Colorado Buffaloes Scrimmage Recaps and Position Analysis
Fall Camp Update: Less than two weeks to game time!
There was some bad news early in the second week of fall camp, as freshman linebacker Jon Major was lost for the season with a torn ACL. Major, one of the prize recruits of the 2008 class and considered—along with CU offensive lineman Bryce Givens—one of the top two players coming out of the state of Colorado this year, was injured during a non-contact drill during practice on August 12th.
Major joins redshirt freshman guard Mike Iltis and senior defensive lineman Drew Hudgins on the Buff sidelines, as Iltis and Hudgins have also suffered season-ending ACL injuries during fall camp (Hudgins will be applying for a medical redshirt and a sixth year of eligibility).
"It’s always frustrating, but I’m trying to be optimistic," said Major of his injury. "I think it’s probably the best (timing) for this. It gives you a free year to develop on and off the field."
While Major was trying to make the best of his bad luck, questions arose as to whether offseason conditioning or the condition of the practice facilities had anything to do with the Buffs’ rash of ACL injuries. CU head coach Dan Hawkins said he didn’t know how that would be possible, saying, "We’d have to stop running, because that’s basically when they’ve happened."
Hawkins later noted that in his first season at Colorado, shoulder injuries seemed to be happening all too often. As Major put it, "That’s the nature of the beast." (It is also worth noting that Florida this summer has lost five players to ACL injuries).
First scrimmage: Monday, August 11
While Major, Iltis, and Hudgins prepared for surgery and rehabilitation, fall camp moved on. On Monday, August 11, the Buffs ran through a scrimmage of just over 100 plays. More than just a walk-through, the scrimmage was a full audition for playing time.
"We’re trying to push the depth chart issue right now," said Dan Hawkins before the scrimmage. "We’re trying to shove these guys into game mode. ... Sometimes you scrimmage and just learn to run plays; we get enough of that in practice. We’re looking for playmakers."
Well, did the Buffs find any?
The answer would have to be a qualified "yes." As with any scrimmage, any good play by the offense can also be construed as a bad play by the defense. That being said, there were some big plays made on both sides of the ball.
Overall? "We’re in better shape and the guys are bigger, faster, and stronger," Hawkins said. "We’ve also got more guys."
Senior safety Ryan Walters, likely to be named a CU captain this fall, agreed. "It was a pretty intense scrimmage for this early," said Walters. "There’s more depth, more good players, and more competition."
Quarterback Cody Hawkins posted some impressive statistics, completing 17 of 26 passes for 275 yards and three touchdowns. Darrell Scott, making his much-anticipated debut as a Buff, led all rushers with 86 yards on 14 carries. The receiving corps was led by Scott’s uncle, sophomore Josh Smith, who hauled in three catches for 72 yards.
On defense, senior linebacker Brad Jones led the Buff defense with 14 tackles. Sophomore placekicker Aric Goodman was perfect on the day, connecting on all three field goal attempts and all five PATs.
Freshman running back Rodney Stewart was perhaps the most notable player on the field, making several outstanding plays, including an excellent run and catch on a screen pass from Hawkins which Stewart turned into a 29-yard touchdown.
Looking for a positive defensive stat? Try this one: The Buffs’ defense held the offense to only three of 18 on third down attempts.
"We had some guys show up and make some plays today (at the first scrimmage)," said Coach Hawkins, "but we have to go back and look at film."
The Buffs and their coaches did go back and look at film, went back to the practice fields (with a side trip to Water World on Wednesday, August 14), and then conducted a second scrimmage on Sunday.
Second scrimmage: Sunday, August 17
Want a measure of the excitement over the 2008 Buffs? Take this number from CU's second scrimmage: 1,400—as in 1,400 fans who showed up to watch.
No, these are not Nebraska or Alabama practice numbers, but the numbers are significantly higher than the Buffs have had in the recent past. Buff fans are ready for some football!
On the field, it was the Buffs' defense which took its turn to have a good outing. There were eight offensive touchdowns scored in the 137-play scrimmage, but overall Dan Hawkins was pleased with the defensive effort.
"I think from a defensive standpoint—last week the offense came out and got things going—the defense started out better this time," said Hawkins. "Not as many plays from the ones and the twos."
In the first fall scrimmage, the Buffs' secondary did not record an interception. On August 17, though, there were two, both by sophomore cornerback Jalil Brown. The defense recorded five sacks, including two by senior defensive tackle George Hypolite, and one each by freshman linebacker Douglas Rippy, redshirt freshman linebacker Tyler Ahles, and freshman linebacker Brandon Gouin.
