Colorado Spring Football: First Two Scrimmage Reports

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Colorado Spring Football: First Two Scrimmage Reports
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Second Scrimmage – Saturday, April 2

Second Scrimmage – Behind the numbers

“There are three kinds of lies: lies; damned lies; and statistics." This is a phrase widely attributed to Benjamin Desraeli and popularized by Mark Twain.

The phrase certainly holds true when reviewing the numbers from an intra-squad scrimmage, and a spring one at that. For every celebration over a long touchdown pass, there is consternation over a blown coverage by the secondary; for every sack, there is a missed assignment by an offensive lineman.

Still, as the 2011 Buffs have been under wraps for the past few weeks, a look under the hood of Jon Embree’s team is certainly called for after the team completed No. 11 of 15 allotted practices.

 

Quarterbacks

While head coach Jon Embree wouldn’t agree that Tyler Hansen was “clearly” the choice for starting quarterback in September, Hansen’s numbers—and those of his competitors—suggest otherwise.

True, Hansen’s 18-for-19 performance was against a depleted defensive line and a secondary missing both of its likely starters at safety, but Nick Hirschman and Brent Burnette went up against much of the same personnel, with significantly different numbers. Hirschman went 4-of-11 for 27 yards, while Burnette went one-for-five for eight yards. Hansen threw for 246 yards and three touchdowns; Hirschman/Burnette threw for 35 yards and no scores (in just three fewer passes).

Buff defenders managed four sacks on the afternoon, all against Hirschman. Hansen was not sacked and did not take off running with the ball, carrying the ball only twice on the afternoon (once for 13 yards, the other for two yards). All together, Hirschman/Burnette were in for eight drives, netting two touchdowns. In Hansen’s seven drives, the offense scored six touchdowns (three drives for 70 yards, the other three in red-zone drives started at the 20-yard line).

“If it’s still like this at the end of the spring, yeah, we’ll go with Tyler,” said Embree. “If Tyler continues like he has, and Nick doesn’t pick it up a little bit, Tyler will be the No. 1."

I appreciate Embree’s diplomacy. However, barring injury or a very strange summer, Tyler Hansen will be the starter in Honolulu.

 

Running backs

Senior Rodney Stewart had the fifth-best season in Colorado history last year, rushing for 1,318 yards. Stewart is the No. 1 running back, and he did little to dissuade anyone from that conclusion during the second scrimmage, when Speedy carried the ball 11 times for 48 yards and three touchdowns (Stewart also had five catches and another receiving touchdown).

The more interesting story goes to who will serve as Stewart’s primary backup. With senior running back Brian Lockridge out for the spring as his ankle mends, red-shirt freshman Tony Jones has become a fan favorite. The 2009 Gatorade Player-of-the-Year in New Jersey, Jones had to sit out last year, waiting for his turn.

“I felt sick to my stomach not playing, seeing all the guys having fun, seeing Speedy run for touchdowns and me just being on the sidelines cheering him on and wishing I was playing,” said Jones. “But you know everything happens for a reason, and I’m pretty grateful that I red-shirted last season and played scout team and got the feel of the college level.”

Jones rushed for a team-best 76 yards on 13 carries in the first scrimmage of the spring, and had 11 carries for 60 yards and a touchdown in the April 2 scrimmage. “Tony Jones is doing very well,” Embree said earlier this week. “He is starting to show up. He needs to get stronger, but he has a knack of finding the hole and the seam. The other thing is he’s protecting the football. Don’t ever take that for granted.”

The other back trying to get into the discussion is Josh Ford. A sophomore walk-on, Ford was a star at Mullen High before signing with Kansas State. After a year with the Wildcats (and Barton Community College), Ford is trying to make his way into the Buffs’ rotation. Ford had 60 yards on only five carries in the April 2 scrimmage. Even taking out his impressive 39-yard run, Ford had 21 yards in his other four carries, still over five yards per tote.

The fullbacks remain a work in progress, though former linebackers Tyler Ahles and Evan Harrington are getting good reviews. With the fullbacks, you can lump in red-shirt freshman Cordary Allen, the biggest of the tailbacks (6′1″, 225 pounds), who may become a short-yardage specialist for the Buffs. In the second scrimmage, Allen had four carries for 17 yards and a touchdown.

