Reading the Tea Leaves

Buff fans weren’t supposed to learn much about their team from the Spring Game.

Mission accomplished.

“In the spring game, it’s always really vanilla,” co-offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren said before the 2016 Spring “Game”, which consisted of 77 offensive plays in controlled scrimmage.

“We didn’t suit up nine of our starters”, head coach Mike MacIntyre reminded every media outlet with a microphone before, during (for the Pac-12 Networks), and after the game.

Even if the Buffs’ lineup was at full strength, and even if the Buffs had played a full Spring Game, the reality is that every positive in an intra-squad scrimmage tends to have with it an equal and opposite negative.

Like the CU rushing attack? … Clearly an indictment of the CU rushing defense.

Like the interceptions by Lucas Cooper and Isaiah Oliver? … Arguably a deficiency in the Buff quarterbacks/wide receiver route running/pass protection from the offensive line.

What then, can we take from the CU Spring?

Steven Montez is not ready to be the starting quarterback

The red-shirt freshman played before a crowd for the first time since November, 2014, and missed six of his first seven passes. “It took awhile for him to get warmed up”, explained MacIntyre.

This just in … if Montez ends up the starter come September, by the time he “warms up” in road games against Michigan and Oregon, the Buffs will find themselves in 21-0 holes in the first quarter.

There is a great deal to like about Montez. His size – 6’5″, 230-pounds – jumps out at you, and he does have a strong arm.

He’s just not ready for prime time.

“I think he can be a player, but if everything works out for the other guys (Liufau and Webb), I don’t know if he’s quite ready for that yet,” MacIntyre said when asked about Montez playing this fall. “But I think athletically and with his ability and all that he does, he’s going to be a really good player here for us for a long time.”

(… Program Note: The drama over Davis Webb and his visit to Cal the weekend of the Spring Game is worthy of its own essay, which will be forthcoming once we hear again from the Texas Tech quarterback).

The Buffs have plenty of weapons at the running back position

Every running back from the 2015 roster not named Christian Powell returns this season. Phillip Lindsay (653 yards), Donovan Lee (286) and Patrick Carr (272) had the most yards last year, and all had their moments in the Spring Game.

Lindsay, who all but took over a drive starting at the two yard line during the second half of the scrimmage (personally moving the ball into plus-territory, including a 47-yard run), had the most yards.

But don’t forget about Michael Adkins.

When healthy, Adkins is a weapon. At 205-pounds, Adkins is the biggest tailback on the roster, and was one of only two backs last year (Donovan Lee being the other) to average over five yards per carry. If Adkins can stay healthy – a big if – Buff fans can look forward to more touchdown runs like the 16-yarder they witnessed in the Spring Game.

There is also a great deal to like about Dino Gordon. The red-shirt freshman made his CU debut with four carries for 32 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown run. At 5’11”, 200-pounds, Gordon has the potential to be the next feature back at Colorado.

… and that is all before four-star recruit Beau Bisharat hits campus this summer.

The loss of Nelson Spruce opens the door for several other receivers to step up

A total of 11 different receivers had catches in the Spring Game, led by Devin Ross with eight catches for 57 yards. “Big Play Shay” Fields had four catches, including a 29-yard touchdown.

“I was excited to see those guys make plays,” said offensive co-coordinator and receivers coach Darrin Chiaverini. “I saw Shay make a couple plays, I saw Jay (MacIntyre) make a couple plays and Devin on some option routes looked good. He caught the ball very well today. He was focused out there and played with confidence.”

The other touchdown reception on the day went to the versatile Jaleel Awini, who took time off from being a part-time quarterback to haul in a nine yard score.

Two newcomers also stood out.

Kabion Ento, the 6’3″, 175-pound junior college transfer, didn’t have a catch in the game, but stood out – literally – during individual drills.

Meanwhile, the longest catch of the day – a 47-yarder – was collected by red-shirt freshman Justin Jan. Another 6’3″ receiver, Jan could combine with Ento to bring a different dimension to the CU passing game.

… and this is before junior college transfer Juwann Winfree and a trio of freshmen wide receivers – Johnny Huntley, Anthony Julmisse, and Darrion Rakestraw – join the roster this fall.

The offensive line remains a work in progress

In the “Pencil” depth chart handed out before the Spring Game, there were nine seniors listed in the starting lineup. Also listed were seven juniors, three sophomores, and three red-shirt freshmen.

All three of the red-shirt freshmen listed as starters for the Spring Game – Isaac Miller, Tim Lynott, and Aaron Haigler – were along the offensive line.

Was this a sign that three former starters – Shane Callahan, John Lisella, and Sam Kronshage – had lost their jobs?


Was it a message to the upper-classmen need to get their acts together to hold their positions?


“You usually don’t see a lot of big-impact things in a spring game,” offensive line coach Klayton Adams said. “But what you do see are a lot of little impacts that add up — things like a lot of our guys getting a lot of snaps and a lot of experience this spring. You may not notice it, but those are the things that add up.”

Two likely starters in the fall – Jeromy Irwin and Jonathan Huckins – sat out the spring game due to injuries, but are expected back in the fall.

The listing of three red-shirt freshmen as starters might just mean that the CU offensive line has at long last established some depth.

But, as Adams said earlier this week, the offensive line needs to act as one person with ten legs. It needs to be a cohesive unit with five established starters.

Time for experimentation is over.

— The Defensive Line needs a guidance counselor —

Or at least a chaperone …

First it was Josh Tupou, suspended for the 2015 season due to off-field incidents (Hopefully, Tupou will be back for the 2016 season).