The defense had four players who recorded seven tackles apiece to lead the defense: junior linebacker Marcus Burton, sophomore linebacker Michael Sipili, freshman safety Patrick Mahnke, and junior linebacker Shaun Mohler (senior linebacker Brad Jones, who led the defense with 14 tackles in the first scrimmage, was held out of the second scrimmage while nursing minor injuries).
This is not to say that the offense did not have its moments on August 17. Cody Hawkins was 17 of 27 for 225 yards and two touchdowns (with one interception). The rushing game was actually headed up by freshman quarterback Tyler Hansen, who had 72 yards on six carries (those who are supposed to carry the ball on a regular basis were led by sophomore tailback Corey Nabors, who had 53 yards on only four carries).
The leading receivers were sophomore Scotty McKnight (five catches for 73 yards and one touchdown) and freshman tight end Ryan Deehan (five catches for 71 yards).
While praising the defense, Dan Hawkins was not critical of the offensive effort. "Definitely as a whole (the offense did well)," Hawkins said. "It was interesting because we put so much new stuff in, but now we have to ratchet it down and get the ones and twos going. It's time to start doing some more game stuff and start to prepare for the Rams."
How players in each unit fared, and how the starting lineups for August 31 are beginning to take shape, is detailed below.
While the battle for the starting position was all but over after spring practice, an interesting battle is shaping up as to who will be Cody Hawkins’ primary backup. Senior Nick Nelson was the backup of choice last season, but redshirt freshman Matt Ballenger is making his bid to be the first off the bench.
"Everyone wants a chance, and hopefully I’ll get that this year," said Ballenger. "If I don’t, I’m just going to try and keep getting better and show them I can one day maybe be the starter."
None of the backups—not Nelson, Ballenger, nor true freshman Tyler Hansen—were very successful in the first scrimmage. The three combined to throw a total of 17 passes, completing only six. Ballenger did have one touchdown pass, a five-yarder to senior wide receiver Steve Melton.
Still, the elder Hawkins was satisfied with the progress of the quarterbacks not named Hawkins. "We give them a lot of reps in practice and try to keep their mental edge on," said Coach Hawkins. "And if you need them, you go to the bullpen, and they come in and throw strikes."
In the second scrimmage, with Nick Nelson out with an abdominal injury, Matt Ballenger was given the opportunity to make his case. Ballenger completed 12 of 22 passes for 142 yards with one interception.
Tyler Hansen was only in for three series (compared to seven for Ballenger), but completed three of four passes for 54 yards and two touchdowns.
As the 2007 season came to a close, the Buffs knew that they would be losing 1,000-yard rusher Hugh Charles. They also knew they had a stable full of good players to replace Charles. What they didn’t know—at least for sure, not until now—is how well that corps of returning backs would be supplemented by this year’s freshman class.
That Darrell Scott guy? The one with all of the preseason accolades? Talented, personable, humble, team player? Well, so far he is all that—and a bag of chips.
Despite nursing a slight groin injury, Scott led all CU rushers in the first scrimmage, picking up 86 yards on 14 carries, including a 39-yard run. "The guy’s a load when he gets his pads squared," said CU offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich.
But Scott wasn’t alone in making a good first impression. Ray Polk and Rodney Stewart, also true freshmen, made impressive debuts. Polk chipped in 35 yards on only six carries, and Stewart—soon to be referred to in Buff circles only by his nickname, "Speedy"—had 29 rushing yards and 33 receiving yards on just six touches.
Quarterback Cody Hawkins was impressed with Stewart. "Even though he’s kind of unheralded," said Hawkins of Speedy, "people have a lot of respect for him in the locker room."
"Each guy has different strengths," said Helfrich of his new weapons. "We’ll try and put them in position, then basically, it’s going to be whoever does their style best."
In the August 17 scrimmage, there were fewer impressive numbers put up by the running backs. Quarterback Tyler Hansen scrambled his way to 72 yards, with sophomore Corey Nabors collecting 53 yards on only four carries. Darrell Scott had only six carries totaling 36 yards, but he did score his first touchdown.
Given the bulk of the carries were returning players Kevin Moyd and Demetrius Sumler. Moyd, a junior tailback hampered by injury in 2007, had 10 carries for 31 yards and a touchdown. Sumler had a total of 27 yards on nine carries.
