Spring Practice: Position Battles

Spring practices bring about roster changes, position changes, and, in CU’s case, coaching changes. With most of the spring practice time closed to the public (scrimmages will be open to the public, as will the first 30 minutes of weekday practices), the Buff Nation will need to rely upon after-practice comments from the coaches and players to get a glimpse of what position battles are the most heated.

But the embargo on information won’t stop us from speculating …

 

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Quarterbacks

Players lost: None

Seniors: None

Juniors: Sefo Liufau, Jordan Gehrke

Sophomores: T.J. Patterson

Red-shirt freshmen: Cade Apsay; Will Fischer-Colbrie; Ty Gangi

Coming this fall: Steven Montez

bold = starter in 2014; italics = non-scholarship player

2014 statistics for returning players:

– Sefo Liufau … 325-of-498, 3,200 yards … 28 touchdowns; 15 interceptions … 69 rushes for 136 yards … sacked 18 times

– Jordan Gehrke … 20-of-44, 170 yards … 0 touchdowns; 0 interceptions … 11 rushes for 15 yards … sacked four times

What to Watch For

Last season, Sefo Liufau set almost three dozen new school records, including most touchdown passes in a game (7, vs. Cal; old record: 5); most touchdown passes in a season (28; old record: 22); and consecutive games with at least one touchdown pass (20; old record: 9).

So, with such an impressive resume, why is anyone considering anyone other than Liufau for starter next fall?

Well, it’s because of two other numbers: 18 … and zero.

The “18” represents the number of turnovers Liufau committed last season (15 interceptions; three fumbles). The cost to the team in terms of lost opportunities was significant, as the Buffs were a minus-nine in turnovers last year overall (20 giveaways; 11 takeaways).

The “zero” represents the number of conference wins Colorado had last season. The 0-fer was the first for the University of Colorado in conference play since 1915, and while the winless streak is not solely the responsibility of the quarterback, it does represent a final measuring stick for Liufau’s play.

That being said, do either junior Jordan Gehrke or red-shirt freshman Cade Apsay have the talent to unseat the incumbent?

Gehrke did have his first career start last season, but it was the unenviable task of taking on the No. 3 Oregon Ducks on the road in Eugene. Gehrke was as ineffective as the rest of the team, going 9-for-18 for 64 yards before being pulled in a 44-10 embarrassment. Colorado offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren has expressed confidence in Gehrke, but it remains to be seen if that confidence is based upon what Lindgren has seen on the practice fields and in the meeting rooms … or whether Lindgren is saying good things about Gehrke because that it what an offensive coordinator is supposed to say about his backup quarterback.

“(Liufau) started a lot of games in the Pac-12 and I think that experience is really valuable,” Lindgren told the Daily Camera. “So he’s the lead guy, but I think coach MacIntyre and myself, we’re going to let Jordan (Gehrke) get some reps with the No. 1s. We always do. We get a lot of repetitions and he’ll be able to get a lot of reps with the first group. I think it’s good at every position that the guys feel pressure from the guy that is pushing him.”

And what of Cade Apsay?

When last seen, Apsay was lighting it up as the quarterback for Canyon high in Canyon Country, California, in the fall of 2013. As a senior, Apsay earned third-team All-State honors from Cal-Hi Sports, while the Los Angeles Daily News named him second-team All-Area. He earned first-team All-CIF Southern Section-North Division honors as both a junior and senior, when he was also first-team All-Foothill League, and was the player of the year for both as a senior. For that season, he completed 207-of-321 passes for 3,103 yards and 28 touchdowns; that was a 64.5 completion rate as he threw just six interceptions. He rushed 110 times for 413 yards and four touchdowns, which included a 55-yard gallop. He had 10 games where he passed for 200 or more yards, three with 300-plus and one 400-yard game; he had three or more touchdown passes in seven games.

Will Apsay’s outstanding high school numbers translate to the college game? Has Cade Apsay used his red-shirt season well, learning the offense and taking advantage of the weight room?

This spring will be his first opportunity to answer those questions.

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Running backs

Players lost: Tony Jones; Malcolm Creer; Terrence Crowder

Seniors: Christian Powell; Jordan Murphy (FB)

Juniors: Michael Adkins

Sophomores: Phillip Lindsay; Devin Ross; George Frazier (FB)

Redshirt-freshmen: Kyle Evans

Coming this fall: Aaron Baltazar; Patrick Carr; Donald Gordon

bold = starter in 2014; italics = non-scholarship player

2014 Statistics for returning players

– Christian Powell … 85 rushes for 448 yards and four touchdowns … 12 catches for 64 yards

– Michael Adkins … 94 rushes for 403 yards and three touchdowns … 11 catches for 60 yards

– Phillip Lindsay … 81 rushes for 391 yards and no touchdowns … 14 catches for 118 yards

– George Frazier (FB) … five carries for four yards and one touchdown … five catches for 35 yards and one touchdown

What to Watch For

The most intriguing question for the spring when it comes to the CU running back corps: What is the over/under on the times the name “Kyle Evans” gets into print?

