Just (Shut Up And) Do It

A week in, Colorado Spring Football, 2015, has a weird feel to it.

I’m having a hard time getting into it, and I’m having a hard time pinpointing the reason why.

Perhaps it has to do with the early start to spring ball. The earliest in school history, the first week of spring practices had more of a feel of a continuation of the 2014 season than a start to the 2015 campaign. After all, the Buffs suited up just ten days after Signing Day, which was the culmination of the 2014-15 recruiting cycle, which in turn was inextricably tied to the 2014 season.

Perhaps it has to do with the closed practices. All but the first thirty minutes of practices (which is mostly stretching and preliminary drills) are closed to the public and media. As a result, all Buff fans know about the progress of the team is what can be gleaned from post-practices interviews and press releases.

Or … perhaps … is has to do with us being beaten down by so much losing over the past decade that glowing reports of improved size, speed, or roster depth fail to have any impact. You know the old saying: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me two, three, four, five, six, seven or eight times … Well, I’m just stupid”.

Four practices into the allotted 15 practices allotted by the NCAA, though, I’m beginning to get the impression that Colorado is getting better. Not by leaps and bounds, not by a sudden infusion of talent, but by simple hard work.

Simple nose-to-the-grindstone, turn-off-the-noise-and-just-do-it hard work.

Building from the inside out

Sports fans gravitate toward stars, and in football, that translates to the players who touch the ball. Quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers are the focus, with the occasional hard-hitting or colorful defensive player also gaining the limelight.

But games are won and lost in the inglorious trenches, and that is where CU is making its greatest strides.

Along the offensive line, the Buffs lost two good – but not great – guards. Kaiwi Crabb and Daniel Munyer were tough and loyal Buffs who gave their blood, sweat and tears to the black-and-gold, but neither is a lock to continue their careers in the NFL.

Returning is a strong nucleus of talent. Center Alex Kelley and right tackle Stephane Nembot were on the field for every offensive play last season, with left tackle Jeromy Irwin there for every play except for two games in which he was injured.

Nembot is an interesting case study, and indicative of how far the CU offensive line has progressed. His 27 consecutive starts is second on the team (behind only wide receiver Nelson Spruce, with 32), but Nembot, a former defensive lineman, is only now coming into his own as his senior season approaches. Nembot has been a liability for much of his career – in 2013, for example, Nembot led the team in quarterback pressures allowed, with 20 (when no other lineman gave up more than 13) and quarterback sacks allowed, with 7 1/2 (no other lineman gave up more than three).  Just over a year later, however, Nembot, a physical specimen at 6’7″, 295-pounds, is now being mentioned as the next CU offensive lineman to go high in the NFL draft.

Another indication of the evolution of the CU offensive line is that Shane Callahan, the four-star recruit who signed with Auburn before coming back to Colorado last August, failed to crack the starting lineup this past fall. Callahan, along with transfer Sully Wiefels, are two juniors who may be called upon as the new starters at guard, but if they can’t earn the starting roles, there is a quartet of sophomores, along with a six-pack of freshmen (from red-shirt to grey-shirt to true) who will be vying for playing time.

The news is even better along the defensive line.

Three of last year’s four starters – Josh Tupou, Derek McCartney, and Jimmie Gilbert – return, but none of the three have been the story this spring. Colorado has brought in three junior college defensive linemen – Jordan Carrell, Blake Robbins, and Leo Jackson – to supplement the roster. Those additions, when combined with the return of former starters Samson Kafovalu and Tyler Henington, have turned the Colorado defensive line from a liability to a strength.

Being able to run shifts of quality defensive lineman against the spread offenses of the Pac-12 may not garner many headlines … but it will help keep CU in games this fall.

Team Building

Coaches and players often preach about “family” and “one heartbeat” when trying to build a team composed of players who will sacrifice themselves for the greater good.

And Colorado is no exception.

A pair of team-building exercises at CU came to light this past week, but the way they were conducted says as much about the new Buffs as the events themselves.

First, before the first practice, the team got together for a hike up Mt. Sanitas (CU Video of the event can be watched here). Coach MacIntyre said he spoke to the team about how, as they climbed and felt they had reached the summit, they got to the top only to discover that there was another, higher summit still to be reached.

Later in the week, the team went bowling with former CU star tight end Daniel Graham and other former Buffs.

“I think it will be a lot of fun for (current players) to meet guys they’ve read about, heard about, and then guys tell stories and tell them what it’s about and what their future is about,” MacIntyre said. “They’ll probably tell them, ‘We hated spring practice too, but it’s a necessary evil’ and all of those sorts of things.”

MacIntyre said all players will be divided by position and have competitions between position groupings. In the future, more events are expected to be planned including community service efforts involving both the current and former Buffs.

Cliché? Sure.

But the fact that both events were conducted with little if any pre-event fanfare indicates that the CU coaching staff is going about it the right way.

It’s all about the team … not about the perception of the team.

Fresh Blood in the Coaching Staff

There was much hand-wringing in the Buff Nation in the month between the departure of former defensive coordinator Kent Baer and the arrival of new defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt. As other teams completed their searches, interest in the naming of CU’s new defensive coordinator went from excitement to concern, which it turn gave way to consternation as days then weeks went by without an announcement.

When the deal was finally done, the hiring of former South Florida head coach Jim Leavitt as CU’s new defensive coordinator was met with not only relief in the Buff Nation, but by genuine excitement. Not only was Leavitt a “name” hire, he came to Boulder with a resume which included rebuilding a moribund defense (Kansas State) as well as building an entire program (South Florida).

Just what the doctor ordered.

Leavitt is not promising immediate improvement, however. Quite the contrary, he recognizes the building of a solid defense is an evolutionary process.  “I think our defensive identity is up to our guys,” said Leavitt. “I want our guys around the ball, obviously, like every defensive coach. (I want them to) be sound, be around the ball and get off blocks. It’s going to be a process but I think a lot of it is up to them. If people think we’re going to be out there and we’re going to be all that (good really quickly), they’re nuts. It’s going to take some time. It’s up to those guys”.

That being said, Buff fans are excited about the possibilities for the defense, as well as for the entire 2015 season.

And, it appears, with good reason.

The 2015 Colorado spring practices are being met with little fanfare. There is little national or regional media coverage, even though Colorado is one of only a handful of teams already conducting spring drills.

Little is expected from the 2015 Buffs.

Another losing season. Another last place finish.

That is the national consensus, and will be the consensus for most fans outside of the Buff Nation until Colorado can prove differently on the field.

It’s going to take some hard work on the part of the CU coaches and players to make that happen. No bells, no whistles, no neon signs.

Just good, old-fashioned, boring hard work. Building slowly from the inside out, building slowly within the team meeting rooms and on the practice fields.

No amount of hype is going to change the perception of Colorado football.

The Buffs need to just do it.



3 Replies to “Just (Shut up and) Do It”

  1. Stuart, Stuart, Stuart. Did you find the “Fountain of Buff-Kool-aide? up there in the hinter lands?

    Go Buffs.

    Note: Do you ship? Free shipping of course.

  2. I have to agree ,hard work and get it done and watch the men in the trenches get it done . hopefully the early strat will give both players and coaches a head start to the new season. No where to go but up from here . come on Buffs

  3. The article is a good representation of the Buffs right now. I agree that the Buffs are heading in the right direction slowly and quietly. Buff Nation has a good staff, facilities and tv coverage with the Pac 12 Network. The one thing we need is that mental attitude of winning games from the players. It’s not about losing close games anymore, it’s about winning.

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