After the scrimmage, CU running backs coach Darian Hagan named Demetrius Sumler as his starter in the backfield against CSU. "It’s that value of experience," said Hagan of Sumler. "He’s kind of the whole package. I thought the young guys would come in and push him, but they haven’t pushed by him."
This is not to say that the three talented freshmen will not play. Scott, Polk, and Stewart will open the season in specific situations, at least until they learn all of their assignments. "Of course, we always like to run a stable of guys in there," said Hagan, "and we’ll continue to do that."
The wide receivers had a good outing in the first scrimmage, with the Buffs overall accounting for 304 yards passing. Sophomore Josh Smith led all receivers with 72 yards on three catches. Fellow sophomore Scotty McKnight made the most of his two catches—only 18 total yards, but both went for touchdowns.
"Both (touchdown) plays were slight improv plays by Cody and me," said McKnight of his four-yard and 14-yard scores. "We’ve worked on doing some things so that we’re on the same page when a play doesn’t go as planned. We just find a hole in the zone, and today we did that."
Senior Patrick Williams also had a decent first scrimmage, collecting only two passes but gaining 29 and 32 yards on those plays.
"The team is doing really well," said McKnight after the first scrimmage. "The attitude is upbeat, we’ve had a great tempo throughout camp. Now we just need to keep going and improving."
Overall, receivers coach Eric Kiesau indicated he is looking for the three "most well-rounded" receivers, who can excel in both the passing and running games. With the Buffs switching to the no-huddle, up-tempo offense, there will not be as many opportunities for substitutions, so the players on the field will need to be "the guys." Williams, Smith, and McKnight were the top three after the first scrimmage...
And nothing changed after the August 17 scrimmage. "I have a top three and we’re working on the four, five, six, and seven," said Kiesau. "I think the group overall is progressing very well."
The Buffs had a total of 32 receptions for 421 yards in the second scrimmage, with sophomore Scotty McKnight collecting five catches for 73 yards (and a score), Patrick Williams three for 45, and Josh Smith one for 22 yards.
Of those trying to break into the starting lineup, sophomore Kendrick Celestine made the biggest impression, catching three passes for 65 yards and two touchdowns.
Riar Geer, who missed all of spring practice while on suspension, did not appear to have missed a step in his preparation to return as a starter this fall. The junior collected three passes for 34 yards, including a 26-yard catch, in the first scrimmage.
Also on the stats sheet in the first week were true freshman Ryan Deehan, who had two catches for eight yards, and junior Patrick Devenny, who had a 13-yard grab.
In the second scrimmage, it was the freshman Ryans—Deehan and Wallace—collecting the catches and the accolades. Deehan had five receptions for 71 yards on the afternoon, while Wallace had two catches for 38 yards, including a 26-yard touchdown.
"In terms of the older guys, we’ve got a pretty good idea of who will play," said tight ends coach Kent Riddle. "The younger guys, we’re just trying to bring them along and force feed them as much as possible and see what they’re ready to do. Ryan Deehan did a nice job today."
The news for the offensive line in the second week of camp was that there was no news on the placement of the CU tackles. After toying with the concept of moving the more agile Nate Solder to right tackle, and moving the more experienced Ryan Miller to left tackle, offensive line coach Jeff Grimes decided the two were staying put.
"I think we’re going to keep Ryan at right and Nate at left unless something changes," said Grimes.
With senior Daniel Sanders entrenched at center, the guard positions are up for grabs. One of those spots is likely to be filled by junior Devin Head, who started in 2007 before Ryan Miller’s move into the starting lineup pushed then-tackle Edwin Harrison to the guard position—and Head to the bench.
"Absolutely, it (not winning his starting guard position back) would be hard," said Head of his bid to return to the starting lineup. "It would definitely be tough to deal with, but we all have some rough times. If that were the case, I would be supportive of any of the other young guys and do whatever I could to help them get better."
Head is just one of six guards vying for two positions, but the other five are all either redshirt freshmen or true freshmen. One of the true freshmen to make an impression was Bryce Givens. "Obviously, he’s talented," said Grimes of his prize 2008 recruit. "He’s got all the intangibles that you’re looking for that would give a freshman an opportunity to come in and play."
The issue of the final two starters remained unresolved after the second scrimmage. While noting that Devin Head has more experience that the other guard candidates, offensive line coach Jeff Grimes said, "The guard position is still totally up in the air. We’ve got six guys competing for two spots, and we might go into the first game or two without those positions being completely settled."