Evans is a red-shirt freshman running back from San Jose, California. He is 5’6″, 175-pounds, a walk-on … and the only other healthy tailback on the spring roster other than Christian Powell. The other two main backs returning from last season – Michael Adkins and Phillip Lindsay – are still recovering from injuries suffered last fall. Adkins suffered a sprained MCL a few plays into the Arizona game on November 8th, and underwent surgery on November 25th. Lindsay suffered a turf toe injury in the season finale against Utah, and, as spring practices are getting underway, has not been cleared for running. Adkins and Lindsay have not been ruled out for spring ball completely, but it would be fair to say that their participation will be limited at best.

Last season, Colorado failed to produce a 500-yard rusher for the first time since 1983 (Lee Rouson, 494 yards), and for only the third time in the last 50 years. While the Buffs did get over 1,600 yards of production from its top four backs, Colorado had only 13 rushing touchdowns last season, and had only 12 runs of over 20 yards (the opposition, by comparison, had 21 rushing touchdowns and 30 rushes which went for 20 yards or more).

Clearly, there is much to be done to accelerate the Colorado rushing attack. Some of it has to do with scheme, some of it has to do with line play, some of it has to do with wide receiver depth … and some of it has to do with none of the Buffs’ corral of running backs making a clear break from his teammates.

And there won’t be any decisions made of great consequence this spring, with the possible exception of the move of sophomore wide receiver Devin Ross to the running back position.

“I think this is really big for Devin,” MacIntyre said of the 5’9′, 170-pound sophomore’s move. “This spring, I’m looking for Devin to step up and be a good football player for us. I think he has the athletic ability to do it.”

Michael Adkins and Phillip Lindsay will be back in the fall, joined by a trio of new hopefuls: transfer Aaron Baltazar and freshmen Patrick Carr and Donald Gordon. August could get very interesting, as the true freshmen vie for playing time this fall.

In the meantime, however, spring practices will be all about Christian Powell, fullbacks George Frazier and Jordan Murphy, former wide receiver Devin Ross …

And a fellow named Kyle Evans.

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Wide Receivers

Players lost: Tyler McCulloch; D.D. Goodson; Wesley Christensen

Seniors: Nelson Spruce

Juniors: Colin Johnson

Sophomores: Shay Fields; Bryce Bobo; Donovan Lee; Elijah Dunston; Robert Orban; Joseph Hall; Sean Grundman

Redshirt-freshmen: Lee Walker; Jay MacIntyre; Xavier Cochrane; Bradley Garcia

Coming this fall: Justin Jan

bold = starter in 2014; italics = non-scholarship player

2014 Statistics for returning players

– Nelson Spruce … 106 catches (school record) for 1,198 yards and 12 touchdowns (school record) … two pass completions for 24 yards and one touchdown

– Shay Fields … 50 catches for 486 yards and four touchdowns … four rushes for 24 yards and one touchdown

– Bryce Bobo … 23 catches for 215 yards and three touchdowns

– Donovan Lee … 13 catches for 78 yards and one touchdown

What to Watch For

Three wide receivers who will be looking to fill the shoes of Tyler McCulloch and D.D. Goodson will be out of service this spring:

– Bryce Bobo had post-season shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrium (but is also dealing with academic issues, so his status will be of interest when spring grades are announced in May);

Elijah Dunston suffered a torn ACL and MCL in practice back on September 22nd. He underwent surgery in October and is continuing rehabilitation;

Lee Walker suffered a subluxiation in practice on September 17th, undergoing surgery in October. Walker was already using his red-shirt season last fall, but this spring was to be his first chance to make his case for playing time this fall.

So, who’s left?

Nelson Spruce is back, but he has little to prove and a great deal to protect as CU’s primary offensive weapon, so don’t look for monster numbers from Spruce this spring. Other than Shay Fields, there will no other receivers running routes this spring who had catches in 2014.

So, look for (hope for) good news when it comes to players like Donovan Lee and Jay MacIntyre. Lee played in ten games last year, but was used sporadically, collecting only 13 catches, with a long of 11 yards. Lee is looking to replace D.D. Goodson in “h”, or slot position.

“D.D. did a lot of great things blocking in the run game, which doesn’t always show up in the stats,” said CU offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren. “In the slot, that was a huge reason for some of the success we had in the run game was his blocking on the perimeter. So, I’m really excited about Donovan because I think he can do that too. I also think he understands what we’re trying to do in the slot and he has the ability to turn a short throw into a big gain. That’s one of the things we look for in the position. We will also try some reverses with that spot. I think when you get the ball in (Lee’s) hands, it’s going to produce some big things for us.”

Spring will also represent a chance for Jay MacIntyre, the head coach’s son, to make his case for playing time. “I like Jay a lot”, Lindgren told BuffStampede.com. “You watch what he did in fall camp last year and he just made a lot of plays. He’ll push Donovan in the slot there. Those guys will be competing all spring and all fall camp. We’ll have a role for him in the offense next year and I think he’ll help us.”

