Colorado Spring Practice Outlook: Offense

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Colorado Spring Practice Outlook: Offense

2010 Spring Practice—First Look: Offense

 

Quarterbacks

Returning players : Cody Hawkins (Sr.), Tyler Hansen (Jr.), and Clark Evans (R-Fr.)

Walk-ons: Seth Labato (R-Fr.), Blake Stanley (R-Fr.) (Walk-on quarterback Jerry Slota left the team, transferring to DeAnza Community College in California)

 

New in 2010: Josh Moten (Fr.—2009 recruit; enrolled in January); Nick Hirschman (Fr.—2010 recruit; enrolled in January)

 

If Dan Hawkins wants to have a parade of angry, torch-wielding Buff fans at his doorstep, all he has to do is to name his son Cody as the presumptive starter for the 2010 season.

Okay, that's not going to happen—at least not during spring practice.

So don't go nuclear if you read about the quarterback race this spring being an "open competition." Every job is supposed to be open for back-ups to do their best to oust the incumbents.

There was a minor uproar on the Internet when Rivals.com published a story entitled, "Quarterback battle brewing in Boulder?," but the story contained no insights as to any such controversy. In fact, the story contained the following: "Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Eric Kiesau will likely not name their starter for 2010 anytime soon. But one has to assume Hansen is the leader in the position battle going into spring ball."

The new angle the Rivals.com story did offer concerned two of the backups, suggesting red-shirt freshman Clark Evans "Could potentially move to tight end in the future," and that incoming freshman Josh Moten "Could end up at receiver or defensive back."

There were no further insights as to whether or if either move would take place.

For now, those who are not planning on being caught up in counting how many reps Tyler Hansen and Cody Hawkins receive this spring ("Hansen ran with the first offense for 27 plays; Cody only 15!"), the story to look for out of spring practice is how the new quarterbacks, Josh Moten and Nick Hirschman, fare.

With the Buffs losing recruiting battles for the services of Austin Hinder (to Stanford) and Munchie Legaux (to Cincinnati), Nick Hirschman all the sudden becomes the annointed "quarterback of the future" in Boulder. Spring practice is a time for new players to get repetitions, and Hirschman enrolled early so he could participate in spring practice.

It will be interesting to see how quickly Hirschman picks up the Buffs' offensive schemes.

Bottom line for spring: Barring injury, there will be no named starter this spring for the opener against Colorado State.

Tyler Hansen is the starter. The job is now Hansen's to lose.

 

Running backs

Returning players : Corey Nabors (Sr.); Rodney Stewart (Jr.); Brian Lockridge (Jr.)

Walk-on: Quentin Hildreth (R—Fr.)

 

New in 2010: Tony Jones (2010 recruit); Trea Jones (2010 recruit); Corday Clark (2010 recruit); Justin Torres (2010 recruit)

 

Three scholarship running backs for spring practice? How did that happen? Okay, we know how it happened. Ray Polk moved to safety, Darrell Scott is/has/will someday transfer, and Demetrius Sumler wants to play his senior year elsewhere.

Running backs' coach Darian Hagan could have been accused of piling it higher and deeper when he said "It'll be fun" this spring. Rodney Stewart has led the team in rushing the past two seasons, but has not yet made it through a full year unscathed. Brian Lockridge had 12 carries last year; special teams player Corey Nabors had none.

That's it for your scholarship players this spring, folks.

Hagan has tried to put a good spin on his predicament.

"We have to develop the other guys," said Hagan of Lockridge, Nabors, and walk-on Quentin Hildreth. "Lockridge is going to benefit from those other guys [Scott and Sumler] not being there."

Keeping Stewart healthy will be of paramount concern, so do not look for him to take most of the hits this spring. Nor should you look for impressive rushing statistics from spring scrimmages.

Bottom line for spring: Darian Hagan will have four new backs to work with come August, but none of the four are likely to be game-ready by September. This will mean that Colorado will rely heavily upon Stewart to carry the rushing load this fall...but not this spring.

Look for headlines about the numbers being put up by Lockridge, and the improved play of Nabors and Hildreth.

There won't be anything else to write about.

 

Wide receivers

Returning players : Scotty McKnight (Sr.); Andre Simmons (Sr.); Jason Espinoza (Jr.); Markques Simas (Jr.); Anthony Wright (Jr.); Will Jefferson (So.); Jerrod Darden (R—Fr.); and Terdema Ussery (R—Fr.)

