An In-Depth Depth Chart – Offense

Note: The Colorado depth chart for the Colorado State game has, since the publication of this article, been released, and can be found here.

Quarterback

Sefo Liufau – So. /Jordan Gehrke – So.

Not really a surprising call here. Sefo Liufau, who played in eight games last season (starting the last seven), has been the presumptive starter through spring drills and fall camp. A full year in the CU system (remember that Liufau has only been in Boulder since last summer) has given the Buffs’ starter an even greater chance to be successful this fall.

“Things are slowing down for him and he has a really good grasp of the offense right now,” CU quarterbacks coach / offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren told cubuffs.com about Liufau. “He feels comfortable in the concepts we’re running and I think he’s able to see the defense and adjust accordingly. That’s allowed him to make better decisions and be more consistent.”

This is not to say that Liufau has not been without competition. Backup Jordan Gehrke also turned heads this offseason. Gehrke, said Lindgren, “had a great spring and really made strides.” Preseason camp has seen Liufau and Gehrke each rotate with the No. 1 and No. 2 offense, and Lindgren says his comfort level with Gehrke directing the first offense doesn’t dip.

“Jordan has done really well,” head coach Mike MacIntyre said. “He’s doing just like he did in the spring and has improved. He has a good grasp of the offense. He’s showing his athleticism and making some plays. He’s a good leader and has a great attitude. So, I’m excited about what I see out of Jordan.”

If Liufau and Gehrke fail to make it through the season, the Buffs may, in an emergency, turn to walk-on Ty Gangi rather than lose the red-shirt season of true freshman Cade Apsay (Air Force transfer Jaleel Awini must sit out a transfer year, and is not eligible this fall).

Running backs & Fullbacks

Running backs: Christian Powell – Jr. / Michael Adkins – So. / Tony Jones – Sr. / Phillip Lindsay – R-Fr.

Fullbacks: Jordan Murphy – Jr. / George Frazier – R-Fr.

Got a four-sided coin to flip?

It will be interesting to see how the Colorado running game unfolds this fall. There is more depth and talent along the offensive line, and a more experienced quarterback behind center – which could translate into a rushing attack which will be better than what CU produced last fall (120.8 yards per game, 108th in the nation).

So, whose your favorite? The senior, Tony Jones? All Jones has done in his first three seasons as a Buff is to finish second or third on the team in rushing each fall. Jones, at 5’8″, 185-pounds, is the smallest of the quartet, but has the most experience.

Would you prefer the junior, Christian Powell? Powell has led the team in rushing the past two seasons, but was pushed for the title last fall by Michael Adkins, who didn’t see action in his freshman season last fall until conference play started, but still almost caught Powell for the rushing title (562 yards to 535).

“We’ve got a pretty good stable of experience and a nice mixture of guys who haven’t been on the field as much,” running backs/fullbacks coach Klayton Adams told cubuffs.com. “With those three you’ve got pretty good experience and a nice mix of talent . . . (Adkins) brings kind of an explosive element with him. He’s a year older and more ready now. He was redshirting last season’s first couple of games, but for him now it’s just a matter of cleaning up some details.”

Size-wise, Jones and Adkins are the water bugs to Powell’s water buffalo. Powell is a muscular 230-pounder, Adkins 195 and Jones 185. “‘CP’ has played a lot of football here,” Adams said of Powell. “I’m excited to see what his development brings. He’s worked hard over the summer on speed and strength, and he’s also a guy who can be put in a lot of different spots to help the football team.”

That could well mean Powell will see time at fullback, with Jones or Adkins lined up behind Powell in a two-back set.

“He’s one of our top tailbacks, so we’ve got to find a way to get him on the field in the different personnel groupings,” Adams said of Powell. “It’s always going to be a question of how do you put your best eleven out there? There will be times when it’s good to have him in at fullback because you’ve got another player who’s a good tailback as well. There’s also going to be times when we’re in one-back sets when you definitely want ‘CP’ in the game. It’s good to be able to use him in both of those roles.”

And don’t forget about red-shirt freshman Phillip Lindsay. “Everybody – including myself – is excited to see him on the field,” Adams said. “I think he brings a different element. He’s not as big as a Christian Powell or Michael Adkins but he tries to run like he’s 250 pounds. He’s got good feet and explosiveness. I think he’s gotten to a level where he’s pretty comfortable with what we’re doing offensively as well.”

So … who plays? Powell and Adkins will likely get the most carries early on, but all four of the Buff running backs will get carries this season.

Their position coach may have put it best.

“I feel good about the whole bunch,” Adams said. “There’s not any knuckleheads in that group.”

Wide Receivers

X – Tyler McCulloch – Sr. / Bryce Bobo – R-Fr.

