2016 CU Spring Game – What to Watch For …

The Colorado Spring game does not appear to have much to offer the Buff Nation. Due to a lack of depth at the linebacker position, there will not actually be a Spring “Game”. Instead, starting at noon Saturday (Pac-12 Networks) there will be an hour of position drills and workouts, followed by an hour long scrimmage.

“The first thing you want is to come out of it healthy,” CU head coach Mike MacIntyre said. “The second thing you want is to be productive. I’d like to see execution, physicalness and be able to accomplish some situational stuff in our scrimmage.”

Not quite the lead-in to generate rabid enthusiasm.

That is not to say that there is not a great deal to watch for this weekend …

— How fast is the new Colorado offense? —

This just in … if you, as a Power-Five conference coaching staff, are so concerned about future opponents learning your team’s tendencies that you close practices to the public and media, you are not going to show your hand on national television during the Spring Game.

Still, unless the Buffs want to waste Practice No. 14 running an offense which they never plan to use, there will be on Saturday at least glimpses of what the new offense will look like come September 2nd against Colorado State.

Darrin Chiaverini has been hired as a co-offensive coordinator, sharing duties with Brian Lindgren. How successful this shotgun wedding will be will play out in the fall, but, at least for now, everyone is excited about the mix of the old offense with the addition of some Texas Tech-style speed.

“We were always trying to play pretty fast in the past,” Lindgren said. “Some new ways of calling things and some new ways of organizing some things allow us to even be a little bit simpler and get some of that stuff called quicker.

“I’m very comfortable with it. I like it a lot.”

— Is Steven Montez as good as advertised? —

Red-shirt freshman quarterback Steven Montez hasn’t been viewed in a competitive situation since November, 2014, when he played his last game for Del Valle high in El Paso, Texas.

With neither of the candidates most likely to lead the Buffs this fall – injured Sefo Liufau and transfer Davis Webb – available for spring practices, the majority of snaps have gone to Montez.

“I think people are going to really like Steven Montez,” said Lindgren. “He’s had a great spring and we think he’s going to be a really good player. He’s taken hundreds of reps, which has been awesome for his development.”

“Steven’s done some good things,” head coach Mike MacIntyre said. “It’s going kind of fast for him, but he’s able to make plays with his feet and he’s able to do things. He’s been throwing the ball well. You always want it faster, but I have been pleased with his progress.”

For his part, Montez is pleased with how his spring in the spotlight has gone.

“I feel like I’ve made a ton of progress,” said Montez. “I’m out here to play, make plays, get some wins and see if I can earn the starting job. I’m studying the playbook, looking at defenses — everything I can to learn as much as I can.”

Montez may not see the field this fall, but – depending on whether or not Sefo Liufau red-shirts this fall – Montez could be the leading candidate for the starting job in 2017.

And he is making his debut before the Buff Nation this Saturday …

There are other red-shirt freshmen making their first bids for playing time

In addition to Steven Montez, who will be wearing No. 12 Saturday, there are a number of other new faces to check out during the Spring Game. No fewer than three red-shirt freshmen offensive linemen will start the Spring Game …

— No. 10 – running back Dino Gordon

— No. 80 – wide receiver Justin Jan

— No. 43 – tight end Chris Bounds

— No. 56 – offensive lineman Tim Lynott … the red-shirt freshman most likely to be a starter this fall, starting at right guard Saturday.

— No. 73 – offensive lineman Isaac Miller … listed as the starting left tackle for the spring game

— No. 60 – offensive lineman Dillon Middlemiss

— No. 64 – offensive lineman Aaron Haigler … listed as the starter at right tackle for the spring game

— No. 72 – defensive lineman Lyle Tuiloma

— No. 50 – defensive lineman Frank Umu

— No. 55 – defensive lineman Brett Tonz … another red-shirt freshman who has turn heads this spring

— No. 57 – linebacker Sam Bennion … a member of the Recruiting Class of 2014, back from a Mormon mission.

— Who is taking over for Nelson Spruce as the Buffs’ leading receiver? —

Nelson Spruce had more than twice as many receptions as any other wide receiver each of the last two seasons, so there is a significant void to be filled this fall.

Add to that the introduction of the up-tempo, Texas Tech-style offense, and you have reason to focus a spotlight on the wide receiver position.