Walk-ons: Cameron Ham (Sr.); Ryan Maxwell (Jr.); Mario Conte (So.); and Dustin Ebner (So.)

 

New in 2010: Toney Clemons (Jr.—transfer); Kendrick Celestine (Jr.—returned to team); Donnie Duncan (2010 recruit); and Keenan Canty (2010 recruit)

 

Roster moves are the news of spring practice for the wide receiver core. Two Buffs from 2009 are out; two who did not suit up in 2009 are ready to play in 2010.

The wide receivers who are out for the spring are junior Markques Simas and red-shirt freshman Terdema Ussery.

Simas has been suspended indefinitely from the team after being arrested on February 5th for DUI (BAC over .13). Simas missed all of 2008 due to academic ineligibility, then the first two games of the 2009 season after being suspended for violating team rules. Simas did bounce back to lead the team in receptions the last month of the season, posting three 100-yard games in four outings.

His status with the team remains unclear, but it would be fair to say that Simas will not be participating in spring drills.

The other receiver who will not be participating this spring is red-shirt freshman Terdema Ussery was granted a leave of absence to return home to Texas this spring to attend to what was described as "family matters." He is expected, however, to return to Colorado for summer classes and will be eligible to play this fall.

Two new faces this spring are not really new at all. Toney Clemons, a transfer from Michigan, sat out last season due to NCAA regulations, but is eligible to participate this spring. With the absence of Simas, Clemons will be counted on even more to contribute early and often.

Buff fans are not the only ones looking at Clemons as being an immediate contributor. The recent Sporting News article "The Forgotten Five," listed Clemons as a transfer who is ready to make up for lost time.

"I come in and give them a dimension they need," said Clemons. "The run-after-catch stuff, reverses, being able to stretch the field deep. I feel I can make an immediate impact."

Also looking to make an immediate impact is Kendrick Celestine, who took a leave of absence of his own a few games into the 2008 season. Dropped from the roster, Celestine had to pay his own way in school this past year, while also taking enough credits to earn back his eligibility.

The Colorado coaching staff determined that Celestine had made sufficient progress in 2009 that Dan Hawkins called Celestine on Christmas Eve to tell the junior-to-be that his scholarship had been reinstated.

This is not to say that Colorado is without other weapons. Not yet mentioned is senior Scotty McKnight. All McKnight has done over the past three years is place himself in position to own almost every career receiving record in Colorado history. McKnight was supposed to be the possession receiver in 2010, complimenting the speed receivers Simas and Clemons.

That scenario, at least so far, is not working out.

With Simas a question mark, and Clemons as of yet an unproven commodity, there will be opportunities this spring for other players to showcase their talents. The wideout with the most to prove is senior Andre Simmons.

There was a great deal of celebrating last summer in the Buff Nation when Simmons, a junior college transfer, finally qualified. Once the season began, though, Simmons was rarely heard from. After collecting a 44-yard pass in the opener, Simmons had only one other catch—for three yards—the remainder of the 2009 campaign.

If Simmons cannot make his senior season special, there are others—junior Jason Espinoza, sophomore Will Jefferson, and red-shirt freshman Jarrod Darden—who would like to impress new wide receivers coach Robert Prince.

Bottom line for spring: With the Colorado running game non-existent (see above), focus for the offense this spring will be on the passing game. Only Scotty McKnight is guaranteed playing time this fall, so the competition for repetitions this spring should be very entertaining and enlightening.

Is Toney Clemons the real deal? Will Andre Simmons have an impact his senior season? Will the return of Kendrick Celestine be more than just a "feel good" story? Will Espinoza, Jefferson, or Darden make an impression?

And, above all, how well will new wide receivers coach / passing game coordinator Robert Prince adapt to his new position?

Should be an interesting spring to watch the wide receiver...

 

Tight Ends

Returning in 2010 : Ryan Deehan (Jr.)

Walk-on: Luke Walters (Sr.)

 

New in 2010: DaVaughn Thornton (R—Fr.);  Kyle Slavin (2010 recruit); Harold Mobley (2010 recruit); Justin Favors (2010 recruit); and Henley Griffin (2010 recruit)

Walk-on: Alex Wood (R—Fr.)

