Spring Grades – Offense

Spring practices are completed for the University of Colorado. The players now have a few weeks to get ready for finals week, the coaches are off to evaluate high school talent, and the Buff Nation can take a few moments to catch its breath.

How did the Buffs fare in their first spring practices under Mike MacIntyre?

Let’s take a look …

Note … Grades are not reflective of the overall talent in a given unit, but reflect whether the pre-camp expectations for the unit were met over the 15 practices of spring football.

Quarterbacks … C-

The spring began with six potential candidates to start the opener against Colorado State on September 1st. Senior Jordan Webb and junior Nick Hirschman had experience at the starting position, with junior Connor Wood and red-shirt freshman Shane Dillon seen as the primary competition. Two sophomores, Stevie Joe Dorman and John Schrock, were also given an equal shot in the first eight practices of the spring in Coach MacIntyre’s open casting call.

Two quarterbacks were moved to the second tier midway through the spring. The midway “pencil” chart had Dorman and Schrock moved down a level, reducing the battle to four quarterbacks. The number of candidates was reduced again a few days later, when Jordan Webb tore an ACL, ending his season before it had a chance to begin.

This left the race at three, with Connor Wood and Nick Hirschman taking the lead. The two juniors were selected as starters for the spring game, and both had an opportunity to impress the coaches. “The Pistol is an awesome dynamic,” Hirschman said before the game. “I love running the ball. I love the contact and getting physical in there. I always make the joke that we’re not football players, we’re quarterbacks, but it’s fun to go in there and be a football player again.”

For his part, Connor Wood was also ready to go. “We’ve been pretty much on fire the past two weeks since we came back from spring break,” Wood said. “I’ve been very encouraged. The linemen are really picking up a lot of different stuff, blitzes and all the different nuances of the protection. I’m proud of our receivers for adapting to all the different things. I’m confident about where we are.”

Both players had good numbers during the spring game. Hirschman went 16-for-27 for 219 yards and two touchdowns, while Wood went 11-for-16 for 205 yards and a touchdown. With no other quarterback attempting more than six passes, the quarterback race was seen as being down to two candidates, with the battle to continue on into fall camp.

Then … Nick Hirschman suddenly decided to move on. A junior, Hirschman was already in position to graduate in three years, giving him options. Under NCAA rules, he could graduate this spring, transfer to a school which does not have a graduate program CU offers, and still have two years to play two seasons. “I felt at this time that it has been three years, a great three years, but with no decision made at the end of spring ball, it was a personal choice that it was time for me to move on,” Hirschman said.

It does not appear that Hirschman had been told he was no longer a candidate for the starting position. Quite the contrary. “Nick’s a phenomenal young man, a great team player, and I was looking forward to watching him mature this fall and to see how he would do in the battle for starting quarterback job,” Mike MacIntyre said in a press release from the school. “We hate to lose him, but we do wish him the best.”

Which leaves the quarterback race … where? Does Hirschman’s departure and Webb’s injury give Wood the job? Will Shane Dillon – 3-for-6 for 38 yards in the spring game – be given another opportunity to win the job? Will junior college transfer Nelson Fishback be offered a scholarship? Will incoming freshman Sefo Liufau become the first true freshman quarterback in school history to start a season opener?

No one could question coach MacIntyre’s willingness to give all six quarterbacks on his roster a shot at the starting job when spring practices opened. No one was surprised when Dorman and Schrock were moved to the second tier.

And Connor Wood may be the answer. “The coaches do a great job of instilling confidence,” Wood said. “They really foster that at practice. Coach Lindgren, I just give all the credit to him, just the way he has coached us up as quarterbacks this spring”.

But it shouldn’t have been by default. Wood didn’t beat out Webb and Hirschman. They are just no longer candidates.

And that’s not what Buff fans were looking for from the quarterback race this spring.

Running backs … C

The good news – every player who carried the ball for CU last fall returned to the lineup this spring.

