Second Half Checklist – Offense

While the Buffs had many positives coming out of the first half of spring ball, there remain many unanswered questions as the program seeks to break a school-record string of eight consecutive losing seasons.

Below is a breakdown, by offensive unit (a similar report on the defense is soon to follow), of how the Buffs fared over the course of the first two weeks of practices, and what is expected from them over the course of the next two weeks.

Quarterbacks

The first goal of the spring for the quarterbacks was not to get either of the two scholarship signal callers injured.

So far, so good.

With only two scholarship quarterbacks on the team, the Buffs turned to equipment manager turned backup quarterback Trent Sessions for help. A high school quarterback, Sessions’ role has been to provide an extra arm so as to relieve fellow sophomores Sefo Liufau and Jordan Gehrke, while giving some extra passes to the wide receivers and tight ends. Sessions, reportedly, has done just that.

While it is all fine and good that the CU quarterbacks are healthy, and that Trent Sessions has fulfilled his assignment as a human interest story, the real questions this spring concerning the quarterbacks were: 1) How much – if any – has Sefo Liufau has improved since being thrown into the starting lineup last fall; and 2) Whether Jordan Gehrke would provide real competition for the starting position.

Reports are that Liufau has, in fact, made progress in his first off-season in Boulder.

“Sefo has been very good,” said Mike MacIntyre.  “The first couple of days, I noticed a zip on the ball, he was stronger, I think he was completely healthy, his body was fresh. He’s throwing off his back foot better and rotating his hips better, so he has more zip on the ball.  He’ll be more accurate.  He was good before, but he’s gone out and done the things that Coach (Brian) Lindgren told him to do in the off season on his own and he’s improved in that area.”

Liufau threw for four touchdowns in the second scrimmage right before break, and seems to have a good understanding of the CU offense. His continued development over the remainder of the spring will be an added bonus.

So, for the quarterbacks, the real question for the second half of spring practices is whether Jordan Gehrke can establish himself as the primary backup to Liufau for the fall. Gehrke did complete 11-of-16 passes in the second scrimmage, but for only 128 yards, and he was sacked five times. While Liufau produced four touchdowns in eight possessions under center, Gehrke produced only one field goal in his seven drives at the helm.

Heralded freshman recruit Cade Apsay will arrive in Boulder this summer. If Gehrke wants to impress upon coaches the notion that he is to be more than a clipboard carrier the remainder of his tenure in Boulder, the next two weeks are critical.

Running Backs

The running game did not produce spectacular results in the first half of the spring. In the two scrimmages, the Buffs had a combined 57 rushes, going for all of 199 yards (not counting 60 yards lost in sacks). The 3.5 yards per carry average was right in line with the 3.44 yards per carry average the Buffs had in 2013 … when Colorado ranked 108th in the nation in rushing.

Malcolm Creer led the Buffs in rushing over the first two practices, with eight rushes for 40 yards, followed closely by Tony Jones, with nine carries for 38 yards. Red-shirt freshman Phillip Lindsay, from whom much is anticipated, had 11 rushes for a total of 28 yards.

To be fair, the Buffs’ best two running backs, Michael Adkins and Christian Powell, saw little if any action the first two weeks. Adkins sat out the first scrimmage with a sprained ankle, while Powell missed all of the first half of spring with an injury.

With Powell and Adkins both back in the second half, the Buffs will change their emphasis in the running game. “When we get back, we will have some guys back who haven’t been out here yet so we will do some different things”, said MacIntyre. “Offensively, we didn’t have our big fullback (George Frazier) and we didn’t have Christian Powell, and he’s a power runner, so we’ll do more emphasis on our heavy sets”.

Buff fans will be checking (hoping?) to see if the return of Powell, Adkins, and Frazier to the lineup will also lead to more impressive stats out of the running game.

Wide Receivers

This just in … Colorado no longer has Paul Richardson on the roster.

And he ain’t coming back.

“It wouldn’t be fair to ask one guy to do what Paul did,” CU wide receivers coach Troy Walters told the Daily Camera. “He had a special season. He’s a special player. We’ll have a few guys that can make up for what he accomplished.

“Those guys know that there is plenty of opportunities out there. So there is a lot of competition amongst the receivers. Guys are getting after it. They know that playing time is at stake.”

Over the first half of spring practices, it appears that, until proven otherwise, Nelson Spruce will be the primary target for Sefo Liufau this fall.