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Tight Ends

Players lost: Kyle Slavin

Seniors: None

Juniors: Sean Irwin

Sophomores: Connor Center; Chris Hall; Brian Boatman

Redshirt-freshmen: Dylan Keeney; Hayden Jones

Coming this fall: Chris Bounds

bold = starter in 2014; italics = non-scholarship player

2014 Statistics for returning players

– Sean Irwin … Seven catches for 67 yards and one touchdown

What to Watch For

… Crickets …

There has been very little production from the tight end position in the two seasons of the Mike MacIntyre era. In 2013, Scott Fernandez and Kyle Slavin combined for 18 catches over the course of the season, going for 165 yards and two touchdowns. This past season, Kyle Slavin and Sean Irwin were the top two pass catching tight ends, with their combined totals almost identical to that of 2013 … 18 combined catches going for 168 yards and one touchdown.

Will that change in 2015?

It appears that we will have to wait until Fall Camp at the earliest to get a good read on how the tight ends will fit into the CU offense. Two red-shirt freshmen, Dylan Keeney and Hayden Jones, are set to join the mix, but both are to be limited in their spring participation as both are recovering from shoulder surgery. This leaves only Irwin and sophomore Connor Center to carry the load the spring. While Irwin did play in every game last fall (with two starts), Center, a red-shirt freshman in 2014, only dressed for one game (CSU) the entire fall, failing to see any action.

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Offensive Line

Players lost: Kaiwi Crabb; Daniel Munyer; Marc Mustoe; Brad Cotner

Seniors: Stephane Nembot; James Carr

Juniors: Jeromy Irwin; Alex Kelley; Shane Callahan; Sully Wiefels; Ed Caldwell; Vincent Arvia

Sophomores: Gerrad Kough; Sam Kronshage; Jonathan Huckins; Collin Sutton; Connor Darby

Redshirt-freshmen: John Lisella; Josh Kaiser

Grey-shirt freshman / Early enrollee: Isaac Miller / Dillon Middlemiss

Coming this fall: Tim Lynott; Aaron Haigler

bold = starter in 2014; italics = non-scholarship player

2014 Statistics for returning players

– Alex Kelley … 988 plays … 57.8 PPP (Plus play percentage) … 19 KD (Knockdown blocks) … 66.7% (highest grade)

– Stephane Nembot … 988 plays … 52.3 PPP … 47 KD … 68.0% (highest grade)

– Jeromy Irwin … 819 plays … 58.9 PPP … 40 KD … 72.0% (highest grade)

– Gerrad Kough … 215 plays … 51.4 PPP … 8 KD … 56.0% (highest grade)

– Sam Kronshage … 84 plays … 37.5 PPP … 5 KD … 47.4% (highest grade)

– Jonathan Huckins … 29 plays … 51.7 PPP … 0 KD … 50.0% (highest grade)

– Shane Callahan … 21 plays … 38.1 PPP … 0 KD … 38.1% (highest grade)

What to Watch For

Colorado has three returning starters along the offensive line – left tackle Jeromy Irwin, center Alex Kelley, and right tackle Stephane Nembot. With the exception of the Oregon game, which Irwin missed due to injury, the trio were on the field as starters for every game last fall. Gone are the two starters at guard, Kaiwi Crabb and Daniel Munyer.

The pack seeking to become the starters at guard include juniors Shane Callahan and Sully Wiefels, along with sophomores Jonathan Huckins, Sam Kronshage and Gerrad Kough. “I think the spring is going to be real important for them,” understated offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren.

While Colorado set numerous offensive records in 2014 – mostly by Sefo Liufau and Nelson Spruce – and the offensive line gave up only 23 sacks all season (which, considering the Buffs threw the ball 45 times a game, is not a bad percentage.

That being said, overall the Colorado offense was not up to the explosive standards of the Pac-12. The Buffs were 75th in the nation in rushing (154.6 yards per game) and 64th in scoring offense (28.5 ppg.).

Continuity and familiarity are important for good offensive line play. The Buffs have been fortunate the past few seasons in that there have been relatively few injuries disrupting the starting lineup from week to week. This spring, the Buffs will be looking to find a pair of guards which can seamlessly fit into the offense, and meld with the (hopefully) improved line play from the returning tackles and center.

Which two players will emerge as the favorites for the starting guard positions will not be one of the sexiest stories of the spring …

… But it may be one of the most important.

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Defensive Line

Defensive Tackles

Players lost: Juda Parker

Seniors: Josh Tupou; Justin Solis; John Paul Tuso

Juniors: Clay Norgard; Tyler Henington; Jordan Carrell (JC)

Sophomores: Eddy Lopez

Redshirt-freshmen: Jase Franke

Coming this fall: Brett Tonz; Lyle Tuiloma; Frank Umu

bold = starter in 2014; italics = non-scholarship player

Defensive Ends

Players lost: None

Seniors: None

Juniors: Jimmie Gilbert; Samson Kafovalu; ; De’Jon Wilson; Blake Robbins (JC); Aaron Howard

Sophomores: Derek McCartney; Timothy Coleman; Markeis Reed; Leo Jackson (JC); Christian Shaver (also a linebacker); Garrett Gregory