The not so good news – Colorado only averaged 110 yards rushing per game last fall … 109th in the nation.

The four leading rushers from 2012 were the four leading candidates for the starting tailback position this spring. Sophomore Christian Powell had 691 yards rushing last fall, followed by the 320 yards posted by junior Tony Jones. The only other two Buffs to post over 100 yards last season – Donta Abron (256 yards) and senior Josh Ford (127 yards) – were also to have their opportunities to impress new running backs coach Klayton Adams.

So, how did they do?

Not very well, if the numbers mean anything.

In the spring game, the CU rushing attack, for both teams, amassed all of 80 yards in 29 attempts. Take away Tony Jones’ 30-yard touchdown run, and the numbers are even worse – 28 attempts for 50 yards, or 1.7 yards per carry. Even Josh Ford, “Mr. April” the past two springs, didn’t have a good day, going for only 13 yards on eight carries. [Side note: In the 10 major spring scrimmages in which Josh Ford participated in prior to this year’s spring game, he rushed 68 times for 667 yards (9.96 yards a carry) with five touchdowns. Those 10 scrimmages include a pair of spring games that show him with 25 carries for 305 yards (12.2 average) and three touchdowns].

This is not to say that the unit was terrible all spring. In the third scrimmage – the only scrimmage in which the offense dominated – Josh Ford went for 136 yards on only eight carries, while Christian Powell and Tony Jones chipped in 52 yards and 46 yards, respectively.

And the fullbacks? … Senior Alex Wood saw the most action of the returning fullbacks, but that was on the receiving end. Wood had four catches in the spring game, going for 21 yards. The only carry by a fullback came from sophomore Jordan Murphy, who gained one yard in his only carry.

Now, it could be well argued that the new coaching staff wanted to focus on the passing game this spring, what with a quarterback race of greater concern, along with the need to identify new wide receiver threats.

With the results put up by the running game this spring, Buff fans can only hope this was the case …

Wide Receivers … B+

While it has long been reported that junior Paul Richardson, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL, was back to full speed, it was sure nice for the Buff Nation to see him back in action this spring.

A full year after going down to injury, Richardson looked like the player who burned Cal for a school record 284 receiving yards in 2011. After the third scrimmage, in which he caught three balls for 125 yards (including a 75-yard touchdown), Richardson collected five passes for 169 yards (including an 85-yard touchdown) in the spring game.

So, Richardson is back.

Now, who will step up this fall to take the heat off of the Buffs’ No. 1 offensive threat?

The two leading receivers from 2012, sophomore Nelson Spruce (44 catches for 446 yards and three touchdowns in 2012) and junior Tyler McCulloch (34, 436, 2) return. Both can be counted upon this fall, but hopefully more as possession receivers rather than deep threats.

To go long, the Buffs are looking at two new players to make an impact. Junior D.D. Goodson, the converted running back who was forced to play some defensive back in 2011, has made an impression at the slot receiver position. “I feel really comfortable at the slot position and at the receiver position in general. I played it a lot in high school and got a feel for it,” said Goodson, a product of the same Texas high school (Lamar Consolidated) as former Buff Michael Lewis. “The coaches are working with me and we’re all making plays out here.”

Troy Walters, a diminutive receiver who won the Biletnikoff Award at Stanford and played eight seasons in the NFL, might be the perfect position coach for Goodson.

“I always tell the guys to use their size to their advantage. If you’re smaller then there are advantages, like using your quickness to avoid contact,” said Walters, who is MacIntyre’s wide receivers coach. “(Goodson, at 5’7″, 170-pounds) is a good kid, a young man that just wants to help the team out. He went to Coach Mac and felt like he could help the team out as a receiver. We moved him to receiver to see what he can do”.

