Spring Forward

A unit-by-unit preview of the 2013 Spring practices, with rosters and projected position battles.

Quarterbacks

Spring Roster (note: class designations are for this fall): Jordan Webb (Sr.); Nick Hirschman (Jr.); Connor Wood (Jr.); Stevie Joe Dorman (So.); John Schrock (So. walk-on); Shane Dillon (R-Fr.)

Class of 2013: Sefo Liufau

Time for a little Jeopardy …

Answer: CU quarterbacks.

Question: What position has way too many scholarship players, yet may not have the starter in camp this March?

Colorado has, with the addition of incoming freshman Sefo Liufau this fall, six scholarship quarterbacks on the roster. That in an of itself is an issue, especially for a team with depth issues at defensive line and linebacker. Add to that the fact that the Buffs’ potential long-term solution, Sefo Liufau, will not even take a snap with his team in an organized practice until August, and you get a position where some dead wook may have to be cut by the end of May.

Still, new offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren is not yet ready to make any cuts. “This is the most I’ve seen or been around . . . it’s a lot for guys who play only one position,” Lindgren told cubuffs.com. “But it’s not like we’re going to get rid of any of them.”

Lindgren told B.G. Brooks that has met with each of his quarterbacks “a handful of times” and “watched a little tape from last year.” He will refrain from making any evaluations, though, public or otherwise, until he gets more acquainted with each and sees them in spring drills.

“I’m starting fresh with those guys and that’s what I told them,” he said. “It’s a new beginning for all of them, a chance for them to prove themselves. I’m going into it with an open mind in starting the evaluation process.”

Spring drills begin on March 7, and the Buffs will have eight of their 15 practices prior to spring break (March 26-30). During the off week Lindgren hopes to further the quarterback evaluation process and arrive at a preliminary decision of who might be his top two or three starting candidates.

“I’m hoping at that point to be able to narrow it down a little bit, not necessarily make a decision, but narrow it down and start getting more reps for some of those guys,” he said.

This sentiment was echoed by head coach Mike MacIntyre, who said that he would be giving all of the quarterbacks some reps in the first half of spring practices (before spring break), with the field narrowed to three after the break, giving the CU coaches more time to work with the top candidates.

The favorite to be the starter coming out of spring practices is red-shirt freshman Shane Dillon. Senior Jordan Webb and junior Nick Hirschman saw the majority of playing time in CU’s dismal 2012 season, so they have game experience. All Dillon has going for him, at least for now, has been his rave reviews for his work on the scout team last fall.

For his part, Dillon feels up to the challenge.

“I have been ready to lead these guys since the day I set foot on campus” Dillon told CU at the Game. “Having to red-shirt this fall was tough at first for me, because I was struggling with my shoulder and was not able to compete in fall camp. After a couple weeks however, I realized that red-shirting was the best thing I could have done. It gave me a chance to really build a relationship with P-Rich because he was right beside me with his knee. It also gave me a chance to settle in and get comfortable with the rest of the team. The best thing about it though is, my arm is now stronger than what it was before, and my confidence about this team and the guys we have coming back on both sides of the ball is through the roof. You are going to see a different Buffalo team next year on offense. I can promise you that and people should start getting excited”.

The excitement about Dillon has been tempered, though, by the realization by Buff fans that, just a year ago, everyone was excited about the emergence of Connor Wood, who did great things with the scout team during the fall of 2011, but was never a factor in the race for starting quarterback come the fall of 2012.

And for those who believe that Sefo Liufau will take over the role in Fall Camp, regardless of what happens this spring, there is this little piece of trivia. In 123 years of college football at the University of Colorado, no true freshman has started at quarterback in the season opener …

Running Backs

Spring Roster (note: class designations are for this fall): Josh Ford (Sr.); Tony Jones (Jr.); Malcolm Creer (Jr.); D.D. Goodson (Jr.); Christian Powell (So.); Donta Abron (So.); Davien Payne (R-Fr.); Terrence Crowder (R-Fr.) … Fullbacks: Alex Wood (Sr.); Jordan Murphy (So. – walk-on)

Class of 2013: Michael Adkins; Phillip Lindsay (who also may be asked to play linebacker)

Coach Mike MacIntyre has indicated that he likes for his running backs to be “running downhill”, with the pistol offense designed to give the running back his greatest chance of success. Still, how the running backs will be utilized, and which running back will emerge as the starter, may well depend upon which quarterback is chosen.