Redshirt-freshmen: Terran Hasselback; Michael Mathewes

Coming this fall: None (Sam Bennion, on a Mormon mission, is expected to enroll in January, 2016)

bold = starter in 2014; italics = non-scholarship player

2014 Statistics for returning players

– Josh Tupou … 642 plays … 42 tackles (26 unassisted) … three sacks … one tackle-for-loss … five QB pressures

— Jimmie Gilbert … 485 plays … 38 tackles (22 unassisted) … two-and-a-half sacks … four tackles-for-loss … 11 QB pressures

— Derek McCartney … 457 plays … 34 tackles (23 unassisted) … four-and-a-half sacks … one tackle-for-loss … six QB pressures

— Justin Solis … 355 plays … 33 tackles (15 unassisted) … one sack … no tackles-for-loss … two QB pressures

— Christian Shaver … 262 plays … 18 tackles … no sacks … one tackle-for-loss … two QB pressures

— Eddy Lopez … 123 plays … ten tackles

— Timothy Coleman … 150 plays … nine tackles … two sacks … one QB pressure

— De’Jon Wilson … 139 plays … seven tackles … two QB pressures

— Clay Norgard … 59 plays … three tackles … one sack … one QB pressure

What to Watch For

First, let’s not spend too much time worrying about which of the above players are defensive tackles and which are defensive ends. True enough, Derek McCartney started all 12 games last fall at left defensive end, Josh Tupou started all 12 games last fall at defensive tackle; and Jimmie Gilbert started nine games last fall at right defensive end.

That being said, the position titles and position names for most of the above players are – and will remain – fluid.

And that’s a very good thing.

Despite having three of four starters from 2014 returning, the CU defensive line story is both the most intriguing and most exciting one this spring.

There are so many defensive lineman (18-20 scholarship players, depending on how you wish to classify some dual-threats like linebacker Christian Shaver and fullback George Frazier) that it is hard to keep track of how many warm bodies the Buffs have to work with this spring.

Is defensive line coach Jim Jeffcoat excited about his embarrassment of riches?

“There is no question about it because now I can look out there and I feel that when we walk on the field, that is a Pac-12 defensive line,” Jeffcoat said. “I really do feel that because of the size and athleticism. There is no excuses. We should be very good up front. I’ll tell them the same thing. I expect us to be very good up front.”

Having three of four starters returning is just the beginning. There are a number of players returning which have experience from last season, including Justin Solis, Clay Norgard, Christian Shaver, Timothy Coleman and De’Jon Wilson. With that many players returning, there would be reason for an expectation of improved play.

But that’s just the beginning.

CU also has a numbers of players on the roster this spring who didn’t play a down last fall to make up an entirely new (and quality) defensive line:

Tyler Henington tore his ACL and MCL last August, and missed all of last season (and will be held out this spring as well). Henington played in all 12 games (251 snaps) in 2013);

John Paul Tuso suffered a torn ACL last spring, but is recovered and a full-go this spring;

Markeis Reed was injured for the first half of the 2014 season, and was held out in the second half, but is back to make his presence known as a sophomore;

– And don’t forget about CU’s two red-shirt freshmen – Terran Hasselbach, Jase Franke and Michael Mathewes, who sat out last fall as true freshmen, learning the defense and hitting the weight room.

… But then there are the three junior college players who joined the team in January (and you know the old saying about junior college players: “We didn’t sign them to sit on the bench”):

– Junior Jordan Carrell – a Junior College All-American at American River College;

– Junior Blake Robbins – who impressed at Georgia Military Academy; and

– Sophomore Leo Jackson – who has actually been with the team since last summer, coming to Boulder from Foothill College in Georgia.

… And then … drum roll … there is the return of Samson Kafovalu.

An emerging star in 2013, Kafovalu missed spring practices due to academic issues last spring. Last summer, the Buff Nation was informed that Kafovalu would be leaving school for “personal reasons”, but was expected back in January.

There were skeptics as to whether that would actually happen.

But Kafovalu is back, all 6’4″, 270-pounds of him. Perhaps no other player this spring will have more eyes upon him than Kafovalu, whom coach MacIntyre said would have been a starter along the defensive line last fall. “I’m just excited to have him back and he’s thankful for every day he has,” MacIntyre said. “It’s excellent that he has two more years. He’s got a little bit bigger and stronger, too. So he didn’t just throw the time away as far as his physical ability and physical stature.”

Does Colorado now have too many players along the defensive line?

Not a chance, says defensive line coach Jim Jeffcoat. “The biggest thing is that guys don’t have to play as many plays,” Jeffcoat said. “That’s the biggest thing because now you don’t have a drop-off. What we’ve done in the past is we’ve played a lot of players that weren’t ready to play. Now you’ve got guys with the experience of playing and we can bring those younger guys along a little bit slowly if we have to.”

It will be a fun spring watching the evolution of the CU defensive line depth chart.

