How the Buffs will be able to improve on the 2011 rushing numbers with the current roster is certainly open to question.

Wide Receivers

Spring Game statistics – Junior Jarrod Darden, two catches for 53 yards and a 42-yard touchdown; red-shirt freshman Nelson Spruce, two catches for 35 yards; senior Dustin Ebner, two catches for 22 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown; sophomore Tyler McCulloch, one catch for 34 yards; sophomore Keenan Canty, one catch for nine yards.

Monday, April 9th, was supposed to be a big day for wide receiver Nelson Spruce.

The red-shirt freshman, held out of play in 2011 even after fellow freshman Tyler McCulloch had been called upon to tear off his red-shirt, had been named the Buffs’ No. 2 wide receiver. With the graduations of Toney Clemons and Logan Gray, the Buffs had only one returning starter at wide receiver, Paul Richardson, and had spent the spring looking for a new No. 2. With only one week of spring practices left to be played, Spruce had been named No. 2.

“He’s had a solid spring,” wide receivers coach Bobby Kennedy told cubuffs.com. “He’s light years ahead of where he was when last season ended. Things have slowed down for him, he’s able to execute better and he’s got a better understanding of what we’re trying to get done . . . he’s not thinking as much, he’s able to play a little faster.”

Then, one short practice later, Spruce was no longer the No. 2 wide receiver.

He was No. 1.

The CU wide receiver corps took a lethal hit that Monday, when All-Pac-12 candidate Paul Richardson was lost for the season with a knee injury. Now, instead of being the reliable “possession” receiver, Spruce had been elevated to the main man.

Spruce, though, does not have the speed to stretch defenses. Kennedy characterizes Spruce as “deceptively fast,” which elicited a grin and a chuckle from Spruce. “I guess that’s accurate; I’ve been hearing it since high school,” he said. “Maybe it’s my stride or something . . . it doesn’t look like I’m running that fast. But I feel like I’m fast. I’ve been working on showing my speed all over the field, and my bursts off the line. I think it’s improved since I’ve been here.”

The No. 2 spot now falls to sophomore-to-be Tyler McCulloch, who played in all 13 games (one start) last season and made 10 receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown. Kennedy termed McCulloch “still a work in progress” and said he must overcome day-to-day inconsistency: “He’ll have a good day, an off day . . . he needs through the summer to keep progressing and put things all together. We need him to step up and start making (plays).”

More specifically, Kennedy said, McCulloch’s lanky physique often seems a detriment to his release from the line of scrimmage against press coverage. “He’s got to continue his development there,” Kennedy said. “And he needs to stop trying to ‘body’ catch; he’s got good hands. He just needs to continue to develop confidence in his hands. He can use his body and reach for things; catch them clean rather than trying to ‘body’ things.”

The other two receivers who moved up the depth chart with the injury to Richardson are sophomore Keenan Canty and senior Dustin Ebner, “I’m not disappointed with either of them,” said Kennedy. “They’re further along that last year, Keenan especially. Dustin has showed some things; he didn’t get many opportunities last year. But he’s showing he can make some plays. Keenan is doing so many things better than last fall, but he’s a guy I’m talking about when I mention consistency . . . he’s got to show that.”

The final wideout who is likely to have his name called a number of times this fall is Jarrod Darden. The junior did have a 42-yard touchdown reception in the Spring Game, but Darden has not enjoyed many such days. “It felt really good, actually,” Darden told the Daily Camera. “Hopefully I can get that feeling more often. I don’t deny it felt really good.

“Hopefully it’s the start to something I can build on in the fall and prove to these coaches and the fan base that I can do the things I’m capable of.”

Darden hasn’t caught a pass in a game since 2007, when he was a junior at Central High School in Keller, Texas. He missed his senior year with an ankle injury, redshirted at CU in 2009 and has never advanced enough in the depth chart to get an opportunity since.

In fact, he really hadn’t done a whole lot this spring, either. “It was good to see him start to make some plays,” head coach Jon Embree said. “This is the first time I’ve seen him make some plays. I reached for my Junior Mints at that point, like I’m at the movies. Glad to see some entertainment there from him.”

Not exactly a ringing endorsement …

Wide receiver spring Grade: D+/C- … Heading into spring practices, the CU wide receiver corps was Paul Richardson and a bunch of wannabes. And now …

Tight ends

Spring game statistics – Sophomore Kyle Slavin, one catch for 30 yards; senior Nick Kasa, no catches; junior Scott Fernandez, no catches.