Brian Lindgren has indicated that his offense will be tailored to his personnel’s strengths, as was the case at San Jose State. “We used the pistol to fit our personnel,” Lindgren said. “If we have a talented running quarterback, then we’re going to run more of the pistol. If we’ve got more of a pro-style passer, then we’re going to tweak our offense more towards that – and that’s what we did at San Jose State last year.”

Christian Powell emerged from a lineup full of young backs to become the unquestioned starter in 2012. Powell finished the season with 691 yards rushing in ten games, double that of any other back, while scoring seven of CU’s 15 rushing touchdowns. There are some questions about Powell’s health, however, including some whispers that Powell may be a medical red-shirt candidate due to concussions suffered last season.

While Powell, if healthy, would likely be the top candidate for starter, there are other options for Lindgren and running backs coach Klayton Adams. Junior Tony Jones was second on the team in rushing, with 320 yards, while sophomore Donta Abron chipped in 256 and senior Josh Ford 127. Each brings a little different set of skills to the table, so there will be plenty of jostling for reps this spring.

Four of the ten scholarship running backs, though, remain unknowns. Red-shirt freshmen Davien Payne and Terrence Crowder are looking to impress this spring, while Michael Adkins and Phillip Lindsay hope to start making a name for themselves when Fall Camp opens in August.

The Buffs will also carry two fullbacks on the roster. How senior Alex Wood and walk-on sophomore Jordan Murphy will fit into the new CU offense, though, remains to be seen.

Wide Receivers

Spring Roster (note: class designations are for this fall): Alex Turbow (Sr., walk-on); Paul Richardson (Jr.); Tyler McCulloch (Jr.); Keenan Canty (Jr.); Justin Gorman (Jr., walk-on); Wesley Christiansen (Jr., walk-on); Nelson Spruce (So.); Gerald Thomas (So.); Jeffrey Thomas (R-Fr.); Josh Smith (R-Fr., walk-on)

Class of 2013: Bryce Bobo; Elijah Dunston; Devin Ross

So, how ya’ doin’, Mr. Richardson?

A year ago, Paul Richardson was poised to become the undisputed leader of the receiving corps. As a sophomore, despite playing through injuries for much of the second half of the season, Richardson still finished third in receiving in 2011, coming in only behind the departed Rodney Stewart and Toney Clemons. With a healthy Paul Richardson back, more days, like the record-setting 284-yard performance against Cal, were to be expected.

Unfortunately, Richardson went down to injury just as spring practices were getting underway. Progressing rapidly through his rehabilitation, is was thought for awhile that Richardson might play in 2012, only for the decision to be made in September to shelve him for the season.

This spring, hope is renewed, with a healthy Paul Richardson again expected to lead the wide receiver corps.

Richardson will have company, though, as the top two receivers from 2012 return. Nelson Spruce led the Buffs in receiving in 2012, with 46 catches for 446 yards. Tyler McCulloch, meanwhile, had 34 grabs for 436 yards.

Still, the receiving unit, taken as a whole, was a bust. Colorado was 96th in the nation in passing offense, producing only 192.5 yards per game (while the Buffs’ opposition was averaging 263.5 ypg).

Enter new wide receivers coach Troy Walters, coming to Colorado from North Carolina State. The former consensus All-American at Stanford, Walters still holds the single game, single season, and career records for receptions for the Cardinal, and was the 1999 Biletnikoff Award winner, given to the nation’s top receiver.

Before coaching at North Carolina State, Walters was the wide receivers coach at Texas A&M, and the offensive coordinator, wide receivers coach, and quarterbacks coach at Indiana State.

Walters’ philosophy: “I tell them, I have been where they have been and I have been where they want to go so I just draw on all my experiences as a player, the great receivers I have been around, the great coaches I have been around,”, Walters once told AggieYell.com. “I just take something I learned from them and try to be a resource to the young men that I am blessed to be able to coach.