——

 

Linebackers

Players lost: Brady Daigh; Woodson Greer III; K.T. Tu’umalo; Thor Eaton

Seniors: Hunter Shaw

Juniors: Addison Gillam; Kenneth Olugbode; Ryan Severson; Deaysean Rippy; Travis Talianko; Jaleel Awini

Sophomores: Christian Shaver; Trent Headley

Redshirt-freshmen: Rick Gamboa; Grant Watanabe; Lance Cottrell

Coming this fall: N.J. Falo

bold = starter in 2014; italics = non-scholarship player

2014 Statistics for returning players

– Kenneth Olugbode … 729 plays … 71 tackles (47 unassisted) … one tackle for loss … seven third down stops

– Addison Gillam … 481 plays … 69 tackles (48 unassisted) … 2.5 sacks … five tackles for loss … three third down stops

– Christian Shaver … 240 plays … 17 tackles (eight unassisted) … one tackle for loss … one third down stop

– Ryan Severson … 71 plays … nine tackles (five unassisted) … one tackle for loss

What to Watch For

You could probably win a bar bet with your Buff friends by asking: “What Buff led the team in tackles last fall?”

Many would quickly assume it was Addison Gillam, the freshman phenom from 2013. If they were quick to remember that Gillam was hobbled for much of the season, missing two complete games and parts of several others, your marks might go with a defensive back who was on the field for much of the season, like Greg Henderson, Chidobe Awuzie, or Kenneth Crawley.

Instead, it was linebacker Kenneth Olugbode. The 71 total tackles (with no sacks, and only one tackle for loss) posted by Olugbode pales in comparison with the 119 tackles, three sacks and seven tackles for loss put up by Gillam in 2013, so the numbers might be easy to overlook.

But the dearth of production from the linebacking corps last season goes deeper than that. Other than the 17 tackles put up by Christian Shaver, who actually played defensive end last season, the next leading tackler amongst the returning linebackers is Ryan Severson, who had all of nine tackles in 2014.

This just in … keeping Addison Gillam healthy this fall would be very helpful to CU’s chances at posting a winning record.

But there is help on the way.

As noted, Christian Shaver is being moved to linebacker from defensive end, a spot where coach MacIntyre believes he belongs. “That’s where he played in high school,” MacIntyre said of Shaver. “We felt like last year, going into the season, that he has progressed well enough to play where we could drop him (back). We didn’t have enough guys out there especially when Markeis Reed had the hernia surgery and we had some other situations”.

Also answering the call is Air Force transfer Jaleel Awini. The former Falcon quarterback is now looking to call signals for the defense.

“He looked good moving around out there,” said MacIntyre of Awini’s early efforts at linebacker. “He looked good in space, he looked good moving around and running. He showed his athleticism. When we throw them into pads Friday it’ll be a little bit different but he looked good and athletic.

“He didn’t look like a fish out of water. I think one of the biggest tests will be how he reacts when the ball is snapped on defense. He was a good safety in high school so I think it will be all natural. To see how he reacts and see how his instincts are there will be the biggest thing, because he’s definitely athletic enough.”

Awini’s new defensive coordinator is also pleased with Awini’s early efforts. “For Jaleel, it’s hitting and tackling and getting physical and all those kinds of things,” Jim Leavitt said. “I know he runs around pretty good. That’s going to be the big part for that.”

While Shaver and Awini help supplement the roster, CU would be better served by improved play from two other players who have made changes to get where they are.

We’re talking, of course, about transfers Deaysean Rippy and Travis Talianko. Rippy came to Boulder from Pitt; Talianko from the College of the Canyons. Last season, the two combined for 15 … special team points.

Much more will be expected from the pair this fall.

In addition to Shaver and Awini, the thin linebacker roster will be supplemented this spring with the additions of red-shirt freshmen Grant Watanabe and Rick Gamboa … though Watanabe is being held out of early practices as he recovers from a foot injury.

So … the CU linebackers will need improved numbers this fall if the Buffs are to post more victories. Colorado loses Brady Daigh, K.T. Tu’umalo and Woodson Greer III, and picks up … two players in new positions, and a pair of transfers who have yet to see the field of play on defense, and a pair of red-shirt freshmen.

Did I mention that it would be a good idea for Addison Gillam to stay healthy this fall?

—–

 

Defensive Backs

Players lost: Greg Henderson; Terrel Smith; Brandon Brisco; Richard Yates

Seniors: Kenneth Crawley; Marques Mosley; Jered Bell (assuming 6th year of eligibility granted)

Juniors: John Walker; Tedric Thompson; Chidobe Awuzie; Ahkello Witherspoon; Yuri Wright

Sophomores: Evan White; Afolabi Laguda; Ryan Moeller; Andrew Bergner; Cameron Beemster

Redshirt-freshmen: Jaisen Sanchez

Coming this fall: Nick Fisher; Isaiah Oliver

bold = starter in 2014; italics = non-scholarship player

2014 Statistics for returning players

– Chidobe Awuzie … 608 plays … 64 tackles (57 unassisted) … 11 third-down stops (team leader)

– Tedric Thompson … 474 plays … 59 tackles (45 unassisted) … three interceptions (only three interceptions on the team)

– Kenneth Crawley … 739 plays … 43 tackles (38 unassisted) … 12 pass broken up (second on team to Greg Henderson’s 14)

– Evan White … 197 plays … 28 tackles (22 unassisted) … two third-down stops

– John Walker … 426 plays … 26 tackles (18 unassisted) … three third-down stops … five passes broken up

