Last season, I graded the depth chart on a "glass half full/glass half empty" scale (if you want to check out how I did, go to http://www.cuatthegame.com and click on the 2007/Preseason link under "Archived Seasons").
In 2007, the Buffs were coming off a 2-10 campaign, and there were gaping holes on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
In 2008, such a scale is not appropriate. There is talent and depth at virtually every position. For Colorado, the glass is definitely "half full."
As a result, for each position, we will look at the players the Buffs will suit up, look at the strengths and weaknesses of those players, and give each unit a letter grade.
Cody Hawkins (So.); Nick Nelson (Sr.); Matt Ballenger (Fr.-RS); Kyle Black (So.); Tyler Hansen (Fr.)
Sophomore Cody Hawkins is your starter—not much in the way of news here. It was just this past spring when redshirt freshman Matt Ballenger was expected to give Hawkins competition for the starting position. By the end of spring ball, though, Hawkins was entrenched.
Hawkins came to fall camp impressing the media with his "buffed-up" look. Stronger, prepared, confident (and even a half-inch taller!), Hawkins will be, barring injury, your starter. This is his third year in the system (or 13th year, depending on how you look at it), and he acts like a leader, talks like a leader, and has the respect of his teammates.
Hawkins may not be as mobile as some of the other touted quarterbacks in the Big 12, and he may not have the rocket arm of some of the others, but smarts can go a long way at this position—and Cody Hawkins is smart.
As for backups, Nelson is capable and does have experience as a starter. Freshman Tyler Hansen has been impressive early in his career in Boulder, but he will likely redshirt this fall.
Little playing time for any of the other quarterbacks on the roster, but that is not uncommon for most teams. Nelson and Ballenger will fight it out for the backup position, with Nelson most likely to come in if Hawkins is injured. If Hawkins goes down, the Buffs will struggle to score.
Hawkins is good, but not great. In the era of spread offenses, where tall and mobile quarterbacks fill the landscape (and CU’s schedule), Hawkins is neither particularly tall nor particularly mobile. Still, Hawkins set most of the freshman quarterback records at Colorado last year.
With more weapons at his disposal this year, and an ever-improving offensive line, look for more records to fall this season.
Tailback: Demetrius Sumler (So.); Kevin Moyd (Jr.); Darrell Scott (Fr.); Ray Polk (Fr.); Rodney Stewart (Fr.); Corey Nabors (So); Arthur Jaffee (Fr.-RS); Brian Lockridge (So.)
Fullback: Maurice Cantrell (Sr.); Jake Behrens (Jr.)
Hugh Charles and his 1,058 yards in 2007 have moved on to the NFL. The back with the most yards on the roster is Demetrius Sumler, who had 335 yards on 100 carries last season.
While Sumler is conceding nothing in terms of the starting job, few will be surprised if most of the carries go to heralded freshman Darrell Scott.
Since his arrival in Boulder, Scott has been everything the Buffs could have hoped for: a great individual, humble, a team player, and by the way, an outstanding football player. Scott led the team in carries and yards in the first scrimmage, and he will likely continue to lead in those categories all season.
Don’t count out any of the other backs, however. Sumler, Moyd, and Lockridge have experience in Hawkins’ system, and each brings talent to the playing field. Ray Polk will be a long time contributor to the program.
And Rodney Stewart—wow! Billed as a return specialist, Stewart has been one of the stories of fall camp. There has to be a way to get this young man on the field! "Speedy" will be used on screen passes, reverses, and draws—any way to get him the ball. Sit back and enjoy!
Depth, depth, depth, and talent, talent, talent. So many weapons, and only one football for Cody Hawkins to dish out. The challenge for the Buffs coaching staff will be to figure out how to best utilize these outstanding players.
Youth and inexperience. There may be a time when we look back at this era as a golden age for CU running backs. Almost any of these players could be given the starting nod and perform well.
The question will be how many "rookie" mistakes—fumbles, missed holes, failed blocking assignments—are made. There is a learning curve at this level, and these talented players will be asked to perform well from opening day.
With this much talent and depth, it would be easy to give this group an "A." However, these players are young and for the most part, unproven.
Darrell Scott may prove to be the best back in Colorado history, but before we start engraving his name on the 2010 Heisman trophy (as defensive tackle George Hypolite did at the Big 12 media gathering in July), I will give you a few stats: 18 carries, 98 yards, and 25 carries, 150 yards.
My predictions for Scott’s stats after two games in 2008? No, these were the stats for the first two games of another "can’t-miss" Buff prospect, another highly touted freshman who was going to rewrite the CU record books.
His name? Marcus Houston.