“I just showed them you don’t have to be 6-foot-8, 6-foot-4, you can be little and still get the job done. It is about technique and attention to detail and being fundamentally sound.”

In addition to three returning starters in Richardson, Spruce, and McCulloch, Walters will have some young talent with which to work. Two of the more intriguing possibilities are the Thomases – Gerald and Jeffrey. Gerald Thomas showed flashes, both as a receiver and a rusher last fall, picking up 171 yards on 18 receptions and 56 yards on nine carries. Jeffrey Thomas was also a true freshman likely to see action last fall, but returned home to Texas during fall camp. Now back and enrolled at CU, Buff fans will be interested to see what this Thomas has to offer.

Tight Ends

Spring Roster (note: class designations are for this fall): Scott Fernandez (Sr.); Kyle Slavin (Jr.); Vincent Hobbs (So.); Austin Ray (R-Fr.); Sean Irwin (R-Fr.)

Class of 2013: None

The lineup of tight ends on the Colorado roster is about as well set up as any on the team, with one member from each class, with two incoming red-shirt freshmen.

The only problem is: Will they be a necessary component of the new pistol offense? Or will some of these scholarship players have to find their way onto the field at another position?

Last season, Scott Fernandez had all of one catch, though he made the most of it, going 71 yards for a touchdown against Arizona. Vincent Hobbs was second amongst the tight ends in receptions (to Nick Kasa), with 16 catches for 153 yards, while Kyle Slavin contributed 14 catches for 109 yards.

New head coach Mike MacIntyre had eight tight ends on his roster last season at San Jose State. In an offense which passed for almost twice as many yards as did Colorado (4,325 to 2,310), tight end Ryan Otten collected 47 catches for 742 yards, third best on the Spartan offense. Two other tight ends on the roster collected another 11 catches for 230 yards.

So, the question isn’t really whether tight ends can find a place in a Mike MacIntyre offense.

The question this spring will be: Are the tight ends CU has on the roster the right fit for a Mike MacIntyre offense?

Offensive Line

Spring Roster (note: class designations are for this fall): Jack Harris (Sr.); Gus Handler (Sr.); Daniel Munyer (Jr.); Alex Lewis (Jr.); Kaiwi Crabb (Jr.); Stephane Nembot (So.); Brad Cotner (So.); Marc Mustoe (So.); Jeromy Irwin (So.); Alex Kelley (R-Fr.); Gerrad Kough (Fr. – grayshirt); Vicent Arvia (Fr., walk-on); Ed Caldwell (Fr., walk-on)

Class of 2013: Gunnar Graham; Jonathan Huckins; Sam Kronshage; Colin Sutton; and John Lisella (Lisella will gray-shirt, and will not join the team until January, 2014)

On paper, the Buffs’ offensive line, even with the early departure of David Bakhtiari to the NFL, have a  great deal of returning talent. From last season’s depth chart, three starters return who had nine or more starts last season: Jack Harris and Alex Lewis at the guard positions, and Daniel Munyer at center.

On paper, however, the Buffs’ offensive line was terrible last season.

Colorado was 109th in the nation last fall in rushing, averaging only 110 yards per game. The Buffs were 119th in the nation (ahead of only Washington State) in sacks allowed. Colorado was 110th in first downs generated. In third down offense … well, you get the idea.

So, first let’s take a look at the new offensive line coach.

From cubuffs.com … Gary Bernardi in his first season as the offensive line coach at the University of Colorado, officially joining Coach Mike MacIntyre’s staff on January 1, 2013 after three seasons at San Jose State.

Bernardi, 58, is a veteran of 32 seasons in the Division I-A (FBS) ranks, and is no stranger to the Pac-12, as he previously spent 24 of those seasons at Arizona, Southern California and UCLA. He’s coached in 366 games on college football’s top level, a number that includes 13 bowl games, five of which were the granddaddy of them all, the Rose.