 

Wide receivers / Tight Ends

For now at least, it appears that the Colorado receiving corps is sophomore Paul Richardson—and everybody else. Richardson continues to impress, hauling in four passes for 85 yards on April 2, including a 58-yard touchdown pass from Hansen.

After Richardson, though, there are question marks, and head coach Jon Embree has complained throughout much of the spring about a lack of production amongst the receivers. Senior Toney Clemons sat out the second spring scrimmage, and junior Will Jefferson had only one catch (albeit for 45 yards and a touchdown). Walk-on senior Kyle Cefalo had the second-best day on April 2, catching three balls for 53 yards, including a 33-yarder.

Perhaps it is due to a recognized lack of depth and talent at the wide receiver position that the Colorado coaches may yet bring in a receiver or two before the start of the 2011 season. Georgia transfer Logan Gray will be in Boulder for the spring game, with one season of eligibility remaining. Also coming to Boulder is Thomas Carter from Cajon High in California.

Carter has not received any scholarship offers (due to academic concerns, which have since been rectified), telling BuffaloSportsNews.net, “They said when I come out there and meet the coach, if he likes me, then they will offer me a scholarship.” (More on Gray and Carter in the “Recruiting Prospects – 2012” section of CU at the Game).

At tight end, however, things are looking up. Senior Ryan Deehan is starting to look like the four-star prospect he was out of high school (three catches for 39 yards on April 2), while sophomore DaVaughn Thornton (four catches for 33 yards) is looking to make his own mark. “This spring is like a breath of fresh air,” said Thornton. “I will be on the field way more than I was last year. I will still make plays in practice, and the difference will be that I’ll also be out on the field in Folsom making plays.”

 

Offensive Line

Even without the likely starting center (Mike Iltis, out for all of spring practice), and a potential backup at center (Daniel Munyer, excused to attend his sister’s wedding), the Colorado offensive line did well in the second scrimmage. The Buffs managed 173 yards rushing and 454 yards of total offense.

The Colorado quarterbacks were sacked four times (Hirschman was the victim all four times), but otherwise had a good afternoon. When asked about Hansen’s 18-for-19 day, wide receiver Paul Richardson replied, “A big part of that is our offensive line, giving him enough time to make his reads and deliver the ball.”

 

Defensive Line

The flipside of that same coin is that—if the Colorado offensive line had a good day, it must mean that the Colorado defensive line fared poorly.

Considering that the Buffs, due to injuries, were down to three defensive tackles and 2 1/2 defensive ends (red-shirt freshman Kirk Poston played despite a sore ankle), the line did give up many big plays. Of the Buffs’ 34 rushes, only one went for over 20 yards. Conrad Obi, who has earned the praise of Jon Embree, had seven tackles on April 2, including three tackles-for-loss, a sack and a third-down stop. Helping out on the defensive line was senior walk-on Tony Poremba, who contributed five tackles, two tackles-for-loss and a sack. Eric Richter, a converted offensive lineman, chipped in four tackles of his own.

Hopefully, two or three of the walking wounded—Curtis Cunningham, Nate Bonsu, Forrest West and Nick Kasa—will be available for the Spring game and will give a better representation of what the Buff Nation can expect from the defensive line this fall.

 

Linebackers

After losing two starters from the 2010 team, the linebackers are in rebuilding mode. Fortunately for Buff fans, the lone holdover from the Dan Hawkins staff is long-time linebackers coach Brian Cabral. Starter Jon Major returns, along with long-time contributor Doug Rippy. In the second scrimmage, Rippy had seven tackles—including a tackle-for-loss—while Major contributed four tackles, which included two tackles-for-loss, one sack and a third down stop.

Sophomores Derrick Webb and Liloa Nobriga have been out, so this is another unit which has yet to realize its full potential.

 

Secondary

Yes, this is a problem area.

And yes, it will get better before September.

While it is true that Hansen put up a ridiculous passer rating of 255.6 (18-for-19, 246 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions), it is also true that Nick Hirschman and Brent Burnette also took their shots against the Colorado secondary and went a combined 5-for-16 for 35 yards.