Patrick Williams (Sr.); Scotty McKnight (So.); Josh Smith (So.); Cody Crawford (Sr.); Kendrick Celestine (So.); Jason Espinoza (Fr.-RS); Cameron Ham (So.); Chance Blackmon (Fr.); Steve Melton (Sr.)
Senior Patrick Williams has the most experience and has been waiting three years to have a breakout season. Well, this is it for Williams. It’s time.
Assisting Williams in the quest to improve CU’s pass numbers are two sophomores who set records last season. Scotty McKnight and Josh Smith both surpassed the CU freshman record for receptions and yards, with McKnight setting the new mark at 47 catches and 555 yards.
The trio will be pushed for playing time by sophomore Kendrick Celestine, redshirt freshman Jason Espinoza, and possibly true freshman Chance Blackmon.
Promise. The knock on Patrick Williams is that he has never quite made the impact we expected. Williams does rank 20th all-time in receptions (74) and 28th all-time in receiving yards (748) at Colorado, but he is not the breakout player the Buffs need at the wideout position.
Perhaps that role will be filled by sophomore Josh Smith, who for all of his speed was somehow kept out of the end zone in 2007. McKnight is the possession receiver. Celestine and Espinoza will add more quickness to the lineup.
...But it is unfulfilled promise. The unit as a whole scares few teams. With a better offensive line, a rushing game which must be respected, and a quarterback in Cody Hawkins who looks prepared to have an even better campaign than 2007, perhaps this fall the wide receiver position will become a major factor in the CU offense.
It will have to, but with Markques Simas failing to qualify academically, there is little new infusion of talent in this area to assume that greater production is a given.
The Buffs ranked a respectable 54th in the nation in passing offense last season (respectable being a relative term: Colorado ranked 68th in rushing offense, 62nd in scoring offense, and 72nd in total offense), so blaming any inadequacies of the CU offense on the wide receivers is misplaced.
Still, until this unit can stretch defenses and open up gaps for the running game to prosper, it will be seen as the weak link of the Buffs’ offensive attack.
Riar Geer (Jr.); Patrick Devenny (Jr.); Luke Walters (Jr.); Ryan Deehan (Fr.); Ryan Wallace (Fr.); Devin Shanahan (Jr.)
One of the best pieces of good news the Buffs and their fans received in July was that junior Riar Geer’s suspension had been lifted (or at least abated), and that Geer would be eligible to play this fall. Geer’s return eases concerns over the tight end position that had hung over the program since February.
Geer’s absence during spring training may actually turn out to be a silver lining for the Buffs, as junior Patrick Devenny ably filled in for Geer at spring practice. What was once a potential negative for the Buffs this fall has turned into a positive.
Surprising depth. In 2006, Geer became the first freshman in CU history to lead the team in receptions (24 for 261 yards and three touchdowns). Last season Geer was slowed by injuries, but he still managed to pick up 14 catches for 128 yards and two more scores.
With the strong showing by Patrick Devenny, and the infusion of freshmen Ryan Deehan and Ryan Wallace, the tight end position is suddenly flush with quality (enough so that another incoming freshman, Will Pericak, a Boulder high product who watched spring practice from the sidelines, was moved to defensive tackle).
Untapped potential. Geer was a second-team freshman All-American in 2006. His production fell off in 2007, and Geer missed all of spring practice when the Buffs implemented a new-look, no-huddle offense.
Can Geer regain his form quickly? Will his suspension have any other repercussions? Can Devenny or one of the Ryans step up if Geer is not available?
The potential is there (but it is still just potential) for this group to be a major contributor to the CU offense. Cody Hawkins loves his tight ends, especially near the end zone. If the receiving corps cannot adequately stretch the field, the tight ends will need to be productive for the Buffs’ offense to be successful.
Daniel Sanders (Sr.); Devin Head (Jr.); Ryan Miller (So.); Nate Solder (So.); Matthew Bahr (Fr.-RS); Shawn Daniels (Fr.-RS); Ethan Adkins (Fr.-RS); Blake Behrens (Fr.-RS); Keenan Stevens (So.); David Clark (Fr.-RS); Ryan Dannewitz (Fr.); Maxwell Tuioti-Mariner (Fr.); Bryce Givens (Fr.)
Three starters on the offensive line are set. At center will be senior Daniel Sanders, who has started 24 consecutive games for the Buffs in the middle of the line. Also appearing to be set are the tackle positions, where sophomores Ryan Miller and Nate Solder will anchor the outside of the Colorado offensive line.