Throughout his professional career, he has been involved with winning programs and successful head coaches, establishing a reputation as a sharp recruiter and developer of all-star offensive linemen, tight ends and wide receivers. Several of his players have been afforded All-American honors and over 20 of his players have gone on to play professional football. He worked on the staffs of several notable coaches, including Larry Smith, Terry Donahue, Bob Toledo and Mike Sanford.

With the exception of just one season in his career, he’s always coached the entire offensive line or at least the offensive tackles. He coached the line in his three seasons at San Jose State, where he landed after coaching five years at UNLV, where he coached the entire line and the tight ends, in addition to serving as the Rebels’ recruiting coordinator.

Okay, so what does Bernardi have to work with?

The center and guards appear to be set. Senior Jack Harris played in 11 games last season at right guard, missing only the USC game due to injury. His junior counterpart at left guard, Alex Lewis, played in all 12 games in 2012, starting 11.  Junior Daniel Munyer seems to have settled in at center, being in for more plays from scrimmage (785) than any other Buff last fall.

Assuming Bernardi keeps his interior line in tact, the question for the spring (and the fall) practices will be: Who will be the starting tackles? One option would be to move Alex Lewis to tackle, which would open up one of the guard positions. Still, even if the trio of Harris, Munyer, and Lewis are shuffled, CU is still looking for two new starters, with at least one new tackle.

Sophomore Stephane Nembot, who is still learning the position, might be an early favorite for one of the tackle positions. Nembot earned extensive playing time in the last half of the 2012 season, participating in the majority of plays in the last six games, and earning his first career start against Arizona.

Otherwise, there is slim pickings, at least in terms of what the Buffs put onto the field last fall. The only other tackle on the two-deep roster at tackle for the season finale last fall who is still with the team is sophomore Marc Mustoe, who was on the field for all of 32 plays last fall, with a high of 14 in the rout by Oregon.

Of course, with a different mindset which comes with the pistol offense, there may be considerable juggling of the offensive line depth chart between now and August 31st.

All we know now, heading into spring practices, is that – at least if the 2012 numbers are to be the judge – it can’t get much worse …

Defensive Line

Spring Roster (note: class designations are for this fall): Defensive tackles – Nate Bonsu (Sr.); Josh Tupou (So.); Tyler Henington (So.); Samson Kafovalu (So.); Justin Solis (So.); John Tuso (So. – walk-on); Kory Rasmussen (R-Fr.) … Defensive ends – Chidera Uzo-Diribe (Sr.); Kirk Poston (Jr.); Juda Parker (Jr.); Andre Nichols (Jr. – walk-on); Thor Eaton (So. – walk-on); De’Jon Wilson (R-Fr.); John Stuart (R-Fr.); Derek McCartney (Fr. – grayshirt from Class of 2012)

Class of 2013: Jimmie Gilbert; Timothy Coleman

The defensive line will enter the 2013 season frightfully young, with only three scholarship upperclassmen on the roster.

For better or worse, though, the CU defensive line, though young, is already experienced. True freshmen Tyler Henington, Josh Tupou, Justin Solis and Samson Kafovalu were inserted into the lineup, with Henington and Tupou on the field as starters at year’s end.

That inexperience played out on the field, where the Buffs were 115th in rushing defense last season, 117th in total defense, 119th in red zone scoring defense, and 120th – dead last – in scoring defense, giving up 46.0 points per game.

With only long-time starter Will Pericak gone from the lineup, new defensive line coach Jim Jeffcoat will have plenty of bodies, and some raw young talent to work with. And Jeffcoat’s pedigree should give him credibility with the Buffs’ players.

Here is some Jeffcoat’s bio from cubuffs.com … Jeffcoat, 51, came to CU from San Jose State, where he coached the defensive line under MacIntyre for two seasons. He also brings over two decades of experience as a player and coach in the National Football League to the Buffalo coaching staff.

In 2012, he coached a Spartan defensive line in which all four starters accounted for 35 total sacks, led by 13 from the Western Athletic Conference player of the year, Travis Johnson; each player ranked in the nation’s top 100, making San Jose State the only school to have four linemen to accomplish that feat. Along with Florida State, they were the only two schools to have all four linemen garner All-Conference honors. He made an immediate impact in his first year at San Jose, coaching Johnson to first-team All-WAC status and Travis Raciti to become one of the top defensive freshmen in the league.