The bad news: The placekicking job has fallen, almost by default, to sophomore Aric Goodman. Freshman Jameson Davis, Goodman’s competition, has been hampered by a leg injury during fall camp.
The good news: Goodman may have won the job anyway. Already nicknamed "Money" by his teammates, Goodman had a string of 25 consecutive field goals in the second week of practice. In the first scrimmage, Goodman hit on all five PATs and made all three field goal attempts—from 33, 50, and 53 yards.
"It doesn’t surprise me that Aric is having a great fall camp, and I expect that will continue," said CU special teams coach Kent Riddle. "When you get confidence and are a good technician, the ball goes through. Aric is doing a good job of that."
Goodman continued his good work in the second scrimmage: perfect again—three for three in extra points, and two for two on field goal attempts (29 and 49 yards). Jameson Davis did get in his first scrimmage work of the fall with three kickoffs (one touchback).
Junior punter Matt DiLallo was, for the most part, back in form during the first scrimmage. The freshman All-American in 2006, who saw his numbers dip in 2007, had five punts for a 42.2 yard average in the first scrimmage, with a long of 50 yards and two punts downed inside the 20-yard line. DiLallo also had one kick blocked.
(For those of you wondering—yes, Darrell Scott did have one punt. It went for 38 yards. On a fake punt, though, Scott was stopped short of a first down by none other than fellow freshman running back Ray Polk).
In the August 17 scrimmage, backup punter Tom Suazo was given the opportunity to make his case for the job, getting three punts. Suazo punted for an average of just under 40 yards per kick, with one inside the 20-yard line.
Look for DiLallo to be your starter on August 31.
The loss of Drew Hudgins calls into question the depth of the defensive end position at Colorado. Before suffering his season-ending ACL injury, Hudgins was expected to compete with sophomore Marquez Herrod for the starting job at right defensive end.
"I feel really bad for Drew, but I think we’ll be okay," said defensive line coach Romeo Bandison. "With one less guy, there are more repetitions to go around. Everybody has a chance to shine."
Also vying for playing time with Herrod are junior Jason Brace, redshirt freshmen Conrad Obi and Eugene Goree, and true freshman Will Pericak, converted from tight end after Riar Geer returned to the team in late July.
Pericak will also see time as a backup at defensive tackle, where senior starters George Hypolite and Brandon Nicholas are well-entrenched. "We had Will for a few minutes, and he picked up things fast," said Bandison. "Things just seem to come natural for him."
After the second scrimmage, three of the positions are filled—all with seniors. Hypolite and Nicholas will be your defensive tackles, with Maurice Lucas at one defensive end position.
"With the older guys, the seniors, it’s probably as I expected," said defensive line coach Romeo Bandison. "(Maurice Lucas) is probably one of the most improved I think. George (Hypolite) and Brandon (Nicholas) are steady, smart and know their stuff. There are some things we can improve on, but with those guys I’m pleased."
As for the other defensive end position? "Jason Brice has made some progress I’ve thought. Marquez Herrod is solid also," said Bandison. "I trust those guys and I feel good about them. I like all the young guys."
The loss of Jordon Dizon to the NFL and Lynn Katoa to suspension has done little to dampen the enthusiasm in Boulder about the Colorado linebacking crew. Junior Jeff Smart, who made his first career start against Miami (Ohio) in 2007 before starting every Big 12 game, is looked upon as the leader of the group.
"Anytime you spend that much time next to a guy (Dizon) in practice and meetings, you kind of start figuring out what he did and what you need to do," said Coach Hawkins about Smart. "They (Dizon and Smart) have similar styles. They’re kind of a similar size and similar speed."
The other returning starter in the linebacker position is Brad Jones. Jones led the Buffs in the first scrimmage with 14 tackles (no other Buff had more than eight).
"I was just trying to make plays, play hard and read the offense," said Jones of his performance. "From a defensive standpoint it was a little sloppy, but that was to be expected. We did some things that made me say ‘wow’—there were some really impressive plays by our defense."
Second in tackles for the defense in the second scrimmage was Michael Sipili, returning from his season-long 2007 suspension. Sipili had eight tackles, including two tackles for loss, a sack, and a fumble recovery.
Leading the balanced attack for the defense in the second scrimmage were three linebackers. Juniors Marcus Burton and Shaun Mohler, and sophomore Michael Sipili all had seven tackles on the afternoon, while redshirt freshman Tyler Ahles and freshman Douglas Rippy chipped in six tackles apiece.