– Ryan Moeller … 77 plays … 14 tackles (14 unassisted)

– Ahkello Witherspoon … 110 plays … ten tackles (eight unassisted)

– Marques Mosley … 22 plays … four tackles (three unassisted)

What to Watch For

First, let’s account for the walking wounded:

– Senior safety Marques Mosley suffered a torn ACL and MCL in the UCLA game last October. He had surgery in November, and will not be participating in spring drills;

– Senior safety Jered Bell suffered at torn ACL last August. He has yet to hear from the NCAA about his eligibility for a sixth year, but he meets all of the criteria (out two full seasons; good academic standing). Bell is with the team for spring practices, but, even if he had his eligibility cleared, would still be held out of spring drills as he continues his rehabilitation;

– Junior safety Tedric Thompson, like Mosley, was injured against UCLA. Thompson suffered a concussion, and though he was cleared by doctors after some scary moments during the overtime, tests were negative. Thompson sat out the remainder of the season, but has been cleared to participate in spring practices;

– Junior defensive back Chidobe Awuzie suffered a lacerated kidney during practice on November 4th. Awuzie missed the last three games of the 2014 season, but has been cleared for all drills this spring.

… The clear first priority for the defensive backfield this spring is to find a replacement for Greg Henderson at cornerback. Henderson finished his CU career with a team-high 44 career starts, including 25 consecutive. In 2011, Henderson crushed the school record for plays by a defensive true freshman (823 plays … the previous record was 597, set by Jordon Dizon in 2004), and never looked back.

Candidates to replace Henderson include John Walker, who had seven starts at nickel back last season, and two fellow juniors, Yuri Wright and Ahkello Witherspoon.

Wright came to Colorado as one of the most decorated members of the Recruiting Class of 2012. Wright played in eight games as a true freshman, starting six, and though Wright earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors from the coaches, the difficult season seemed to play a role in Wright’s play. Wright red-shirted the 2013 season, and played only sparingly (four games, mostly on special teams) last season.

Ahkello Witherspoon, conversely, came on with a splash last spring. A transfer from Sacramento City College, Witherspoon was the defensive star of the 2014 Spring game, with three solo stops, four passes broken up, and an interception. That success did not transfer well to the fall, however, with Witherspoon picking up ten tackles in the four games in which he saw action.

Buff fans will be keeping an eye on Wright and Witherspoon this spring, looking for renewed signs of life from these talented players.

The safety positions are more stable, with four players with starting experience returning. Chidobe Awuzie and Tedric Thompson started most of the games last fall at the safety positions, but, as noted above, neither was in the lineup at the end of the season due to injuries. Evan White had three starts as a substitute, and has experience at both the free and strong safety positions.

And let’s not forget about Jered Bell. In his three seasons on the field (2010, 2012, 2013), Bell was on the field for every game, and had 11 starts in 2013, finishing fourth on the team in tackles (67), and had as many interceptions (3) as the entire CU defense had in 2014 (all three by Tedric Thompson in the first five games of the season).

The Colorado defensive backs will have the benefit of two full time coaches this season. Last year, head coach Mike MacIntyre helped with the secondary last fall, but this year he is leaving it to returning cornerbacks coach Charles Clark and new safeties coach Jim Tumpkin to carry the load.

“He has great knowledge,” said MacIntyre said of his new coach. “He’s an excellent teacher and very fundamentally sound on what he’s doing. He understands secondary play and defensive front play. He’s very good with all phases of it. I’ve been impressed with his work ethic with the guys and his knowledge. I knew his knowledge was good. I see him in meetings and he can translate it to the players. He is very vocal with the secondary.”

The first task for Clark and Tumpkin this spring will be in finding a replacement for Greg Henderson.

Task number two … keeping everyone healthy.

—–

 

Specialists

Players lost: Will Oliver; Darragh O’Neill

Seniors: Wyatt Tucker Smith (LS)

Juniors: Diego Gonzalez (K); Cameron Silzer (P); John Finch (LS)

Sophomores: Chris Graham (K)

Redshirt-freshmen:

Coming this fall: Alex Kinney (K/P)

bold = starter in 2014; italics = non-scholarship player

2014 Statistics for returning players

– Chris Graham … two kickoffs; one touchback … average starting yardline: O29

– Diego Gonzalez … one kickoff; no touchbacks … average starting yardline: O44

— Wyatt Tucker Smith … 57 snaps field goal/PAT … 61 punt snaps

What to Watch For

The future punter and likely place-kicker of the Colorado Buffaloes was not trying to figure out how to kick inside CU’s practice bubble this week. Instead, Alex Kinney is spending his February and March finishing up his senior year at Rocky Mountain high school in Ft. Collins.

With kicker Will Oliver and punter Darragh O’Neill – both four-year starters – off to other pursuits, Colorado needs new starters at each position.

Unfortunately, the presumptive starter at punter and likely starter at kicker is not available this spring to practice with the team. This leaves junior Diego Gonzalez and sophomore Chris Graham to audition for the place-kicking (and kickoff) jobs.