Then it was Blake Robbins, dismissed from the team after his arrest on multiple counts earlier this spring.

Then this week it was Samson Kafovalu, arrested on obstruction charges and suspended from the team. There is no word yet on what will become of Kafovalu … “I will look into it in detail, with other people also and find out what’s best for the program and for the young man,” head coach Mike MacIntyre said Friday.

C’mon guys …

There is some young talent in the defensive lineup ready to contribute

The main reason for not having an actual Spring Game this year was the dearth of healthy linebackers. Derek McCartney, Rick Gamboa, and Christian Shaver all sat out nursing different injuries (none which will keep them from being ready for the fall), while Addison Gillam continues his knee injury from last September.

Throw in the loss of defensive back Jaisen Sanchez (the only player lost to injury for the 2016 season so far), along with injuries to players such as Tyler Henington, Travis Talianko and Terran Hasslebach, and you have a short list of players available for the Spring Game on the defensive side of the ball.

Still, all in all, the defense played well.

“I thought we had a good day,” defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt said. “I just wanted them to have fun today. We had a lot of guys who weren’t out there, but we saw some good things.

“What counts is that we had a productive spring and I’m excited about the fall. I think we’ve got a chance. We’re not going to be deep; we’ll play about 15 or 16 guys. But I think we’ve got a chance to get better.”

Linebacker Kenneth Olugbode led all tacklers (8, 6 solo), followed by corner Nick Fisher (6 solo stops) and safety Ryan Moeller (6, 4 solo). Interceptions were made by corners Lucas Cooper and Isaiah Oliver, with ends Jimmie Gilbert and Michael Mathewes each credited with a quarterback sack.

Ultimately, inside linebacker might end up being a major strength for the defense. CU will have its leading tackler from the last three seasons — Gillam (2013), Olugbode (2014) and Gamboa (2015) — all competing for starting roles, along with Ryan Severson, Christian Shaver and newcomer Drew Lewis, a junior college transfer who will join the team in the summer.

“Now it’s competition for who is going to (be the leading tackler) this year,” Olugbode said. “I can’t wait for fall camp.”

The Buffs have one last practice before Spring ball officially comes to a close. The team will meet on Monday for allotted practice No. 15,  a review that is primarily aimed at player-directed off-season practices. MacIntyre has traditionally held the final spring practice for that purpose, prepping his player to conduct their own regimented summer workouts.

That is not to say that there will not be drama between now and the opening of Fall Camp in August:

– Will Davis Webb actually become a Buff, or will Colorado go into the 2016 schedule with serious question marks at the quarterback position?

– Will there be significant announcements made concerning the Recruiting Class of 2017? Co-offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini tweeted last week: “The Rise of the Buffaloes is real! Huge news coming out of Dallas next week! Straight Fire  “.

– Will there be attrition in the roster – there always is – after finals in May?

– Will any preseason magazines actually pick Colorado to make a bowl game in 2016? (don’t hold your breath)

So, even as the helmets and pads are put away for the next few months, I hope you will stay tuned for more of the roller coaster ride which is Colorado football.

And I’ll keep trying to read the tea leaves …



8 Replies to “Reading the Tea Leaves”

  1. hope that the D gets it to gether this year and hopefully the tight ends will play bigger part of the offence this year. as for the Q we need help and if webb is still scared to compete and prove that he can b a starter maybe he should move on. this year competion is tuff and looks like it will be a year to remember .

  2. If Montez looked bad, how much of it is on Lindgren?

    (because, imo, I don’t know why that guy is still on the CU coaching staff to begin with… he might be a great coordinator somewhere, but at CU he seems to only try to force his vision on the players rather than try to work his vision into what player he has to work with… just sayin’)

  3. Stuart, I like the website. Quick question, I watched the Spring Game, I thought the interview and commentary of Sefo was interesting. He seemed very confident in his rehab so far and I got the feeling that he thinks he might be ready for the season opener. Just reading way into an interview, I know, but do you think that is why Davis Webb is starting to look at other schools? Maybe he is nervous to come to CU and have to compete with a 3 year starting senior at QB. It seems Sefo is very well respected among his teammates which also makes it harder. Just a thought with all of this news about Webb visiting other schools.

    1. There is certainly some reason for hope that Sefo will be available come September, but I don’t think that having Liufau available would be enough to scare off Webb.
      Wherever Webb lands, he will be facing competition. The best fit, in terms of style of play, would be with Chiaverini in Boulder.
      We’ll see, but considering Webb’s comments and actions the past few months, taking visits to Cal and Auburn are certainly a disappointment … even if he stays with CU.

  4. Good assessment of yesterday’s scrimmage. Despite the slow start, I did like Montez. He’s big and strong, but needs to make quicker decisions. I too would feel better if someone else could start the season at that position. Adkins is probably still the best back. The guys that played O-line yesterday are still about 30 lbs (or more) too light. Hopefully some big play skilled-position guys will emerge because this offense may not be able to grind out games. The DBs looked good. Hard to say anything about the defensive front 7 with all of the guys missing.

    For me the best part, by far, was the walk through of the indoor practice field. Until you see it, you can’t imagine how big and nice it is. We parked in the garage underneath – very cool.

    1. Yes. Good catch.
      Plenty of warm bodies to catch the ball this fall … we just need to know who will throw it to them!

  5. Re:Webb. At what point do these young men get taught that their word means something? It’s bad enough to know that 17-18 years olds haven’t been taught it but…and it remains to be seen… if Webb leaves it will show that he doesn’t get it either.

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