Jeffcoat joined SJSU in March 2011 after coaching the defensive linemen at the University of Houston for the 2008 through 2010 seasons, where he coached three players, Phil Hunt, Tyrell Graham and Jake Ebner to All-Conference USA accolades.

He was a first round draft selection by Dallas in the 1983 (the 23rd overall pick), and he went on to enjoy a 15-year career with the Cowboys (1983-94) and the Buffalo Bills (1995-97). One of the league’s most durable, reliable, productive and consistent defensive linemen, he played in 227 games in the league, one of the top 50 numbers in NFL history. He concluded his career with 102½ quarterback sacks (still among the top 25 all-time), two interceptions, both of which he returned for touchdowns, one of which covered 65 yards in a 28-21 win over the New York Giants in 1985.

During his time in professional football that spanned 22 years as a player and coach, he went to the playoffs 11 times: eight times as a player and three times as a coach, nine times with Dallas and twice with Buffalo. He was a member of Super Bowl XXVII and XXVIII champion teams with Dallas (1992, 1993 seasons). Ironically, he concluded his career with the team that Dallas defeated twice to win the world championship.

… Chidera Uzo-Diribe is the player Jeffcoat will likely use to start rebuilding a decent defensive line. Uzo-Diribe played in all 12 games last year, and had more tackles, 43, than any other returning defensive lineman. Uzo-Diribe also led the team in sacks last season, with seven.

Other returning players, and their 2012 stats: Josh Tupou (37 tackles, one sack, four tackles for loss), Tyler Henington (25 tackles, two TFL), Nate Bonsu (24 tackles, one sack), Kirk Poston (20 tackles, four sacks, two TFL), Samson Kafovalu (20 tackles, one sack); Juda Parker (19 tackles); Justin Solis (17 tackles, one TFL).

One interesting side note … In a conference call with fans, new head coach Mike MacIntyre indicated that there were several defensive linemen who were being asked (required?) to lose 25 pounds. For the record, the following defensive linemen weighed in at over 250 pounds last fall: Josh Tupou, 325-pounds; Justin Solis, 305-pounds; Tyler Henington, 285-pounds; Nate Bonsu, 280-pounds; and Kory Rasmussen, 260-pounds.

Let the weigh-ins begin!

Linebackers

Spring Roster (note: class designations are for this fall): Inside linebackers – Derrick Webb (Sr.); Paul Vigo (Sr.); Brady Daigh (Jr.); Kyle Washington (Jr.); Clay Jones (So. – walk-on); Clay Norgard (R-Fr.); Jesse Hiss (R-Fr. – walk-on) … Outside linebackers – Woodson Greer (Jr.); K.T. Tu’umalo (Jr.); Lowell Williams (Jr.); Addison Gillam (Fr. – 2012 grayshirt); Markeis Reed (Fr. – enrolled in January)

Class of 2013: George Frazier; Ryan Severson; Kenneth Olugbode

Colorado loses two longtime starters from last year’s team, Doug Rippy and Jon Major. While the return of Rippy and Major to the lineup last fall made the unit appear to be a strength in August, the unit suffered during the year as both Rippy and Major played with injuries, limiting their production (Rippy was in for 20 or fewer plays in eight of the Buffs’ 12 games).

The absence of Rippy gave Derrick Webb the role as unit leader. Webb led the team in tackles, with 88, and third down stops, with nine. After Webb, though, there was a significant dropoff in production from the linebacking corps. The next most productive returning linebacker was a hybrid, Paul Vigo, who was ninth on the team in tackles, with 46.

Who else will the Buffs be able to count on? Brady Daigh (40 tackles, four tackles for loss) and Woodson Greer (12 tackles in 69 plays) have the most experience, with Kyle Washington and K.T. Tu’umalo also having seen the field of play for the Buffs.

With the relative dearth of returning experience, Kent Baer, who will coach the linebackers as well as assuming the duties of defensive coordinator, may well need turn to some new faces for help. Three recruits from the Class of 2013 will be in Boulder this fall, but Baer will already have three new Buffs to train this spring.