The trio already on the roster – Kasa, Fernandez and Slavin – is “chasing their goals,” Colorado tight ends coach J.D. Brookhart told cubuffs.com. “It’s a continual process. A faster track needs to happen for Nick. Kyle has made the most of his opportunities. He’s showing a more maturity; he just needs to continue to upgrade that, but he’s definitely improved. Scott has made good improvement athletically . . . he’s an extremely intelligent kid who gets what we’re doing. He’s gotten less reps and still has improved, he really has.”

Kasa is the most well known of the threesome, mainly because he was a nationally recruited local high school player (Legacy) who spurned Florida for Colorado, but then has bounced from defense to offense trying to find what position fits. If that fit is tight end, his improvement needs to hit overdrive: “He needs to get four years of practice in the next three months – that’s what he needs to do,” Brookhart said of the 6-6, 265-pound Kasa.

“Athletically he’s capable of doing everything,” Brookhart continued. “Right now, it’s just a matter of comfort in the pass game, which is not second nature at all. It’s a long ways away for him. That’s the biggest challenge for him. In the run game, I’m confident we can get him to 80 percent of where he needs to be by September.”

Colorado signed not one, not two, but three tight ends in its 2012 recruiting class: Vincent Hobbs (6-3, 240, Dallas), Sean Irwin (6-4, 230, Cypress, Texas) and Austin Ray (6-6, 235, Columbia, Mo.). In August camp, one, two or all of that threesome will get significant chances to earn playing time, and Brookhart already is predicting, “It’s going to be a battle.”

That battle can’t start soon enough.

Tight end spring Grade: C/C+ … Nick Kasa had one catch in the season finale against Utah, shortly after moving over to the tight end position. That one catch, though, sparked the imagination of many Buff fans. Kasa has now had a full spring of practices to hone his new craft. Coming through the spring without injury, and with high praise from Kasa’s position coach, is enough to rate a decent grade from the group.

Offensive line

Spring Game statistics – Unlike a regular season game, in which published grades are given out to the offensive linemen, the Spring game only allows for speculation as to how the unit fared. The offense did generate 395 yards of total offense, at an excellent 9.4 yards per play clip. The rushing game gained 198 yards; the passing game 197, so balance was not a problem. The unit surrendered only one sack, and had only one penalty (a hold) called on the day. However, it must be noted that, either due to injury or coaches’ decisions to hold out players to avoid injury, the defense which played in the Spring game had only about half of the defensive starters expected to suit up against Colorado State.

Colorado returns three starters along the offensive line this fall, with junior center Gus Handler, left tackle David Bakhtiari, and right tackle Ryan Dannewitz all back.

The issue for spring ball, then, was replacing Ryan Miller and Ethan Adkins, the two starting guards from last fall. Working with offensive line coach Steve Marshall’s first unit for much of the spring at guard were sophomores Alex Lewis (left) and Daniel Munyer (right). Lewis moved inside from left tackle (he also played some tight end last season as a true freshman), while Munyer is seeing some spot duty at center (he opened the 2011 season there).

Said Marshall midway through spring practices: “If we played in a week, (Lewis and Munyer) would be our starting guards.”

When the post-spring depth chart was released on April 14th, Lewis was indeed listed as the No. 1 left guard, ahead of injured sophomore Kaiwi Crabb. At right guard, however, Munyer was listed as co-first teamer along with Dannewitz, with Dannewitz also listed as co-first teamer at right tackle, along with junior Jack Harris.

This listing could be read in one of two ways. Either Munyer is not doing well enough at right guard that Marshall believes that he may have to slide Dannewitz over to guard, or that Jack Harris is doing well enough at right tackle to allow Dannewitz, at 6’6″, 310-pounds, to move his guard-like frame inside.

In either event, it appears that the Colorado offensive line is finally finding some balance. Dannewitz is the only senior on the team. Behind him, the Buffs have three juniors, four sophomores, three red-shirt freshmen, and three true freshmen. Unlike the CU defensive line, which remains in disarray, the Buffs’ offensive line appears to be the most solid unit on the team.

Offensive line spring Grade – B/B+ … The remainder of the offense is in flux. Colorado may not have a starting quarterback until a week before the opener, and must replace a four-year starter at running back. The wide receiver unit lost its one “A-list” performer, and the tight ends remain in search of a starter who was not moved from another position.

The Colorado offensive line is the strongest unit on the team. If the Buffs are to improve at all from last season’s numbers (92nd in total offense; 109th in scoring offense), the offensive line will not only have to be strong, it will have to be dominant.

And what are the chances of that happening?

One Reply to “Spring Grades – Offense”

  1. Agree 100% on your statement of the need for the O-Line to be dominant. It can/ will be the difference maker from 2011.

    Can’t wait for the Feast & Fix before UCLA!!

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