Markques Simas catches this TD pass, but was called for offensive interference on Vince Ewing. Photo by Cliff Grassmick
So I have reviewed both the offensive line and defensive backs, two positions that make me giddy of a possible change in the win-loss column in 2009. I guess I should sprinkle in some reasons that may signal the Buffs aren't quite ready, in my opinion, to get to ten wins, as was claimed by our fearless head coach in Dan Hawkins. Love the optimism but two groups on offense might put a damper on that projected goal unless a few things break the Buffs way. One of those groups is the wide receivers. CU fans have been craving a complete package receiver around these parts for a few years now, someone who can consistently be the go to guy while displaying the ability to take it to the house...basically, a playmaker, a difference maker. Before going into spring camp, the Buffs were incredibly thin at wide receiver. The four scholarship players on the roster were:
- Scotty McKnight (5'11" 185 Jr.), the ultimate possession slot receiver whose work ethic put him in a position to be the leading receiver the last two years for the Buffs. In 2009, he had 46 receptions for 516 yards and 5 touchdowns. To put some perspective into last year's offense, McKnight averaged 43.3 yards per game (team leader), good for 27th in the BIG 12! Oklahoma and Texas Tech had four wide receivers finish in the top 25. Even Texas A&M had two receivers in the top 20. It is fairly obvious to say that 10 wins and no excuses won't become a reality unless the passing game takes a huge and monumental leap into the next level.
- Josh Smith (6'0" 190 Jr.) plagued by inconsistency and injury through his first two years, Smith is one of the few players on the offensive side of the ball who you can call "electric." It sounds like injuries were the big reason for his lack of participation (and the cause of much frustration to see him standing on the sideline) last year. Smith was unbelievable in the all-purpose game in 2008 but every fan is waiting for that day when it all seems to click for Smith, sort of like this entire team. Smith is a microcosm of the whole squad. Full of potential, ready to make a name in the Big 12 but young, inconsistent and plagued by injuries. If healthy and things click, he can be really good...sounds like a diagnosis for the entire team.
-Markques Simas (6'2" 200 So.) - the anointed savior of the wide receiver corp before he ever played a meaningful game or had the means to academically qualify. That is a scary and dangerous situation for any football team. So much is going to be put on the shoulders of this kid in 2009. All we heard about in 2008 was how Simas was tearing things up on the scout team, how he was the real deal, how he had that potential we were all looking for. Can't really say much about him before spring, he was like an urban legend, only seeing him in limited practice time where the ineligible tag was attached to him. That didn't stop me from amping the importance of Simas before spring practice started:
WR Markques Simas - (things we hope to say after spring practice is over) us fans have patiently waited for a wide receiver who can consistently turn an out route into a 65 yard touchdown. Seriously, the last five years the Buffs have been led in receiving by the following players: McKnight (twice), Geer, Judge and Mackey...doesn't exactly send fear into the eye of the Big 12 defensive backfields. Simas showed this spring that he can be the most elite wide out the Buffs have had the last half dozen years. He has had answered the call in the classroom, passing all of his classes. 583 is the most yards a wideout has had in the last five years, Simas' performance this spring leads us to believe that 583 would be a failure in 2009.
-Chance Blackmon (6'1" 180 RFr) - another wild card. Most saw him as a true freshman in the fall of 2008 and it was evident he need a year at the college cafeteria and a full time trainer. He was thin enough to think one of our quarterbacks may break his wrist with a pass. It was well documented that he was going to be coach Kiesau's projects this spring.
That is the four full-ride wide receivers we had going into camp this spring. Walk on Jason Espinoza (5'8" 175 So.) had a good enough offseason as a freshman to be in contention for kick return specialist before breaking his collarbone twice during the season.
The next anointed savior of the wide receiver corp before ever stepping on a division one football field or qualifying for CU was Andre Simmons (6'3" 210 Jr.), a four star junior college transfer that picked the Buffs on a signing day surprise, the only real positive one on February 4th. Simmons did a commendable thing by picking the Buffs over Kansas State considering the rigorous academic gauntlet he now faces instead of easily qualifying. Simmons probably also saw an immediate chance to be a main, if not, the main target in 2009 for the Buffs. He has everything we need, a big frame, speed, playmaking ability but we have seen the academic issues for junior college transfers getting the nod from the Colorado admissions office.
Even if Simmon's qualifies, the Buffs will still probably need to rely on incoming freshmen Jarrod Darden and Terdema Ussery, both tall wideouts who had injury issues their senior year of high school but both full of talent. Coach Eric Kiesau was going to have his hands full in trying to get Simmons,Darden, Ussery and Blackmon ready to participate.