One prospect is redshirt freshman Clay Norgard, who came to CU to play fullback, but is making the move to defense – or, more precisely stated – is making the move back to defense. A three-year starter on defense in high school, Norgard recorded 218 tackles, including 88 for losses with 32 quarterback sacks, 19 forced fumbles and 10 fumble recoveries over his last two seasons. He had 115 tackles as a senior, including 45 for a loss (17 sacks) while forcing 10 fumbles and recovering six. MaxPreps ranked him as the No. 21 inside linebacker, while Scout.com tabbed him as the No. 105 defensive end.

In addition to Norgard, two freshman will also be available for spring practices. Addison Gillam was a grayshirt from the Class of 2012, who was a San Jose State commit before following his coaches to Boulder. Markeis Reed, meanwhile, was the only members of the CU Recruiting Class of 2013 who enrolled early.

There will be plenty of bodies for Baer to work with this spring, but finding the right combination to put on the field come August 31st may well prove a daunting task.

Defensive backs

Spring Roster (note: class designations are for this fall): Cornerbacks – Greg Henderson (Jr.); Josh Moten (Jr.); Harrison Hunter (Jr. – walk-on); Kenneth Crawley (So.); Yuri Wright (So.); Jeffrey Hall (So.); Brandan Brisco (So. – walk-on); John Walker (R-Fr.); Alexander Stewart (R-Fr. – walk-on) … Safeties – Parker Orms (Sr.); Terrel Smith (Sr.); Tommy Papillion (Sr. – walk-on); Jered Bell (Jr.); Marques Mosley (So.); Sherrard Harrington (So.); Richard Yates (So. – walk-on); Isaac Archuleta (So. – walk-on);

Class of 2013: Chidoba Awuzie; Tedric Thompson; Ryan Moeller (walk-on)

Colorado hasn’t had much luck in recruiting the past few seasons. Of course, enduring the worst stretch of losing seasons in school history will have something to do with that.

The one exception to the poor recruiting rule has been the secondary, where for the past three seasons the most heralded recruits for the Buffs have been defensive backs.

In 2011, Greg Henderson started the season opener at cornerback, joining Victor Scott (1980) as the only true freshmen to start at cornerback for Colorado. This past season, Kenneth Crawley ended fall camp No. 1 at left corner and made the start there against Colorado State, and thus became only the third true frosh to do so; he played 642 snaps on defense in 2012.

Crawley was soon joined as a true frosh starter in the secondary by Yuri Wright (six starts, 310 snaps) and Marques Mosley (six starts, 524 snaps playing nickel and the safety spots). Only five other players had even started at least one game at cornerback as true frosh: Deon Figures (1988), Toray Elton Davis (1994), Damen Wheeler (1996), Terrence Wheatley (2003) and Cha’pelle Brown (2006). Scott, Figures and Wheeler went on to play professionally, with Figures winning the 1992 Thorpe Award as the nation’s best defensive back.

So, the young talent is there at cornerback, with several veterans back to play safety, including Parker Orms, Jered Bell and Terrel Smith.

Sounds good, with the question being whether these battered Buffs can be molded into something special.

First, though, the issue for many Buff fans is whether all of the above players will be back next fall. Several players, most notably Yuri Wright, were vocal about their dislike of CU and Boulder. While Mike MacIntyre did get all of the current roster of players to commit to returning for spring, there is no guarantee that there will not be some attrition after finals in May.

For now, anyway, the young Buffs are saying the right things.

In a Daily Camera article, many of the defensive backs sang the praises of the new coaching staff. Crawley, Wright and Mosley all mentioned in separate interviews a common problem they believe affected their ability to learn the defense and understand game plans and execute them on game day as freshmen. It was not getting enough one-on-one attention from Brown.

All three players said they believe the new coaching staff led by head coach Mike MacIntyre will be more “hands on” when it comes to the secondary. They have already seen evidence of it. In secondary meetings last year, Brown did most of the talking. CU defensive backs also worked with graduate assistant Cha’pelle Brown.