It is also important to remember that three potential starters – senior safety Anthony Perkins, junior safety Vince Ewing, and sophomore nickel back Parker Orms – are all out for the spring.

Sophomore Jered Bell has received the most lukewarm praise from Jon Embree, being called the “most consistent” of the defensive backs, but it clear that this unit has a great deal of work to do before fall. Transfer cornerback (from Georgia) Makiri Pugh was supposed to have an immediate impact this spring after sitting out last season, but that has yet to take place. Senior Jonathan Hawkins has had his moments, as have a a trio of sophomores—Paul Vigo, Terrel Smith and Deji Olatoye—but none have had a break-out spring.

Defensive coordinator and secondary coach Greg Brown has had to “make do” before with even less talent than he has on hand now, but the secondary will remain a question mark into the fall. Five defensive backs will hit Boulder in August—Sherrard Harrington, Greg Henderson, Kyle Washington, Jermaine Clark and Will Harlos. If the existing players are not able to improve, and/or the injured players do not come back full strength and full throttle, it could be a long fall for the Colorado secondary.

 

Kickers

There was no punting or extra points attempted during the second scrimmage.

Jon Embree did, however, allow sophomore Justin Castor eight opportunities at field goals, and …

… Castor was good on six of those.

Okay, it’s not exactly time to break out the champagne over finding a consistent kicker, but it’s a start. Castor was good on six kicks ranging from 31 to 43 yards, with his only two misses coming from 43 and 45 yards out.

Sure, those are not Mason Crosby numbers, but bear this in mind—during the second scrimmage last spring, the two kickers (Zach Grossnickle and Marcus Kirkwood) went a combined one-for-six in their field goal attempts.

Note: There have been posts that Zach Grossnickle was punting off to the side of the scrimmage, and Grossnickle had a few punts over the bubble on Saturday (thanks, Nic, for that info).

For comparison’s sake… Last spring, after the second scrimmage of the 2010 spring practices, my article was entitled “Second Scrimmage Report – In a word: Offensive." During last season’s second scrimmage, the offense failed to score a point until the ball was placed at the five-yard line. Despite the horrendous effort by the offensive unit, CU fans got this:

“Kiesau’s final comment will likely send shivers down the spines of many in the Buff Nation: ‘I like the way (Cody Hawkins and Tyler Hansen) are playing.’”

Baby steps, my friends. Baby steps… but we’re getting there.

 

Hansen asserts himself in second scrimmage

For those who understand how passer ratings are figured, break out your calculator.

Senior quarterback Hansen went 18-for-19 in the second scrimmage of the spring, going for 246 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. That’s about as close to perfection as you can get for a quarterback.

Stats

The one-hour, 16-minute scrimmage covered over 82 plays. Complete stats sheet

 

Passing

Tyler Hansen – 18-for-19, 246 yards and three touchdowns

Nick Hirschman – 4-for-11 for 27 yards

Brent Burnette – 1-for-5 for 8 yards

 

Rushing

Tony Jones – 11-for-60 yards and one touchdown

Rodney Stewart – 11-for-48 yards and three touchdowns

Cordary Allen – 4-for-17 yards and one touchdown

Josh Ford – 5-for-60 yards

 

Receiving

Paul Richardson – 4-for-85 yards and one touchdown (a 57-yarder)

Rodney Stewart – 5-for-6 yards and one touchdown (a six-yarder)

DaVaughn Thornton (TE) – 4-for-33 yards

Ryan Deehan (TE) – 3-for-39 yards

Kyle Cefalo – 3-for-53 yards

Will Jefferson – 1-for-45 yards and a touchdown

 

Jon Embree Quotes – April 2 scrimmage

On Tyler Hansen – “He did a good job of placing the ball. I thought his accuracy was pretty good for the most part. He made a couple of throws on the deep ball, so I was encouraged”

On Nick Hirschman – “He’s doing well. He’s doing better. I just want him to be more assertive; to be more aggressive. I think he needs to trust himself more. He hasn’t turned it loose.”

On whether Hansen is clearly the stater – “I wouldn’t say ’clearly’ yet. I’m going to evaluate this through […] If it’s still like this at the end of the spring, yeah, we’ll go with Tyler […] If Tyler continues like he has, and Nick doesn’t pick it up a little bit, Tyler will be the No. 1."