Z – Nelson Spruce – Sr. / Lee Walker – Fr.

H – D.D. Goodson – Sr. / Devin Ross – So.

Okay, for the 2,196th time since the opening of spring ball … Colorado will not be able to replace Paul Richardson.

Richardson was – at least according to the CU record books – a once-in-a-generation talent. It will take some work to replace his numbers and success … but the Buffs are not completely devoid of talent at the wideout positions, either.

“Guys are more comfortable with more positions; they can play inside, outside, Z and X – all that stuff,” senior Tyler McCulloch told cubuffs.com. “It’s (replacing Richardson) definitely by committee but we have so much more quality depth I don’t think we’re going to take a step back. People might take us lightly when they say, ‘There’s no ‘P-Rich’ now. So, yeah, I hope they underestimate us.”

Ideally, CU receivers coach Troy Walters wants to identify as many as seven receivers who will play regularly. Depth, says Walters, “is there (and) it makes competition even better. Guys are fighting each day. They know they can’t rest on what they did yesterday. Each day we’re evaluating guys. We don’t have a depth chart yet, so guys know that. They know each day, each practice is an opportunity for them to show what they can do and earn playing time.”

Entering their second seasons in CU’s modified pistol offense, Nelson Spruce, McCulloch and D.D. Goodson have reached a comfort level that eluded them during their “break-in” season. “I’m really comfortable in it,” McCulloch said. “I’m able to read the defense and know what to expect. And I feel a lot more comfortable in and out of my breaks, more comfortable with my body. I’m feeling good; I’m at a solid weight (215-220) and feeling good all around. After getting hurt I was playing pretty skinny last year. I’m not the same player.”

Among the younger receivers, true sophomore Devin Ross played in his first college season in 2013, collecting six receptions for 24 yards.  Coming off redshirt seasons, Bryce Bobo (6-2, 190) and Elijah Dunston (6-0, 185) are anxious to make their marks. Lee Walker is a true freshman who enrolled in January and showed speed in spring drills. The other two true scholarship freshmen are Shay Fields and Jay MacIntyre, and both have had eye-catching August camps.

Will Nelson Spruce show he is a top-tier Pac-12 wide receiver, capable of leading a P-Rich-less unit? Can Shay Fields come in as a true freshman and dominate a game the same way Paul Richardson did in 2010? Can Troy Walters find a combination of receivers which will give Colorado a consistent offensive threat?

The answers to those questions will go a long way toward deciding CU’s bowl hopes in 2014.

Tight ends

Sean Irwin – So. / Kyle Slavin – Sr. / Connor Center – R-Fr.

Colorado is super-model thin at the tight end position.

The Buffs have just two tight ends with any experience back this fall, with senior Kyle Slavin and sophomore Sean Irwin combining for a grand total of ten catches in 2013.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Colorado recruited three tight ends in Irwin’s class, but Sean is the only one left.  “They just left me, man,” Irwin said of Austin Ray and Vincent Hobbs, neither of whom is still with the team. “Just about everyone in that class did”.

Fortunately for the Buff Nation, the two returning tight ends have impressed their position coach, Klayton Adams. “The guy who came out of the spring as the most improved was Sean Irwin . . . he’s a guy to watch”, Adams told cubuffs.com. “I’m excited to see what he can do. He has just made so much improvement in every phase, whether it was the first spring to last fall to this spring to now I’m looking for another big jump from him. He’s a pretty talented guy, explosive in the run game and really learning a lot in the passing game. I’m excited to see what he’s capable of.”

And Slavin?

“He’s very steady in all phases – smart and savvy in both the run and pass games,” Adams said. “We talked about a couple of things before summer like him being able to move a safety (out of position). If he’s able to do that then we’ll be able to use him more.”

Buff fans shouldn’t count on All-Pac-12 performances out of the tight end position this fall … but it should be better than in year’s past.

Offensive Line

Left tackle – Marc Mustoe – Jr. / Kaiwi Crabb – Sr.  / (Jeromy Irwin – So. (injured)

Left guard – Kaiwi Crabb – Sr. / Jonathan Huckins – R-Fr.

Center – Alex Kelley – So. / Jonathan Huckins – R-Fr.

Right Guard – Daniel Munyer – Sr. / Brad Cotner – Jr.

Right Tackle – Stephane Nembot – Jr. / Sam Kronshage – R-Fr.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

“A Tale of Two Cities”? Yes … and also a tale of CU’s offensive line in 2013.

Last fall, the Buffs produced an almost unfathomable feat – all five of its offensive line starters started all 12 games. In an era when offensive linemen fall to injury all too often, the 2013 season was an impressive run by left tackle Jack Harris, left guard Kaiwi Crabb, center Gus Handler, right guard Daniel Munyer, and right tackle Stephane Nembot.