Even that effort has been hampered during the first week of spring practices as the Buffs, due to the weather, used the practice bubble the first two practices before heading off to the practice fields at Boulder high on Friday.

“It definitely affects kickoffs and punting,” said MacIntyre of being stuck in the practice bubble. “But, what they do is, (special teams coach) Toby (Neinas) takes (the kickers) outside and they clear off some snow and they kick out there but we don’t get to work on it as a team. So, we did some of that (Friday) so in that area, getting outdoors really helped.”

Come this summer, Kinney will bring the following numbers to Boulder … As a senior, he averaged 41.6 yards for 47 punts, with a long of 66 and nine inside-the-20; he scored 58 points as he made all 34 of his extra point kicks and 8-of-12 field goals, including a 57-yard boot that tied the eighth-longest in state history. In addition, 51 of his 54 kickoffs went for touchback.

Until then … it will be a battle between Gonzalez and Graham to show that they deserve an opportunity to be on the field on Saturdays this fall.

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23 Replies to “Spring Position Battles”

  1. Yuri Wright is a player who intrigues me – if only because he played here in NJ for one of our nationally-ranked Parochial powers, Don Bosco Prep. He was an incredibly-highly-ranked recruit – I seem to recall him being listed among the top five or so prospects at his position when he was a senior in high school. He and Crawley both got thrown into the fire right away as freshman and from here I cannot tell how well (or not) Wright made it through that experience.

  2. We now have enough QB’s on our roster and four others now in their second spring. Put Lufaiu on a very, very short leash this year. Enough is enough. If you go back to the season ending game of 2013, his turnovers have cost us six, count them six, Pac 12 wins. Inexcusable. Think of how our recruiting would have changed. Night and day. If he blows any more games early on, dump him for good and give any or a couple others a chance. It can’t get any worse. We need to win this year. No excuses. There are nice kids in the student section, in the marching band, in the cheer squad. But they don’t throw INT’s late in games or fumble away games. I like the hire of the new DC and the fact we have a ton of returning players, and almost all the JE and the Hawk leftovers are now gone. Time to win games, and if someone can’t perform, put someone else in and let it rip.

  3. Yo Stuart,

    So excited for Jim Jeffcoat to have the talent. I may be aging myself but I remember watching him practice and play back at Arizona State. I was excited when he came with Mac to CU but when I watched him at Spring practices a couple years ago he still looked like a man among boys. It must be exciting for him to be a man among fellow MEN again.

    That defensive front will be the key to Colorado’s re-emergence as a team that will make opposing offenses earn every yard they gain. And that depth means that Jeffcoat can reload at will. Another year of working with strength guru Forman means these guys will be stronger than ever, and Jeffcoat will have them fired up greatly even before Jim Leavitt works his magic as the new Defensive Coordinator.

    Can’t wait for the upcoming season.

    Mark
    Boulderdevil

  4. All you guys who want to pin every loss on Sefo have to remember Sefo was also the QB to put together enough yardage and points that should have won many games if the defense could keep the other team from scoring even more.
    There is a reason we have a new DC

    1. Well said ep! My thoughts exactly. We would not have been in a competitive position where the int’s would even have mattered in many of those games, if it weren’t for Sefo…

  5. Hi Stuart,
    Thank you for all of the great coverage you provide for our BUFFS! I am a big fan down here in Colorado Springs. This is a 1st time comment. I have made up my defensive team based out of a 4-3 defense. Included are a few backups and or multiple position players. Of course it is all just speculation, but it is fun. When you are able let me know what you think.

    D.ends- Starters, Kafovalu/Robinns. Strong group of backups include McCartney, Reid, Coleman and Wilson.

    D.tackle- Starters, Solis/Carrol. Backups, Lopez, Leo Jackson and Tupou.

    Olb- Rippy/Awini (decent size and good speed). Backups *Alugbode and Gilbert at olb instead of de??

    Ilb- Gillam?. Backups, Gillam pushed greatly by Gamboa and wantabe also de Hasselbach/dt Norgard( I think they would fit the tough Il type player especially against the run instead of De/Dt)

    Saftey- Thompson and *Alugbode(what do you think? Another larger saftey who can run and hit. I think he is two small at olb. Showed several times last year as rb’s ran through his tackles) backups, White, **Laguda and Moeller.

    CB- Crawley and Awuzie. Backups/nickel Witherspoon, Walker **Laguda, and maybe Wright or Sanchez.

    1. Good list … thanks for putting it together.
      I may hold off on making my list though. I think I may hold off for a week or two and use my list for a Sunday update.

  6. Stuart:

    Quick question (and if it has already been asked/answered then I apologize). Are any of the “incoming” freshman already enrolled in classes and taking part in Spring Practice?

    Thanks.

    Adam

    1. Adam,
      The only freshman who enrolled early was offensive lineman Dillon Middlemiss. While it’s always good to have a player come in early and get in an extra spring practices, it would be a surprise if Middlemiss were to play as a true freshman this fall.

    1. Offensive lineman Marc Mustoe was a fourth year junior last year who decided to forego his final year of eligibility (he is on course to graduate this May).
      Other fourth year juniors from last fall who will not be back in 2015: defensive back Brandon Brisco, offensive lineman Brad Cotner, linebacker Thor Eaton, and defensive back Richard Yates.