The heir apparent is junior Shay Fields (No. 5), second on the team in 2015 with 42 receptions. New wide receivers coach Darrin Chiaverini has made it clear that he expects great things from “Big Play Shay”.

Another receiver who is being watched closely is junior Devin Ross (No. 2). “He’s really starting to take that next step,” Chiaverini said of Ross. “Playing receiver is all about confidence. When I played my best ball as a receiver, I was confident. Everybody at this level has ball skills, but it’s a matter of being confident in what you’re doing, and that means working every day.

“I told Devin, ‘You can be a really, really good player if you’re confident in what you are doing.’ He’s made a lot of gains this spring, but I still think he can take it to another level and that’s what I expect from him.”

Another number to watch for is No. 17, transfer Kabion Ento. The only junior college addition to enroll this spring, Ento has earned positive comments from MacIntyre, Lindgren, and Chiaverini.

(A wild card for this position is Jaleel Awini – No. 16 – who has been seeing time at both wide receiver and quarterback this spring. If the CU coaching staff has plans to utilize Awini in unique ways this fall, the Spring game would not be the time to let us – or opponents – in on those plays).

— How well are players along the defensive front seven adjusting to new positions? —

The Colorado defense is not necessarily lacking for bodies along the front seven, but there still are questions as to how they will be utilized this fall … and the Spring Game will provide a glimpse of how the team is progressing.

Junior Timothy Coleman (No. 59), previously listed as a defensive end/outside linebacker, is now a defensive tackle. Meanwhile sophomore N.J. Falo (No. 42), previously listed as an inside linebacker, has moved to the outside.

“I love it,” Coleman said of his move to the inside. “It’s a place I can just play and react and get after the ball. It’s an instinctual thing and it just gives me the chance to play and not have to think so much about so many different things.”

“He’s had a good camp — he’s challenging to start,” defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt said. “Samson (Kafovalu) is usually our starter there, but Tim’s going to play a lot of football. We’ve seen that this spring. He’s doing some really good things and we’re really happy with him.”

For his part, N.J. Falo is also receptive of the change in position.

“It’s where I feel comfortable,” Falo said of his move to outside linebacker. “When I first started playing football as a freshman in high school, I played outside linebacker. It’s what I know and it come more natural to me because it’s what I first learned.”

“I really like N.J.,” Leavitt said. “He’s improving. For him to start, he’s got to get better. But he’s working at it and I’m happy with his progress. He’s getting there.”

— Half my kingdom for a safety —

With Evan White having left the program, and Jaisen Sanchez having been lost for the season due to a torn ACL (fortunately, the only major injury suffered so far this spring), the Buffs are down to three scholarship safeties: Tedric Thompson (No. 9); Ryan Moeller (No. 25); and Afolabi Laguda (No. 8).

The Buffs do have some help on the way this summer. Junior college transfer Kyle Trego is already in the fold, and the nation-wide search is on for another transfer.

In the meantime, it will interesting to watch during the Spring Game as to which other players are on the field at the safety position. Sophomore Nick Fisher (No. 7) is practicing at safety, and the Buffs always have the versatile Chidobe Awuzie (No. 4).

Will there be others?

The 2016 Spring Game will lack the feel of an actual game, and many of the components of what Buff coaches hope will constitute a winning formula this fall will not be on the field.

Amongst the list of players likely to have an impact in 2016 who will not see action Saturday include: quarterback Sefo Liufau; linebacker Addison Gillam, offensive tackle Jeromy Irwin, wide receivers Byrce Bobo and Lee Walker, linebackers Derek McCartney, Rick Gamboa and Christian Shaver, defensive back Ahkello Witherspoon, and defensive lineman Josh Tupou.

Then there are transfers and incoming freshmen who will look to have an immediate impact: quarterback Davis Webb; wide receivers Juwann Winfree, Johnny Huntley and Anthony Julmisse; linebacker Drew Lewis; and defensive backs Ronnie Blackmon, Trey Udoffia, and Ca’Ron Baham.

Still, other than a wrap-up practice on Monday, this is the last time the Buffs will – officially – take the field until fall camp opens in August. It is also the only time many Buff fans will get to see their team in action between Thanksgiving weekend and Labor Day weekend.

… and that’s plenty enough incentive to watch …


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