The other player who turned a few heads this spring is Jeff Thomas. Thomas, a gray-shirt freshman who was in camp last fall before returning home to Texas for personal reasons, had a good spring. In the spring game, Thomas had three catches for 52 yards, including a 33-yard touchdown. “I don’t want to say I am a possession receiver because I can do more than that but I don’t know how to put myself in a category,” Thomas said when asked to describe himself as a pass catcher. “I have pretty good hands, I run really good routes and I have a little speed.”

Other players, including junior Keenan Canty and sophomore Gerald Thomas (if he can work his way back onto the playing field), could help bolster a passing attack which floundered without Paul Richardson in the lineup.

Tight ends … D

Tight ends might not figure to be an integral part of the Mike MacIntyre offense at Colorado, and that’s probably a good thing.

Because the Buffs don’t really have any.

Junior Kyle Slavin and senior Scott Fernandez sit atop the spring depth chart, but these upperclassmen are not going to put up large numbers this fall. Last year, Slavin had 14 catches for 109 yards, with Fernandez having only one catch (though it was a fun one – a 71-yard touchdown against Arizona). In the spring game, Slavin had two catches for seven yards; Fernandez one for 12.

Two red-shirt freshmen, Sean Irwin and Austin Ray, back up the two upperclassmen, but they remain works in progress.

Offensive line … B

The Buffs unexpectedly lost David Bakhtiari to the NFL, but much of the remainder of the offensive line from 2012 returns. Five players with significant starting experience return, with significant depth finally forming for the Buffs.

“They do a good job as a group, they really do”, offensive line coach Gary Bernardi told BuffStampede.com. “I have been really happy with them. They are attentive in the meetings, they ask questions. They are a good group of kids. They have to play good on Saturdays, that is the bottom line”.

The two tackle positions appear to be set, with senior Jack Harris settling in at left tackle and Stephane Nembot at right tackle. Two injured players, junior left guard Alexander Lewis and right guard Daniel Munyer, were out for spring practices with injuries, but are both expected back for the fall.

This leaves the center position, with senior Gus Handler manning the position.

Depth will be a concern this fall, but the Buffs were able to field ten healthy offensive linemen this spring, enough to allow the Buffs to play a spring game instead of a spring scrimmage for only the second time in seven years (sophomore offensive guard Jeromy Irwin did go down with a twisted ankle during the game, forcing sophomore Marc Mustoe to play both ways for the remainder of the game).

For the Buffs’ high octane offense of 2013 to be successful, it will begin and end with the offensive line.

“I really like them. I think they are good kids,” said Bernardi. “I think that they want to be good. And I think buried in there, there are some guys that have played a little bit. There is some experience. The way you get better is just keep working hard. They are a year older, they have played so they should be better. Hopefully we do some things to increase the ability level but they are more experienced kids. If you want to be good and have the desire to improve, you are going to improve.”

… The same could be said for all of the Buffs’ offensive units …

3 Replies to “Spring Grades – Offense”

  1. While I agree that you don’t want to see the QB race won by default, the prevailing sentiment surrounding pretty much the entire second half of Spring ball seemed to have been that Wood had really taken his game to another level and probably held an edge over Hirsch. So while he hadn’t completely run away with things yet, it certainly appeared that he was starting to pull away. Based on that, I’m much less concerned about the prospect of him sitting atop the depth chart at QB; think most folks would be pretty happy to see someone with his abilities as the starter if he’s playing with some consistency. What is troubling about the QB situation though, is the lack of depth behind Connor.

    1. Totally agree Emanon. I think Wood showed a decent semblance of consistency during the spring and I did think he was separating himself from the other QB’s. I like what I saw Connor do in the spring game but I would like to see Sefo come on strong when he arrives as we need a worthy #2 (which could conceivably, but not likely, turn into a RS) I just think Dillon (good kid) is a work in progress after watching him in the spring game. I would like to see him come on strong to so we can insure Luifau gets a RS year. Fishback had some consistent #’s last year and his team did really well so I hope we can get him to project some depth on the bench and address your concerns… and, I really wouldn’t mind if he came in smokin’ hot.

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