 

Just like the running back roster, the tight end list is a little thin. Three seniors dressed for their final games in 2009, including starter Riar Geer. Also moving on are Patrick Devenny and Devin Shanahan. The list would have been four, but senior walk-on Luke Walters was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. The only scholarship tight ends who will be available this spring are junior Ryan Deehan, who had 10 catches in 2009, and red-shirt freshman DaVaughn Thornton, who sat out last season.

While no fewer than four tight ends coming in to vie for the attention of the coaching staff this August, it will be up to Deehan and Thornton to assert themselves this spring. (Luke Walters, the former transfer from New Mexico, is also back, but has not yet contributed on the playing field).

Bottom line for spring: As will be the case with the running backs, it will be just as important this spring to keep the tight ends healthy as it will be for them to put up impressive statistics. It would be a bonus for the Buff Nation to read stories about how Deehan and Thornton are tearing it up, but Buff fans may have to be content just making it through the spring without any tight end injuries.

The only other way that the tight end position becomes a topic of conversation this spring is if a roster move is made, and a player is moved into the tight end grouping to add depth to the position.

 

Offensive line

Returning in 2010 : Nate Solder (Sr.); Keenan Stevens (Sr.); Ethan Adkins (Jr.); Matthew Bahr (Jr.); Blake Behrens (Jr.); Shawn Daniels (Jr.); Mike Iltis (Jr.); Ryan Miller (Jr.); Ryan Dannewitz (So.); Bryce Givens (So)

Walk-ons: David Clark (Jr.)

 

New in 2010 : Maxwell Tuioti-Mariner (So.—redshirt in 2009); Eric Richter (Jr.—transfer. Already enrolled); David Bakhtiari (R—Fr.); Gus Handler (R—Fr.); Jack Harris (R—Fr.); Kaiwi Crabb (2010 recruit); Alex Lewis (2010 recruit); Daniel Munyer (2010 recruit). Walk-on: Scott Fernandez (R—Fr.)

 

Okay, enough is enough.

While it was true a few years ago that Colorado could not conduct a full spring game due to a lack of depth, and it was true the past two seasons that the Buffs have been hampered by injuries.

Not anymore.

"No excuses," you might say. Colorado has been stock-piling offensive line talent for the past few seasons, and it's time for the line to take the offense upon its shoulders and dominate. Senior Nate Solder is the real deal, and has settled the left tackle position. After that...numerous players, little consistency.

One question to be answered this spring: Can Ryan Miller find a home? One of the most heavily recruited offensive linemen in the recruiting class of 2007, Miller has been injured and shuffled around. Last season, Miller started the first two games at right guard, moved to right tackle for a game, back to right guard for two games, back to right guard for four games, then finished the season back at right guard.

It should be a priority this spring to find Miller a permanent position.

Toward that end, what impact will the return of Maxwell Tuioti-Mariner have upon the starting lineup? MTM was starting at guard two games into his freshman season, but has been hampered by injuries ever since. Tuioti-Mariner sat out all of the 2009 season, but is ready to return this spring.

A healthy MTM at right guard might allow Miller to return full time to right tackle.

Also of interest this spring is whether the gamble taken on junior college transfer Eric Richter. The Buffs are top heavy on the senior class of 2011 when it comes to offensive linemen, and Richter adds one more. Can Richter come in and immediately compete?

Other questions for spring 2010: Can Bryce Givens take advantage of his talents and become the offensive lineman Buff fans hoped for when Givens was the 12th-rated offensive tackle of the 2008 recruiting class? Will either Blake Behrens or Ethan Adkins take ownership of the left guard position? Can anyone unseat former walk-on Keenan Stevens at center? Which of the red-shirt freshmen—Gus Handler? Jack Harris?—will step up and compete?

Bottom line for spring: While not as glamorous as the battle for the wide receiver positions, how the offensive line battles are settled will play just as much a role in the success or failure of the Colorado offense. Hope for stories about Solder, Miller, MTM, and Givens taking charge...but also keep an eye out for injuries.

 

Overall

There has already been a story about the quarterback battle, and the wide receivers will receive a great deal of attention this spring. However, if you want to have a real feel for whether the Colorado offense—92nd in scoring, 104th in total offense in 2009—will fare in 2010, keep an eye on the offensive line. Most if not all of the offensive line starters will be upperclassmen this fall. It's time for them to produce.

The fun starts March 6th.

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