  7. Yo Stuart,

    I find it interesting that you wonder who will challenge Sefo at QB but assume that the three returning starters on the offensive line leave all those newcomers to be fighting for only the two GUARD positions. Methinks that all returning starters should have to EARN their starting positions again.

    We had WAY too many short yardage situations in which our line could not make blocks to get a yard or two. We may put up lots of yards in the air (by throwing 40+ times a game, but the key to winning is being able to have an O-line that guarantee at least a couple yards before the back is hit. On most of those loaded-box short yardage situations, our tailbacks were lucky to be within a yard or two of the line of scrimmage before being hit. Until that changes, it will be tough sledding.

    Hoping the D improves enough under new leadership that the shortcomings of the past will not be so glaring. If we continue the trend of increased offensive production and the trend of decreased scoring for our opponents, the Buffs should have their best year in way too long.

    Mark
    Boulderdevil

  8. Fun Fact: Donovan Lee has a much heralded younger brother Dymond – a 4 star WR as a Junior. Colorado, Miami, Tennessee and Oklahoma have already offered and the list is growing. Hopefully he will want to play with his older brother and help CU win a national title in 2018. LOL. Gotta dream big! Go Buffs.

  9. Personally, I’m tired of the zeros. To many losses and plenty if chances. The Utah game was his q9 start and He knew a sure win. Again. Give anyone else a chance now. We have seen enough

    1. Seen enough of what? Of the poor defense? Of the poor offensive schemes and play calling and adjustments in-game? Of the situations Sefo has been put in because of these? Without Sefo and say instead Gehrke, whom I assume you wanted in there, not only would there be losses but there would be no improvement in the offense. The offensive line was a wiff in key critical situations. So was the OC.

      If you have seen enough, you may have not been looking at the right stuff.

      Go Buffs.

      And Stuart, I believe Aaron Baltazar is a Sophomore.

      1. Must have struck a nerve. I could care less if it’s Aspy, Montez, Gherke, or any of the three walk ons. Lufaiu cost us at least four games last year by throwing passes right into DB’s bellies with no CU receiver in sight. . Gave AZ 28 points handed right to them. Lost by 14. Had leads entire games at home against Wash and Utah. Just handed them wins with pick sixes. Terrible pick late against Cal. Should have never gone to OT. Even MM stated that. Last time I looked, defenses don’t throw the ball for INT’s. That excuse is just that. An excuse for not getting it done and winning. Which leads to a lot better recruiting. Then people wouldn’t yell about the coaches can’t recruit. Now HC has hand picked options . Three that he schollied and three he let walk on. 19 starts is more than ample time. Too much, in fact. Now that he has six options on QB’s he picked himself, there is no more excuse we don’t have anyone else. Play anyone besides what we had. We need recruits to come here and we can’t lose the winnable games again this year. And by the way, the OC is the one bright spot we have. and our O Line was actually pretty darn good last year.

        1. Lindgren says the 15 interceptions thrown by Liufau in 2014 weren’t all on the quarterback. Protection breakdowns, mistakes in pass routes and bad reads from other players all played a part. Improving those elements begins anew today.

          “When you look at that interception number and we’ve talked about it as an offense, you watch all 15 of those interceptions and you put a lot of them on the quarterback, but you can put a fair amount of them on other positions,” Lindgren said. “I think it’s important of our offense, I think they do understand that it’s not just him. It’s protection, running back and offensive line. It’s the receivers releasing correctly downfield going inside or outside or whatever design of the route, getting to the right spot, looking for a quick pass versus pressure. You can place a lot of that on the whole offense.”

        2. It is clear you do not realize that Sefo was put in those positions by the previous play calls of your Lindgren. It doesn’t matter who was at QB with Lindgen as the oc it is a loss. Nice stats. No wins.

          And you know what, if the defense could have stopped anybody, somebody then even with Lindgren there could have been a couple of wins. Maybe 4. Baer was fired for good reason. Next year watch and understand the games. And see how it all ties together.

  10. its kind of a stretch, Stuart, to pin the “0” on Sefo when Baer was hired away for doing such a “good job.”
    A portion of that “0” goes to the OC as well for questionable red zone play calling.

    1. EP, as usual I agree ….. this time to an extent. Sefo throws a strong ball, some times directly into the DB’s hands.

      One thing for sure. Sefo is a good kid… a great kid, a tough kid, a gutsy kid. But…. he needs to improve his decision making…. some of those throws can’t be blamed on the OC. Granted, some of those INT’s were thrown under duress, so we could reasonably assume the OL, being porous, was the cause.

      But, considering all of those factors, seasoned QB’s still make good decisions under duress….. throw the ball to the receiver to a position only the receiver can catch the ball, or throw a ball OOB or into the ground somewhere past the LOS.

      Let’s hope Sefo develops better FB I.Q. and instincts because he throws a good ball accurately (for the most part) and IMHO is a good leader who is respected by his peers, the coaches and by us, the fans.

      buffaloboy is da bufftrax.

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