On perhaps running fewer plays due to a lack of healthy defensive linemen – “We were sensitive to that," said Embree, noting that there were only three defensive tackles and “2 1/2″ defensive ends, with Kirk Poston playing despite a sprained ankle. 

On the play of the defense overall – “I was disappointed in the defense from the standpoint that we didn’t have enough energy and enthusiasm. That’s 90 percent of defense, just being excited about being out there and having some energy when you’re running around out there hitting people. We were just going through the motions, feeling sorry for ourselves.”

On the plans for the coaches between the second scrimmage and the Spring game – “We need to get better at tackling; our corners need to be better tackling […] From an offensive standpoint, continuing to install our passes.”

After noting that the coaches may only install about 30 percent of the offense this spring, and whether Colorado could go into the season with less than a full playbook – “My philosophy: It doesn’t matter what we (the coaches) know. It’s what they (the players) know, what they can do.” 

 

Tyler Hansen Quotes – April 2 scrimmage

On learning the new offense, of which only 30 percent is installed – “It’s going to take a lot of studying; a lot of preparation. It’ll be fun. Every week we’ll have different plays … This summer’s going to be very important for all of us.”

On competing with Nick Hirschman – “I still have to compete every day. Whether it’s with Nick or myself, I still have to compete.”

On what Hirschman has to do better – “He’s thinking too much. You’ve just got to relax and play what you see. If your read is a middle backer, read the middle backer. Just relax.”

On playing well as an offense on April 2 – “The offense was efficient today, but we’re not going against all of the 1’s […] yet. Yeah, we did great, but we have to take it with a grain of salt.”

 

Paul Richardson Quotes – April 2 scrimmage

On whether his success on the field is “easy” for him: “I wouldn’t say that it’s easy. I’m just truly blessed and gifted […] I just try and make it look as easy as possible. But a lot of this stuff is challenging.”

On Tyler Hansen’s big day: “A big part of that is our offensive line, giving him enough time to make his reads, and deliver the ball.”

 

Inactive List

In addition to the players who are out for all of spring practice—tight end Matt Bahr, offensive lineman Blake Behrens, center Mike Iltis and offensive lineman Max Tuioti-Mariner—there were a number of players who were inactive for the April 2 scrimmage: center Daniel Munyer (excused for his sister’s wedding), defensive end Nick Kasa, defensive tackle Nate Bonsu, defensive end Forrest West, linebacker Derrick Webb, wide receiver Jason Espinoza, wide receiver Toney Clemons, running back Brian Lockridge, safety Anthony Perkins, defensive tackle Curtis Cunningham, nickel back Parker Orms and safety Vince Ewing.

As you can see, head coach Jon Embree wasn’t kidding about having to be “sensitive” to the lack of defensive linemen, with Curtis Cunningham, Nick Kasa, Nate Bonsu and Forrest West all unavailable for the April 2 scrimmage.

 

First Scrimmage – Thursday, March 17

Stats from first scrimmage

The Buffs, in their final practice before spring break, conducted an 86-play, game-like scrimmage. There were no kickoffs or punts, and the offense started each drive on the 30-yard line. Some numbers from the scrimmage:

 

Passing:

Tyler Hansen – 13-of-19; 161 yards. One touchdown; no interceptions

Nick Hirschman – 7-of-13; 77 yards. One touchdown; no interceptions

Brent Burnette – 5-of-12; 52 yards. One touchdown; no interceptions

 

Rushing:

Tony Jones: 13 for 76 yards

Josh Ford: 8 for 40 yards

Rodney Stewart: 10 for 23 yards

Cordary Allen: 4 for 12 yards

 

Receiving:

Rodney Stewart: 5 for 48 yards

Ryan Deehan: 4 for 49 yards

DaVaughn Thornton: 2 for 49 yards

Josh Ford: 2 for 23 yards

Jason Espinoza: 2 for 20 yards

Paul Richardson: 2 for 18 yards

Will Jefferson: 1 for 12 yards and a touchdown

Alex Wood: 1 for nine yards and a touchdown

Keenan Canty: 1 for four yards and a touchdown

 

Tackles:

Doug Rippy: 15 tackles; 10 solo; two tackles for loss

Conrad Obi: nine tackles; eight solo; three for loss (one sack)

Patrick Mahnke: six tackles; four solo; two quarterback hurries

Overall, the offense rushed for 189 yards on 39 carries. There were five total penalties, and the defense had four sacks.

