The first piece of good news for this spring is the Buffs didn't have to move practices back a month to try and accommodate the wounded. If you remember last offseason, many players had surgeries that kept them on the sideline for most of the preseason drills leading up to spring ball. As of now, their are only a few notable injuries/missing players to report for spring ball. Sophomore DT Nate Bonsu (leg), redshirt freshman WR Terdema Ussery (personal injuries) and junior WR Markques Simas (suspended) are most notable players who will miss spring ball this year.
Unfortunately, there are more question marks on the offensive side of the ball this year than answers. Other than a few players here and there, many positions still need to be solidified if the Buffs have any dreams of making it to a bowl game in 2010.
As in every camp, the microscope will be on the quarterback spot, especially when you are talking about Dan Hawkins, Cody Hawkins and Tyler Hansen. Dan Hawkins has stated his son and Tyler Hansen will be battling for the 2010 starting spot and both will receive time with the starting units this spring. In year five, many would like to see stability at the position but after a 3 - 9 year, that is not the case. The most disheartening comment from the elder Hawkins is his intent to name a starter after spring ball concludes. Hopefully, Hansen starts off camp strong and earns more reps and assumes the starting role to start fall ball.
Watch out for incoming freshman QB Nick Hirschman. It is doubtful Hawkins will place a freshman at the helm considering the ever present talk regarding his job security but Hirschman has a lot of upside. He is a true student of the game, he has enrolled early at Colorado and from all accounts, he has been impressive.
The Key: Hansen assumes the starting position early, receives most of the reps come the second week of spring. Hirschman continues to progress.
We can talk about the quarterback position until we are blue in the face, but it all starts and stops this year with the offensive line. Denver Johnson and the Buffs' o-line failed to meet expectations last year, a unit that was supposed to bring a smash mouth style of offense back to Boulder with supposed talent at running back. But 2009 was a disaster. Colorado finished 113th out of 120 in rushing yards per game and 117th in sacks allowed (3.67 a game). Plain and simple, the offense wasn't able to establish the line of scrimmage. No quarterback will be successful if this sort of play continues.
Senior left tackle Nate Solder returns after an all-conference season and junior guard Ryan Miller saved his best for last in 2009 against Ndamukong Suh of Nebraska, containing the top defensive lineman a year ago. Other than that, the offensive line is wide open. Eight players vying for the three remaining spots have starting or significant playing time experience. But the question remains, is the talent there?
The three players that hopefully step up and assume the remaining spots are OT Bryce Givens (So), OG Max Tuioti-Mariner (So) and Eric Richter (Jr). Eric Richter is a transfer from junior college who early enrolled this semester. He is already the strongest offensive lineman on the team and the Buffs undoubtedly need strength at the interior. If Richter can slide into the center spot and pick of the offense, his strength would do wonders for the offensive line. Tuioti-Mariner returns from his third ACL injury in as many years. The highly touted recruit showed promise as a true freshman before tearing his ACL. If he can stay healthy, he is an upgrade at the guard spot. And then there was Bryce Givens. The sophomore had an interesting freshman year to say the least, most notably leaving the team for personal reasons during the middle of the season and some costly penalties during against that may have been the difference in the game. Givens has all the tools to be a great tackle but he still needs to add weight to his 6'6" frame and mentally, he needs to make the commitment. Expect these players to also be in the mix for playing time: OL Blake Behrens (Jr.); OG Shawn Daniels (Jr.); C Mike Iltis (Jr.); OT Ryan Dannewitz (So.) and OT Jack Harris (RFr.) C Keenan Stevens (Sr.); OG Ethan Adkins (Jr.); OL Matthew Bahr (Jr.).
The Key: Find strength in the interior of the offensive line, no injuries to Miller, MTM or Solder.
At the end of the 2009 season, the wide receiver position looked like it was the strength of the offense in 2010. It still might be the best unit but the outlook is not as bullish. With the potential career ending suspension to Junior WR Markques Simas, Michigan transfer Toney Clemons will have to make an immediate impact. Clemons was the 12th ranked receiver in the 2007 class and caught 11 passes for 105 yards as a freshman at Michigan before transferring once Rich Rodriguez came to town. If Simas is not on the team come fall, the Buffs are in a similar position compared to 2009: only Scotty McKnight has any considerable experience. The emergence of Simas at the end of last year was supposed to jump start the receivers in 2010. The 6'2" 220 pound Clemons needs to become the big play threat this offense has been missing since the departure of Josh Smith. Hopefully Clemons will be more consistent than Josh, who transferred to UCLA before last season.
Other players who need to step up if Simas is not available include Jarrod Darden (RFr), Kendrick Celestine (Jr), Andre Simmons (Sr), WR Will Jefferson (So) and Terdema Ussery (RFr). Simmons entered out of Independence Junior College a year ago with the expectation of an immediate impact but nothing materialized. Hopefully, Simmons can make some improvements this spring and get on the field come fall.
The Key: Pray Clemons is the player we think he can be, hope Simas can earn his way back.
Depth at running back will be a concern heading into the start of the season with any injury to Jr. back Rodney Stewart being a huge set back. Colorado only has three returning scholarship running backs. Yes, only three. Demetrius Sumler decided to part ways with the program this winter, highly touted recruit Darrell Scott left the program and Ray Polk's move to safety last season is the reason for the depth issue at running back. The Buffs will welcome in four 2010 recruits at running back this fall - Tony Jones, Trea Jones, Corday Clark and Justin Torres. None will be in Boulder for spring ball but some may be forced to play early, especially if Stewart cannot stay healthy, a player who has missed games in each of his first two seasons at Colorado due to injury. Stewart rushed for 804 yards on 198 carries a year ago, which ranked 5th in the Big 12.
This will be a big spring for Brian Lockridge, a running back who shows flashes of speed but for some reason, has not convinced the coaching staff to expand his duty in the offense. If Lockridge can develop into a reliable back up, it would go a long way to soldifying the position. Still, there is a void in the power running game so look for true freshmen Justin Torres (6'1" 230) and Cordary Clark (6'2" 220) to play next year.
The Key: keep Rodney Stewart healthy, Brian Lockridge needs to find a role in the offense with his speed.