Miller took over as a starter midway through the 2007 season and is destined for stardom at the position. Solder moved from tight end to offensive tackle in the spring, and he has put on 25 pounds during the summer to assist him in fighting off the defensive ends of the Big 12.
The guard positions are less settled. Two potential starters have been lost, as senior Erick Faatagi failed to make grades for the second consecutive season, ending his career, while redshirt freshman Mike Iltis suffered a season-ending ACL injury in the first week of fall practice.
As a result, the only guard on the roster with any significant time in the program is junior Devin Head, who will likely earn one of the guard positions. The other may fall to redshirt freshman Matthew Bahr, unless one of the true freshmen can demonstrate in fall practice that they are ready for Division I-A play.
I hate to sound like a broken record, but quality depth is the best part of this lineup. "Girthy" is set at center, and Ryan Miller is a potential All-American as a sophomore. Nate Solder has drawn rave reviews for his quick transformation from tight end to tackle. The last two recruiting classes have brought both quality and quantity to the CU offensive line.
Despite two strong classes, there is, for this year and next, a dearth of experience. Sanders has 24 consecutive starts but has at times struggled with his snaps from the shotgun formation. Miller is a load but is still mastering the position, while Solder is learning the nuances of the tackle position for the first time. The guards will be unproven and untested, regardless of who goes out to face CSU.
I would like to think that this is a unit which will become one of the most dominant in the conference, but it won’t be this year. Ask again in 2009 or 2010. In 2008, there will be growing pains.
Whether this group can become cohesive and consistent in two games—leading up to CU’s murderous stretch of games three through six—is a question. I’m not sure the Buffs and their fans will like the answer.
Aric Goodman (K-So.); Jameson Davis (K-Fr.); Alex Metskas (K-Fr.); Matt DiLallo (P-Jr.); Tom Suazo (P-Sr.); Darrell Scott (P-Fr.)
It appeared going into fall camp that the position of placekicker was a wide-open race between sophomore transfer Aric Goodman and freshman Jameson Davis. Both made a case for themselves in spring practice—a case for Buff fans being concerned, as neither kicker was particularly distinguished.
This fall, though, with Davis hampered by injuries, Goodman has made his case for the starting job, earning the nickname "Money" for his consistent ability to make his field goals.
The incumbent punter is Matt DiLallo. A freshman All-American, DiLallo’s production seemed to have dropped off in 2007, with his average dropping from 43.74 yards per kick down to 40.11.
But wait—Dave Plati to the rescue—it turns out that the 2007 6-7 Buffs actually had much better field position than the 2006 2-10 Buffs. A shorter field equals shorter punts. Hopefully, DiLallo’s average will continue to fall in 2008.
DiLallo will become just the 13th punter in CU history to start three seasons for the Buffs, and in 2009 he will likely become just the second punter to lead the team in punting for four years (no, the other was not Barry Helton—my guess. It was Stan Koleski, who punted for CU from 1973-76. Now there’s a trivia question!).
DiLallo could be aided by an unlikely source: Darrell Scott. Scott, it turns out, is a more than adequate punter, and he certainly would add a different dimension to the punting game.
As for kickers, Goodman brings with him I-A experience, having been the kicker for Wyoming in 2006.
While Goodman has had a productive fall practice, there still remains the uncertainty of how he will perform in Folsom Field. And there is that one kick—the missed extra point in overtime in a 13-12 loss to Virginia as a Wyoming freshman in 2006—which we will keep hearing about until Goodman kicks a game-winner for the Buffs.
While Aric Goodman will not soon make everyone forget Mason Crosby (or even Kevin Eberhart), we will have to put our trust in "Money" until proven otherwise. At punter, Matt DiLallo is a solid player. Dave Plati’s stats notwithstanding, it would be nice to see a rise in DiLallo’s average in 2008.
Plus, while we have a moment, here's a quick plug for junior Jason Drescher. Haven’t heard of him? Good. He probably prefers it that way.
Drescher was recruited to CU for one purpose—snapping the ball on punt and place kicks. That he does his job well is a testament to his consistency. Here’s hoping we don’t hear his name announced often this fall.
Overall Offensive Grade: B-
I would love to give the Buffs’ offensive personnel a higher grade, but to do so would be to grade on potential, not production.
2008 will be a season seeking answers to the following questions.
Will Cody Hawkins continue to improve? (After throwing 15 interceptions in his first 10 games last year, Cody finished the regular season with zero interceptions in his last 70 passes.)
Will the star-studded running back corps create a sensation on the national stage?
Will the wide receivers and tight ends provide enough balance for the CU attack to be successful?
Will the offensive line gel quickly enough to make the Buffs’ offense click on all cylinders?
I can’t wait to find out.
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