This year they will have a completely different dynamic with MacIntyre, a former secondary coach, defensive coordinator Kent Baer, cornerbacks coach Andy LaRussa, safeties coach Charles Clark and Cha’pelle Brown contributing to coaching the secondary. Even new strength coach Dave Forman is a former defensive back.

“That’s going to help a lot because we have coaches that know a lot,” Wright said. “The more coaches, the more you can learn.

“Coach Brown is a heck of a coach, but he had a lot on his plate being a defensive coordinator and a position coach.”

… “I was so scared,” Mosley said of his first game as a Buff against Colorado State last fall. “Everybody was bigger than me. I just felt like I was going to mess up, but it was fine.”

“Yeah, I was intimidated at the USC game,” Crawley said. “It was like shock. Just playing at the Coliseum and then playing against one of the best receivers in the country and just both of them and just seeing them was like a shock. I know I can go out there and play with those guys. I know what I can do and I know I upset a lot of people, but you got to just move on with it. Everybody makes mistakes. You just got to get better.”

All three of CU’s prominent sophomore defensive backs say they are committed to staying in Boulder and helping lead the program back to the postseason and respectability. Mosley and Wright said they never considered leaving when the coaching change happened, though they were disappointed to see the coaches who recruited them go.

Crawley said he considered leaving CU more than once last fall because of personal issues but Embree always talked him into staying. He said he initially felt uncertain about his future in Boulder when the coaching change was made, but he likes the new coaches and is eager to get back on the field and start learning everything he can from them. He even sees himself as a potential team leader this year and in the future.

“This year I have to prove myself,” Crawley said. “I saw what (college receivers) can do and I know what I can do. I have to step up.”

… So, the Buffs are talented in the secondary, and appear to have their potential stars returning.

Now, it’s just a matter of turning that positive momentum into positive results on the field.

Special Teams

Spring Roster (note: class designations are for this fall): Kickers – Will Oliver (Jr.); Justin Castor (Sr.) … Punters – Darragh O’Neill (Jr.); D.J. Wilhelm (Jr. – walk-on) … Returners – Kenneth Crawley (So.); Nelson Spruce (So.); Donta Abron (So.); Gerald Thomas (So.); Jeffrey Hall (So.); Marques Mosley (So.) … Snappers – Ryan Iverson (Sr.); Keegan LaMar (So. – walk-on)

Class of 2013: none – at least no kickers. Several defensive back or wide receiver recruits could be given a chance at kick returning duties

Speed, or the lack thereof, has characterized Colorado in the return game the past few seasons. The numbers, like most we’ve been reviewing from past season, are dismal. In 2012, Colorado was 96th in the nation in punt returns; 71st in kickoff returns; 70th in punt return yardage defense; and 120th – dead last – in kickoff return defense.

While there will not be a great deal learned during spring drills about the punting and kicking coverage (as this will be, for the most part, hashed out in the fall, once more starting assignments are known), there should be – must be – better results expected from CU’s special teams.

If there has been one watchword when it has come to recruiting at the University of Colorado the past few years, it has been to increase the overall team speed. Once the overall team speed is improved, so too will special teams.

Last season, Kenneth Crawley led the Buffs in punt returns, with all of 81 yards on 12 returns. The rest of the team, combined? Four returns for eight yards.

In kickoff returns, it wasn’t a whole lot better, with Marques Mosley (21 returns for 549 yards, including a 100-yard kickoff return against Utah in the season finale) and Donta Abron (20 returns for 380 yards) getting most of the work.

Where the Buffs really got hurt, though, was in kickoff return coverage, where CU allowed 27.8 yards a return, the nation’s worst average. Want to see if there is improvement on kick return coverage this fall? Watch the Buffs on kickoffs, and see if the team rushing downfield goes in a relatively straight line (indicative of overall team speed) or like a flock of geese, in a “V” shape, indicating a lack of overall team speed.

As for the kickers themselves, the Buffs – again, for better or worse – appear to be set. Juniors Will Oliver and Darragh O’Neill return, with very little in the way of potential challengers. Zach Grossnickle, who was a backup for both kicker and punter, and handled several kickoffs, chose not to return for his senior season. The only other scholarship kicker on the roster is Justin Castor, and no new kickers were recruited in the Class of 2013.

