Running Game Impresses in 2009 Spring Game

Ralphie gets some exercise in the 2009 CU spring game on Saturday. Photo: Cliff Grassnick

So the spring game has come and gone, I watched the first half and then got a call saying the Broncos had a deal for Mark Sanchez at five with the Browns and ran to a nearby bar to see, I had to. I saw what I needed to see at the game today and that was too much potential Bronco drama to pass up. I should have stayed at the game, though, as I am very underwhelmed at the Denver Broncos draft. Yes, I am a die-hard Bronco fan and not happy today.

First and foremost, never use a spring game as the final predictor for the year. Not to downplay things but in the first half, I hardly ever saw Simas and Smith on the field at the same time. If that happens in the season, I will be shocked. Its situational, it's practice, it's still trying to learn what you have. That being said, we are here to give an opinion and yes, I have one.

So, I usually start these things with my concerns, especially on a day when a guy named Ayers is the only front seven player drafted to fix the Broncos. Defensive line was troubling today, as expected. I love what the Buffs did in the 3-4 bringing linebackers off the edge and up the middle but nobody on the defensive line stood out in the pass rush or run defense. Many times Bryan Lockridge, Rodney Stewart and Darrell Scott were able to bounce it to the perimeter, something that falls on the linebacker's shoulder as well, but was met with little resistance up front. Again, you can't judge the 535 yards of offense and say the defense is horrible because of the mixture of packages but no one on the defensive line impressed. 

I won't go into the issues at wide receiver because we know they are there. My big question mark is the offensive staff's ability to get the ball to playmakers this season. You can't judge them in spring ball because "they supposedly are showing vanilla" but the 2009 season is fair game. We need to feature our playmakers whether it is Josh Smith, Markques Simas, Darrell Scott, Brian Lockridge etc. A combined three catches for Simas & Smith just won't get it done this year. The offensive coordinator, whoever he may be, has to find Darrell Scott in the flats, the tight ends over the middle (only two catches today total, disappointing) and Josh Smith & Markques Simas, where they need to be on the field at the same time. I am sorry but Josh Smith is a playmaker, plain and simple, look at his kickoff returns. Get the ball in his hands, feature him & Simas and go. This game is about making plays.

And then their are the quarterbacks. Tyler Hansen broke his finger in the third quarter which will require surgery and put him out until June. Hoping for a speedy recovery and that we find someone to work in offseason drills since we only have one quarterback left. Again, Cody Hawkins made it clear he was the man to beat. Both had moments, both looked very, very mediocre at times but Cody seems to react a second quicker than Hansen does. The offense just seems in more control with Cody out there. Hansen's feet are great but he almost uses it too much and it makes him slightly apprehensive. The more mobile Hansen was sacked four times today compared to one for Hawkins. You have to take what you get with both, that is all we have, mix some of the bad with the good. Each QB leaves a little more to be desired but it is what it is. Cody will be the starter at the start of the season, I will be shocked if he is not. He has looked better all spring, like usual. Plain and simple, to offset the deficiencies at quarterback and wide receiver, the offensive line and running game need to be great and they both showed glimpses today.

I thought every other defensive and offensive unit looked good, that is those who were on the first team. Let me start with the running backs, who answered my call of getting more than 4.0 ypc, led by Darrell Scott and Demetrius Sumler. Boy, did Scott show power today. He sometimes has a little apprehension in his first 1 to 2 steps when he gets the ball but he is so strong and talented. Whether its a kick return or a run, he is hard to bring down. I was very impressed with his power. A few times today he showed his ability to bounce to the outside (that was easy today against our defensive line), give a good stiff arm and roll. The hype is officially back for Darrell Scott, if it had ever gone away. All the running backs did well today but Scott's team leading 15 carries for 90 yards shows he is the man for the job in 2009. Again, I am hoping they get the ball to Scott more in the passing game. He has great hands and this offense needs to utilize the pass catching skills out of the backfield. Stewart had some good, shifty runs, like usual. Sumler ran over people and again, caught the ball well out of the backfield. Lockridge noticed you can bounce it outside on our front four and scored. Our running backs are impressive and this competition at offensive line and at tailback is only going to make this team better. It is great for the wear and tear of the season that Darian Hagan can shuffle in four guys and not see a considerable drop off. This is going to be a fresh squad all year long.

Same goes for the first team offensive line. I have no complaints. They weren't exactly facing an elite defensive line but they held their own up front in many ways. Picking up blitzes and stunts will come with experience as a few times today Marcus Burton and B.J. Beatty were able to apply pressure but for the most part, the offensive line did their job. Remember they are learning new technique from Denver Johnson but the progress they have made as a unit from the first scrimmage to the spring game is evident. When that first team offensive line trots out onto the field, you can see the fruits of Hawkins' recruiting paying off. Those are some big, talented boys.

I was also impressed with LB's B.J. Beatty, Michael Sipili, Doug Rippy and Marcus Burton today. Rippy looks great in the 3 - 4, he still has to gain experience but he reminds me of a Pittsburgh Steeler edge rusher with his size and speed. The more time he has, the better he will be. B.J. Beatty and Marcus Burton did their best work out of the 3 - 4 and provided the only pass rush of the day. Burton answered my question about being able to run sideline to sideline and his size in the middle, especially if the 3 - 4 sticks, is going to be a huge attribute. Beatty and Burton were the linebackers who stuck out the most today. Sipili also had some pops in there, taking on running backs at the line of scrimmage or dropping into coverage. The leaner, quicker Sip is showing those skills that got us excited a couple years ago. A lot of pressure will be on this unit in 2009. They are going to have to be strong in every facet of the game including the pass rush to make up for the defensive line. Right now, Colorado's hand looks to be forced into a 3 - 4 front which is fine by me. It also looks like the the linebackers worked on their coverage skills after the tight ends had a hay day in the first spring scrimmage. The tight ends had a measley two receptions, which shows improvement by the linebackers but at the same time, makes me frustrated that the tight ends didn't make another big splash in the offensive scheme.

Overall, it was a good way to end the spring. No major issues, Hansen will heal and be back before we know it. Like was mentioned in a fanpost, if it had to happen, now is the best time. I do have to say I see some progress from last year at this time. More speed at running back and depth at cornerback, offensive line, tight end and linebacker. There are obviously some glaring holes that will probably make 10 wins out of reach, but who knows, I think the progress is their, now it is time to continue to develop this offseason, staying away from injuries and off-the-field incidents.

Go Buffs!

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