 

Player Notes – First Scrimmage

- In lieu of extra points, the field goal team was brought in. Sophomore kicker Justin Castor had eight attempts from between 32 and 47 yards, making only three.

- Injury notes: Senior wide receiver Toney Clemons did not participate in the scrimmage due to a hamstring injury. Clemons is expected to be back on the practice fields after spring break … Senior offensive lineman Shawn Daniels, who has been out since fracturing his foot in the Colorado State game, will be back to practicing after spring break. Daniels had been listed as “full go” before the start of spring practices, but his participation was limited during the first week … Sophomore linebacker Derrick Webb was seen on crutches, but did not have a cast or a boot, so the speculation is that the injury is relatively minor, and that Webb will be back after the spring break layoff.

- Senior quarterback Hansen, who appears to have the early lead for the starting job (see story, below), was not sacked, while Hirschman and Brent Burnette were each sacked twice. “In previous years the defense was way ahead of the offense early during the spring, but this year is kind of different,” said Hansen. “I feel like today especially, the offense got after it a little bit. We ran the ball really well, and I feel like we took it to the defense a little bit.”

- Sophomore tight end DaVaughn Thornton has been playing well this week. “DaVaughn is the kind of guy whose going to give us some flexibility,” said Jon Embree. “Because he can play, obviously, flex out, he can move, and he can play as an end line guy. As he gets stronger and a little more confident in our offense, more of his talent will come out.”

- Senior defensive lineman Conrad Obi continues to have a good spring. In the Thursday scrimmage, Obi had nine tackles (eight solo), with three tackles for loss and a sack. In the last two seasons, Thursday’s effort would have constituted a year’s worth of work. As a red-shirt freshman in 2008, Obi was on the field for all of 12 plays. The number went up to 23 snaps the following year, with a grand total of 64 snaps (and four tackles) in 2010. “I want to do big things this year,” Obi told BuffStampede.com. “It is not to say I have ever come out here to play mediocre, I have always put in the effort. But this is my last year, last chance. I am going to give it my all, and we’ll see how things fall. That is all I can do.

“There are so many stories out there like Josh Hartigan (who went from backup linebacker to second team all-conference defensive in one year), guys who rise up and meet their potential,” said Obi. “There are so many stories out there like that … I want to be all-conference, and I really believe I can get that done. I’m putting in the work; I am putting in the time.”

While Obi would be considered a backup to starters Will Pericak and Curtis Cunningham heading into the 2011 season, Obi isn’t daunted by his lack of playing time in the past. “New coaches, new opportunity this spring,” said Obi. “I love it.”

 

Jon Embree Quotes – First Scrimmage

On the progress of the Colorado running game, which produced 189 yards on 39 carries: “I was very pleased with how well we ran the ball. We’re starting to establish our physical nature … You’d like to be around 250-275 (yards rushing), so there is work to do. But it’s a start.”

On the first week of practice overall: “I am glad that they are embracing the physicality and the intensity, and understanding that we have to do it. That was one of the reasons I wanted to (practice) five days in a row, just to see who really wanted to play; who was willing to put it all out there.”

On getting into pads for three practices, and conducting a scrimmage: “I think they are realizing they are not going to hurt themselves. It is okay to hit and be hit, and you are going to get up and live to tell about it … And I think they are enjoying it some, too. I think they are kind of having fun getting after each other.”

On the play of the defense in the scrimmage: “The defense was playing well early, and then we had a couple of guys get dinged, so our lack of depth showed up there, but it gave opportunities to some guys to petition, or make their case, as to why they should be a part of this thing next year.”

On what he told his players about Spring break: “I told them about Curt Koch, who was an All-American at CU and going into his senior year (1987) he was at Padre Island walking down the street and he got hit by a car, and it cost him an NFL career … Be smart. Don’t let that ‘liquid courage’ get it you and make you do stupid things. No one is exempt from something happening.”

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