CU fall practice: notes and quotes from week one
One face the Buffs were happy to see as fall camp opened Aug. 4 was that of junior tight end Riar Geer. Geer, suspended for all of spring practice due to an off-campus fight last winter, was reinstated by CU’s Office of Judicial Affairs after an appeal.
Geer will be on CU’s strictest probationary status, meaning his suspension could be reactivated if any other issues arise. Translation: Geer is back, but on a very short leash.
Geer’s reinstatement was offset by the loss of six players, including four who will be academically ineligible for the season. Lost due to poor grades were wide receiver Markques Simas, offensive tackle Sione Tau, linebacker Nate Vaiomounga, and offensive guard Erick Faatagi.
Of the four, the loss of Simas and Faatagi will have the most impact. Simas, who redshirted as a true freshmen in 2007, was impressive on the scout team last fall, and was expected to compete for a starting spot this August.
Faatagi sat out last season and last spring due to academics. A transfer from El Camino College, Faatagi will leave Boulder without ever playing a down. (The other three, like Simas, are freshmen, and can return next season if their grades improve).
Another loss to the offensive line was suffered on the first day of practice when redshirt freshman guard Mike Iltis went down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
Iltis, who was expected to compete for a starting guard position this fall, will be lost for the season. Iltis, for his part, was philosophical.
"It’s hard, but things happen," said Iltis. "All I am thinking about now is just getting better mentally, getting better physically, and going through rehab with a 100 percent positive attitude and coming back better than I was."
Friday’s practice brought about another ACL loss, this time to defensive end Drew Hudgins. He sat out last season with an Achilles' tendon injury after transferring to Colorado from Highland Community College in Kansas.
With three seasons lost to injury in five years, Hudgins would likely be eligible for a medical redshirt, and be allowed to play in 2009 if he wants to take one last try at playing at CU.
While Hudgins did not play last season, his loss may be the most significant of the six. Colorado is in desperate need of a solid pass rush if the pass-happy teams on the 2008 schedule are to be contained.
CU is young and inexperienced at the cornerback position, so a strong pass rush is mandatory if the Buffs are going to avoid giving up big pass plays. Hudgins was being counted on to provide just such a pass rush.
Still, it is not as if the Buffs will be without options. A total of 105 players reported on Aug. 4, including 20 true freshmen and three invited walk-ons.
Quarterback: The big issue of spring practice is a non-issue this fall. It will take an injury to Hawkins or some exceptional play by other quarterbacks on the roster to unseat Cody Hawkins as the starter.
Hawkins was reported as looking "buffed up", appearing noticeably bigger and stronger.
"Nutrition was a big part of it," said Hawkins, who reported he can now bench press 275 pounds, up at least 50 pounds from his first year in Boulder.
Of the backups, true freshman Tyler Hansen has been impressive, and may push senior Nick Nelson and redshirt freshman Matt Ballenger for the backup position by mid-season.
Running back: Are you kidding? The opening week was all Darrell Scott, all the time. Fortunately, from all appearances, Scott is not only the real deal, but is handling the pressure and attention well.
Said Dan Hawkins of his prize recruit: "He’s fitting in well, and I have said this before, but he’s a really good kid. He is a humble guy who has his feet on the ground."
Scott was just trying to be one of the guys.
"Practice has been intense," said Scott, "but I am trying my best to get used to the altitude and improve everyday."
Not that the other backs in camp are conceding anything to Scott. Ray Polk, a prized recruit in his own right, was primed for the competition.
"Each of us wants success for the team," said Polk, "but at the same time, we all want that spot."
What about the returning back with the most career carries, Demetrius Sumler?
"I definitely feel like I have a leg up," said Sumler, who had 335 yards and four touchdowns on 100 carries in 2007. "But, it is also my job to help them get better. We are all helping each other. We all want to be the best running back corps in the country."
Wide receiver: The loss of Markques Simas to academics was offset by the announcement that Kendrick Celestine should be eligible to play.
Celestine needed to pass two summer school classes to retain his status. The sophomore, with one summer school B on the books, finished his second class on Friday, with every indication that his work was satisfactory.
Celestine joins senior Patrick Williams and sophomores Josh Smith and Scotty McKnight as the most likely candidates to see passes this fall.
"Are they going to go out and take a 12-yard curl and go 80 yards for a touchdown? Probably not," said CU wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau. "But they are just good, solid guys. I know I can count on them. They will be productive and make plays."
Tight end: As noted, the tight end position at CU was enhanced when, just before camp opened, returning starter Riar Geer was reinstated.