Now the bad news. Colorado, even with all that consistency along the offensive line, was anything but consistent offensively. The Buffs were 87th in the nation in total offense (369.9 yards per game) and 86th in scoring offense (25.4 points per game).

The Buffs lost two starters from last fall, left tackle Jack Harris and center Gus Handler, but Colorado should be able to fill those slots without difficulty. Sophomore Jeromy Irwin is pushing Marc Mustoe for the crucial left tackle position, while Alex Kelley has slid easily into the starting role at center.

This fall, Colorado could have a multitude of starting lineups along the offensive line – a departure from last season, but not necessarily a negative. “I’m trying to create versatility and depth in terms of guys who can do a lot of things”, offensive line coach Gary Bernardi told cubuffs.com. “I want to do that to have some flexibility. Right now I don’t have to do it out of necessity because we have some guys who can play.”

Case in point: Auburn transfer Shane Callahan, who has been allowed by the NCAA to play for the Buffs without sitting out a transfer season. “He was always a tackle,” said Bernardi, “but I think he’s bright enough and football savvy enough to pick (up playing guard). But I can see little things each day (he’s good at) and little things each day of ‘uh-oh, he hadn’t done that before.’ That’s constant. But he’s a good football player.”

I’ll leave the final word to Jeromy Irwin, who was speaking for the offensive line, but could also be speaking for the entire team: “Compared to when I got here, we’ve just grown so much closer,” he said. “We enjoy coming out here and practicing. We enjoy looking to the next day of practice and getting better. I think that’s really important when you look at it. Before, there were guys who would come out here and not care. I think the coaching staff has done a great job of putting that (work ethic) in our heads.”

We’ll see how that all translates to the field of play come August 29th …

… Coming this weekend … An In-Depth Depth Chart for the Defense and Special Teams …

 

4 Replies to “An In-Depth Depth Chart”

  1. Yo Stuart,

    Just a quick note about the fixation some fans have on Paul Richardson. On some of the CU teams of the past, Richardson would have been just one of many great players. I think he stood out so much because he played here during one of the worst periods in CU football history.

    I wrote on my own blog about my feeling that Colorado will be better this year without Richardson than it was last year with him. I also put into context what 83 catches by one guy on a 4-8 team means.

    Check out the numbers I posted and compare what Richardson did vs. what Mike Pritchard did in 1990. Pritch had more all purpose yards and a higher yards per touch than Richardson. And he did it all playing 3rd fiddle to Heisman candidates Darian Hagan and Eric Bieniemy.

    Let me know what you think.

    Mark
    Boulderdevil

    1. I will be there! I signed up for the CU pregame, and will have a son and two grandsons in tow.
      Planning on bringing a stack of CU at the Game mousepads to hand out to east coast Buffs!

  2. When all is said and done, I think it will actually be Phillip Lindsay who has the most yards (combined rushing and receiving) of the four running backs, and the senior Tony Jones will have the fewest. Powell and Adkins will lead at the beginning but it will be impossible to keep the “Tasmanian Devil” off the field. With George Frazier at fullback, they have a lot of versatility and an incredible jumbo package with he and Powell together. However, in any given week, any of the four could be the hot guy.

    At receiver, Spruce is going to have a big year, Goodson will have a ton of short catches as the main safety valve in the slot, and Shay Fields will end up being the main guy a the X, out performing both Bobo (who will be be solid) and McCulloch. When Bobo was nursing a sore shoulder at the scrimmage, Fields actually started and played a lot, and can consistently get behind the DBs. Devin Ross caught six balls out of the slot last year, but is now lining up at all three positions. I just don’t see McCulloch doing a whole lot this season, except on third down and some red zone. The true frosh-Lee Walker, Donovan Lee, and even little Jay MacIntyre-have all looked good and have shown speed to compete at this level;two should play a lot on special teams and some on offense, while one, probably mini Mac, will redshirt and play the scatback/returner on the scout team. Elijah Dunston, who got at least as much hype coming in two years ago as Bobo and Ross, maybe more, has become the odd man out.

    A killer tight end would really cap off this offense, but they do not have that guy yet. Sean Irwin is improving and developing, but he is not that difference maker in the receiving game they need. Kyle Slavin looks the part, but every year we have said he is ready to break out and he never has done anything, nor do I believe that now is the time. Connor Center is still very raw, but his size will get him some looks on third down and red zone situations, similar to McCulloch.

    If the offensive line can hold it own, with a much deeper and more talented stable of weapons the team has seen in years, Sefo should have a stellar second season.

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