Are we any closer to a set lineup at linebacker? "I think it’s a work in progress," said linebackers coach Brian Cabral. "I think (Jeff) Smart is on top of his game and (Michael) Sipili is coming along. After that, there is a lot of work to be done. I’ve got a three-deep right now, and I’ve just got to see how all that falls out."
"I’m looking to be All-Big 12 this year," said sophomore cornerback Jimmy Smith during the second week of practice. "That’s my goal."
Lofty ambitions for a cornerback who has yet to start a college game. Still, the Buffs’ coaches were not discouraging Smith from being confident.
"It’s Jimmy’s time. It’s time for him to step up to the plate," said CU secondary coach Greg Brown. "He has been blessed with a tremendous set of tools. He has height and an arm span that any corner would envy."
At present, Jimmy Smith remains second on the depth chart behind senior Gardner McKay for the starting left cornerback position, with redshirt freshman Anthony Wright also in the mix. On the left side, junior Cha’pelle Brown and sophomore Jalil Brown are competing for the starting role.
"The competition is fierce this year," said Smith. "It’s really good competition and everybody is making plays every day, so everybody is in the mix right now."
As convoluted as the cornerback position is at CU, the safety position is seemingly equally as settled. Seniors Ryan Walters and Daniel Dykes return, though redshirt freshman Anthony Perkins and true freshmen Vince Ewing and Patrick Mahnke cannot be completely discounted.
"It’s so important to have that experience out there," said Walters. "Just knowing what you are doing and knowing the scheme and the concepts of the defense allows you to play a lot faster."
On the Buffs’ defense giving up 304 yards passing and four touchdowns (and no interceptions) in the first scrimmage? "That will improve," said Walters. "It’s early in camp and people’s legs are a little wobbly right now. We’ll work through that and get that little half step here and there to make the play."
Did things improve in the second scrimmage? Well, not by the numbers. On August 11, the Buffs’ defense gave up 24 receptions for 304 yards passing and four touchdowns. On August 17, the numbers were 421 yards on 32 receptions and four touchdowns.
The scrimmage did run about 35 plays longer on Sunday, but those were still some high numbers put up by the Colorado offense.
What say you, Greg Brown? "We’re making progress," said the CU defensive backs coach, "but we didn’t have a lot of big plays in the scrimmage today. We’re far from being where we need to be two weeks from now."
Sophomore cornerback Jalil Brown did have two interceptions on the afternoon, but even that positive stat came with an asterisk. "It (the first interception) was a zone play," said Brown, "and actually a few plays before we were in the same zone and I was out of position and they hit Scotty for a catch."
Anything we can hold onto as a positive? "...At least we’re blessed that we do have two veteran safeties back who make proper calls and get everyone lined up," said Brown.
On special teams, the Buffs received a bad break (no pun intended) when Jason Espinoza, a redshirt freshman who was being counted on as one of the Buffs’ return men in 2008, fractured his collarbone during the first scrimmage. Espinoza will be out four to six weeks.
The task of handling the return chores in the first scrimmage fell to sophomore Josh Smith, who had two punt returns and two kickoff returns, and freshman Rodney Stewart, who returned one punt and three kickoffs.
Also of note in the return game in the first scrimmage was a block by freshman safety Patrick Mahnke of a Tom Suazo punt. Mahnke, a safety by trade, was one of the first commitments of the 2008 class. While in high school, Mahnke forced three fumbles, recovered eight fumbles, and blocked four kicks (three punts, one field goal).
"I think he’ll play," said Coach Hawkins of Mahnke. "Some guys I think just have a little more knack than others."
There was much excitement in the return game in the second scrimmage, as sophomore Josh Smith returned a punt 44 yards for a touchdown. Smith also had a 62-yard kickoff return. Freshman Darrell Scott made an appearance on the kickoff return team, returning two—one for 50 yards, the other for 37.
I’ll leave head coach Dan Hawkins the last word before the season gets underway.
"I think (the team’s improvement during fall practice) is because our guys do an awesome job of doing what the coaches ask," said Hawkins. "There is a lot of ground to cover before we tee it up, but we’ll get there. But now it’s a case of really starting to look at the details."
So there you go. Previews and reviews are over—it’s time to "tee it up"! Go Buffs!
As always, for the latest news on the CU Buffs, log on to http://cuatthegame.com
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