This left coaches confident enough in the depth at the position that freshman Will Pericak, the Boulder High standout who watched most of the spring practices in order to get a leg up on that position, will be switched to defensive tackle.
Besides Geer, the tight end position lists juniors Patrick Devenny, Devin Shanahan, and Luke Walters, along with incoming freshmen Ryan Deehan and Ryan Wallace.
Offensive line: Leave it to Dave Plati, CU’s media relations director, to come up with this stat: sophomore tackles Ryan Miller and Nate Solder, projected starters, represent the tallest tackle duo in CU history.
Solder, converted from tight end, stands 6-foot-8; Miller, who worked his way into the starting lineup as a true freshman in 2007, is 6-foot-7. The total height of the two would best, by one inch, the total height of Mark Vander Poel and Ariel Solomon in 1990.
"Our offensive line," said Miller, "is going to be gifreakinormous."
Other than Miller and Solder, who took turns practicing at both tackle positions, the only other line position which is set is that of center, where Daniel Sanders returns at starter.
The guard positions, though, are up for grabs. The good news? There are five players vying for the two spots. The bad news? Only junior Devin Head is an upperclassmen. The other position will likely fall to a redshirt freshman: Matthew Bahr, Blake Behrens, or Shawn Daniels.
Kicking game: The position of placekicker may fall to sophomore Aric Goodman by default. Goodman, who played for Wyoming in 2006, is healthy. His competition, freshman Jameson Davis, is not.
Davis has undergone four knee surgeries, and he has been dealing with some pain in his left knee, on his plant leg. "My knee has been giving out on me a little bit every time I kick," said Davis this week.
The punting job will likely fall to the incumbent, junior Matt DiLallo. However, there has been a punter in practice who has been impressing fellow players...Darrell Scott. Really.
Scott has been showing that putting him back in punt formation is not out of the question. It would certainly give opposing teams something to think about...
The return job may fall to diminutive Rodney Stewart. The 5-foot-6 freshman from Ohio has displayed all the cutback moves and quickness teams look for in a return man—even though Stewart did not often return kicks in high school.
"He’s got quick feet, fluid hips and he never stops. He’s always going forward." said running backs coach Darian Hagen of Stewart. "He had a five-yard run (Friday) morning with probably six or seven cuts—and no one touched him."
Defensive line: As noted above, former tight end prospect Will Pericak has been moved to defensive tackle.
"Coaches thought I would work best there and help the team and that’s what I’m doing," said Pericak, who gained 25 pounds over the past five months. "It’s fun."
Pericak will back up George Hypolite and Brandon Nicholas, both senior starters.
Linebackers: Even with the loss of prized recruit Lynn Katoa for the season (though Katoa, to his credit, has been practicing with the team despite his season-long suspension), linebacker remains a position of strength for the Buffs.
Jordon Dizon, now of the Detroit Lions, "was an outstanding player," said junior linebacker Jeff Smart. "Obviously, those tackles are going to have to be made by someone else now. But I don’t think that necessarily has to be one person...I think those tackles will get distributed among the defense."
There will be numerous players vying for Dizon’s tackles. Junior Marcus Burton returns from academic ineligibility; sophomore Michael Sipili returns from a season-long suspension; junior college signee Shaun Mohler comes from Orange Coast College in California; and true freshmen signees Jon Major and Doug Rippy put on their CU uniforms for the first time this past week...and that is just the list of new players!
"The group as a whole is further along as an incoming class than probably any group I’ve ever had," said CU linebackers coach Brian Cabral.
Secondary: Both cornerback positions lack a returning starter. Senior Gardner McKay, junior Cha’pelle Brown and sophomore Jalil Brown are the most likely candidates, with redshirt freshman Lamont Smith an option.
"It’s going to be somewhat difficult with new corners," said returning starting safety Ryan Walters. "But they’re not really rookies. They have a lot of game experience. It’s just that now they have to step up to a starting role."
Not a bad first week. Great to have Geer back, though the losses of Simas, Iltis, Faatagi, and especially Hudgins will hurt. It's part of the game. That’s why there were 105 in pads for the first practice.
Perhaps the most encouraging words this week came from longtime Boulder Daily Camera columnist Neill Woelk, who noted, "there’s a palpable air of confidence—you might even call it swagger—that hasn’t been felt around the Dal Ward Center for a few years."
Sounds good to me. Much more to come in the next three weeks, as we prepare for Aug. 31. Go Buffs! [For more, log on to http://www.cuatthegame.com]