Before spring practice you were looking at this list and saying, "one injury, one suspension, one anything that prohibits one of these four scholarship players from playing, the Buffs are in some serious depth problems."
Post Spring Thoughts:
Well, a few things happened this spring that changed the shape of the position. First of all, Chance Blackmon, probably fourth on the depth chart but still expected to play a role in 2009, left the team for personal reasons that was a surprise to the coaches and players.
Buffs down to three scholarship players for spring after the first few days of practice.
Now your thinking about what if one more receiver gets injured? Scotty McKnight showed us enough to get scared about that prospect. The Buffs leading wideout the last two years was held out of the back end of spring workouts due to torn triceps.
Buffs down to two scholarship players for spring practice.
Due to the shortage of wide receivers, Dan Hawkins and Co. have been active in trying to get a wide receiver. First they brought in a Stanley Jean Baptiste, a 6'3" 190 pound wideout from North Carolina Tech Prep. Baptiste would be able to suit up next year, something that made Buff fans happy at the time. But his visit was 29 or so days ago and we have heard nothing. Then came the news of Michigan transfer, Toney Clemons. He is 6'3" 201 pounds and was highly ranked coming out of high school in 2007. Sometime in early May, Toney Clemons was visiting Cincinnati and UConn as well. We should expect a decision by the end of May. Clemons wouldn't be able to contribute until 2010. From our perspective, it would be nice to get a good player in for 2009 to provide depth at the position but I think the coaches are feeling that it is hard to find that kind of contributor this late in the process. You also throw in that APR academic news we had this week and you realize that the Buffs are extremely close to losing scholarships so they must be careful in how they use them.
In a coaching move, former offensive coordinator, Mark Helfrich, took a widely discussed position at Oregon to be their glorified quarterback's coach. Dan Hawkins tabbed former wide receivers and assistant head coach, Eric Kiesau to take the reins of one of the worst offenses in the Big 12 the last three years. Many fans liked the change, it can't get worse right? Many were also apprehensive due to the timing. I think we all fall into that category. We all would have wished that Oregon and Helfrich would have done all of this hoopla before spring practice started so Hawkins and Kiesau could adjust through practice. Now we wait for fall for Kiesau to get all of his quarterback techniques, plays, etc. in before the first regular season game.
As for the play on the field this spring, Jason Espinoza led the Buffs in receiving yardage (7 for 154) the first scrimmage (Josh Smith 0 receptions, Markques Simas 3 - 47). The second scrimmage another walk-on in Kyle Cefalo (4 - 66) led the team in receiving (Josh Smith DNP, Markques Simas 4 - 32). Tab Jason Espinoza for the spring game leader as well grabbing three balls for 81 yards (Smith 1 - 29, Simas 2 - 20).
I am not going to judge too much from spring practices, fall will be a better indicator of the overall talent when McKnight and Smith are both healthy, Andre Simmons hopefully is admitted and the freshmen get into town. I also think a new offensive coordinator will hopefully breath some life into a stagnant passing game the last few years. That is what we have to believe in right now, that things will get better with time, the influx of new talent and a new coach.
All I know is we need Josh Smith and Markques Simas to get it going. Like I said above, Smith is a playmaker and an extreme talent but it hasn't all come full circle. Nothing in spring led me to believe it has come yet. Still great in kick returns, this offense needs to involve Smith and sitting on the sideline will not work this year if the Buffs want to become more prolific on offense.
As for Markques Simas, we will see. He still has a lot to show and we won't know until gameday how the coaches utilize him and if they trust him. I saw a few things during spring practice to tell me that Simas has a ways to go to earn that respect from the guys calling the shots, they are still trying to motivate him and have him visualize what he could be.
Scotty McKnight (torn triceps) - should be back for fall
Player(s) Who Emerged:
Uh...not Smith or Simas, both would have been eligible for a player that needed to emerge but it was really Jason Espinoza who proved to be the most consistent pass receiver all spring. Countless times you heard coaches yell "good job Espy." He certainly worked his way into contention for a lot of playing time in 2009.
See above regarding the idea of holding off on making any conclusions until fall. I didn't see anything too spectacular from the group that makes me think we have three solid and consistent receivers.Also not to be forgotten, improved quarterback play will also have an exponential impact on the receiving core. I do know that coach Kiesau will have his hands full in trying to maximize the quarterback and receiver positions in 2009 as the new offensive coordinator.