Walters has dubbed Spruce “Mr. Dependable” because of his work ethic and consistency. He said he believes Spruce is capable of becoming “an All-Pac-12 and All-American type player.”

“Continue to be Mr. Dependable,” Walters said when asked what he is emphasizing with Spruce this spring. “Just because you had a great year last year doesn’t mean you’re going to have great year this year. So he has worked hard and he has shown he has been Mr. Dependable”.

Buff fans looking for an emerging star were looking to mid-year enrollee Lee Walker, who had three catches for 54 yards in the first two scrimmages. “Learning, he’s swimming right now,” said Walters when asked about Walker. “We’re throwing a lot at him with academics and adjusting to college life and then coming on the field he’s swimming a little bit, but he provides great effort. He’s coachable so I think by summertime he’s going to make a huge jump and he’ll be in the mix for playing time this year.”

Red-shirt freshman Bryce Bobo (three catches for 80 yards) has turned some heads over the first two weeks, but the surprise of the first half of the spring has been junior walk-on Wes Christensen, who had four catches for 91 yards and two touchdowns in the first two scrimmages.

“I like the group, I like the guys,” Walters said. “They understand that they got to compete and we’re not just going to give jobs away. I think they’re hungry and motivated to prove that we can be a good unit even without Paul Richardson.”

Offensive Line

For a unit which consistently has produced the most NFL draft picks over the past decade, the Colorado offensive line continues to be a concern for the Buff Nation.

The game of musical chairs continues this spring, with coaches experimenting with different lineups and position changes.

The Buffs lost starting left tackle Jack Harris and starting center Gus Handler to graduation, but returned three starters – Kaiwi Crabb at left guard; Daniel Munyer at right guard; and Stephane Nembot at right tackle – who started all 12 games last season at their respective positions.

But stability has not been the watchword this spring.

Crabb, the starting left guard last season, has been practicing this spring at left tackle. Nembot, who has been a liability in pass protection (surrendering 7 1/2 of CU’s 17 allowed sacks last fall. No other lineman was responsible for more than three), continues to be a work-in-progress entering his junior season. Munyer, a possible replacement for Handler at center, remains at right guard, with Alex Kelley, a potential replacement at guard, taking most of the snaps at center.

The Colorado coaching staff likes to have players who can play multiple positions, and that certainly is an understandable policy.  “The offensive line is doing really well, I’m happy with their progress,” said MacIntyre. “There’s nothing bad going on, everybody knows what’s going on play wise and doing what they’re supposed to do”.

Still, Colorado – through the first half of spring practices, 2014, is generating a rushing attack on par with the anemic efforts of previous seasons, and the offensive line has given up ten sacks in two scrimmages.

Improvement, especially along the offensive line, where it is difficult for the average fan to quantify progress, is difficult to gauge in the spring.

Buff fans can only hope that the second half of spring ball will result in coach MacIntyre and his staff continuing to be “happy with their progress”.

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4 Replies to “2nd Half Checklist – Offense”

  1. The media is so one-sided with Sefo, it causes other QB’s to bolt. We are down to two scholarship QB’s. Five have left since the pomp and circumstance of a 1-5 Pac 12 QB. Gehrke is 22-33 in scrimmages with no picks, several drops, and of the three fumbles in the two scrimmages by RB’s, they happened to be on his team. That will certainly kill TD drives. Gehrke’s pass per cent is much higher than Sefo, and Gehrke has much less to work with as far as the O line he’s given, and the receivers than Sefo does. The sacks are when he is hit the very second he is hiked the ball, if you actually are there to watch. Ease up on the negative press this year, stop glorifying a QB who has one Pac 12 win against a winless Pac 12 team, or yet another one will bolt. Then we are screwed.

    1. Are you kidding me? “It causes other QB’s to bolt.” No, what causes other QB’s to bolt is the fact that they can’t beat the guy in front of them. All of the people with “open eyes” can see that most of the guys we had on the roster we not top level QBs. We had guys go to other places and still put up subpar performances (Hirschman). We had guys who should have never been at CU in the first place (Dorman). And then there were guys who didn’t want to play football (Dillon). None of those cases had anything to with “media hype” or one sided reporting. To be the man you have to beat the man! It’s all about competition.

    1. CU’s tight end roster: Kyle Slavin and Sean Irwin (combined ten catches in 2013) and red-shirt freshman Connor Center.
      Until incoming freshmen Dylan Keeney and Hayden Jones show up this fall, there is nothing going on at this position to report …

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