Last season, Will Oliver hit on six of eight field goals – not exactly a representative sample (CU’s opponents, meanwhile, hit on 15-of-18 field goal attempts).

Darragh O’Neill, meanwhile, had plenty of work to do. O’Neill was called on to punt 76 times (CU opponents punted 47 times). O’Neill’s average was a very good 43.51 yards per punt, with the Buffs 21st in the nation in net punting (the Buffs’ highest ranking nationally in any major category).

So, this spring should be fairly quiet on special teams. The specialists are set, and the returners are not likely to be announced until fall.

All Buff fans can hope for over the 15 spring practices are overall good reviews about special teams …

… and high praise for the Buffs’ collective team speed.

14 Replies to “Spring Forward”

  1. If Powell has to sit out we may see the 2 freshmen in the mix. Otherwise,I’m not real thrilled what we have after him. I would also like to see a lot more of Josh Ford. Seems like he always gave a good showing when he was allowed to play. Why he didn’t play more is a mystery to me.

    JW, I also have wondered why we didn’t see more of Josh Ford last season (and before). He has an uncanny knack of changing his running angle at the moment before a tackle to give him an extra 3-4 yards… which, gives him the opportunity (with enough carries) to break some long gainers. Mystery to me too.

  2. in order for WRs or the passing game as a whole to succeed they need a QB who can reliable deliver the ball past 20 yards. C’mon Shane, c’mon Sefo

  3. If Powell has to sit out we may see the 2 freshmen in the mix. Otherwise,I’m not real thrilled what we have after him. I would also like to see a lot more of Josh Ford. Seems like he always gave a good showing when he was allowed to play. Why he didn’t play more is a mystery to me.

    1. Agreed!! Judging from his game performances, size, and seniority, I could never comprehend why Ford wasn’t playing! I won’t be surprised if he’s a star in this, his final year.

    2. JW, I also have wondered why we didn’t see more of Josh Ford last season (and before). He has an uncanny knack of changing his running angle at the moment before a tackle to give him an extra 3-4 yards… which, gives him the opportunity (with enough carries) to break some long gainers. Mystery to me too.

  4. Speaking of wide receivers, McCaffery I’m sure will head to a big name program but Coach MacIntyre has only to look in this own back yard at Fairview’s Sam Martin. His dad played at CU and he really wants to be a Buff. This kid will be a factor at the next level in 2014!

  5. Might want to move those FB’s to LB. The irony of it is Embree did exactly the opposite when he showed up, 2 LB’s moved to FB. At least Powell is working out as a running back.

  6. Stuart, Spring Practice means we’re going to see some of these younguns’ in football soon, which brings up a topic. Since Christian McCaffery will be one of the top rated recruits in 2014, I understand Colorado has offered. He’s also a top player in basketball, however only played in Valor’s first 5 games and hasn’t played since. Q: Do you know, has he been injured? Would love to see him in black and gold on Saturdays.

    1. It does appear that McCaffery has missed some time, but that hasn’t slowed the suitors.
      McCaffery has already taken unofficial visits to Alabama for football and Duke for basketball, which gives you some idea of what his profile has become.
      Over 20 schools have offered him in football, including most of the Pac-12. Oregon and Stanford have offered (Cardinal head coach David Shaw, the day after winning the Pac-12 championship game, was on hand to watch Valor Christian win the state championship).
      It would be a major coup for CU to obtain McCaffrey’s talents, but with his offer sheet, and the current state of the CU program, the Buffs would have to be considered a long shot at best.

      1. No way CU is going to get him. Valor and Mullen are full of mercenaries to begin with. The most hyped kids on those team’s will almost always go to the highest profile program that offers.

        1. Forgive my ignorance back here on the East Coast but is he a son of Ed McCaffery from the NFL? Isn’t Ed McCaffery (who initially played for the Giants if memory serves) a Stanford alum?

          1. Yes and Yes. Christian is the son of Ed, who went to Stanford.
            Christian is currently the only Colorado high school player ranked in the Rivals’ preseason Top 250 (No. 195) for the Recruiting Class of 2014.

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