One of my favorite things to do is take in some early season football practice, even if it is a big tease as the regular season which is still many months away. It was a beautiful day in Boulder, 55 degrees and sunny. The University hosted their annual junior day so many high school recruits were in attendance and they couldn't have picked a better day to visit Boulder in early March.
The first practice the players were just in shorts and helmets, no contact. The drills, as expected for the first time out this year, were pretty simple and routine. A good amount of special teams work, 7 on 7, fumble drills, form tackling drills (every player participated even the quarterbacks), defensive back drops, etc. Very similar to what we have seen at prior spring practices. Certainly nothing ground breaking.
Without much contact, it is hard to give breakdowns other than "this player looked good, or that player really stood out" but here are a few things I took away from the first day:
-Two players caught my eye all morning: WR Toney Clemons and TE DaVaughn Thornton. By far, they are the two most athletic looking players on the offense. Clemons looks great. He has a very athletic build, taller than I expected, is quick and made plenty of catches. He is an instant upgrade for the position. Thornton just looks gifted. Both Jon and I went to practice and I kept saying to him, "I can't believe how big Thornton is."He runs well, is built and I believe still has room to add on weight. He and Clark Evans, now at tight end, seemed to have developed a friendship. Thornton looks like a power forward playing football at 6'4" 235 pounds. He was in the mix a lot today. Both Evans and Thornton bring athleticism to the tight end position. Hopefully Thornton's development continues because he sure looks the part of a big time player
-WR Andre Simmons was nowhere to be found today. I haven't heard anything regarding his status. More to come on that when we hear something. WR Markques Simas was out on the field, not practicing but him being out there is a good sign, certainly better than him not being present. It was frustrating seeing Simas, Clemons and Thornton standing together and realizing that could be a pretty powerful trio out there on Saturdays. Hopefully, Simas earns his way back so we can see what the two receivers could do together.
-DT Nate Bonsu is a horse. He was on crutches but he is a monster of a man and will be a big part of this defense for the next three years in the middle. DE Nick Kasa looks huge, as usual. He sticks out on the defensive side of the ball. Forrest West certainly added some weight from last year, at least 10 pounds. I think he is going to explode in 2010. These three players can bring some stability to the defensive line.
-Patrick Mahnke was practicing with the linebackers today, something that is a welcomed move. I think he is a better fit there. As always, Doug Rippy steals the "wow" factor when you watch the linebackers. It was good to see Jon Major out there injury free. This unit looks a little thin after losing Shaun Mohler, Jeff Smart and Marcus Burton from a year ago. You have to imagine now is the time for Major to make his mark. Michael Sipili, Douglas Rippy and B.J. Beatty are three players who should receive a lot of time but players like Major, Derrick Webb, Tyler Ahles and Liloa Nobriga need to step up and contribute.
-Speaking of thin, that is the best word to describe the running backs. The Buffs have four running backs total, three on scholarship and all under 5'9". Just hope Rodney Stewart doesn't get hurt. If any incoming freshman have the opportunity to play in 2010, it will be at running back, especially the two bigger backs in Cordary Clark and Justin Torres
-DB's Jimmy Smith, Jalil Brown and Ray Polk all look the part on defense. Another year of experience for Polk will do wonders for him back at safety. Polk, Anthony Perkins and Tyler Sandersfield were on the field together a lot, similar to last spring where the Buffs featured three safeties early in camp.
-The offensive line is full of monsters, nothing new here. Without pads on, it is hard to get a gauge. The first offensive line group in team drills was OT Bryce Givens, OG Ethan Adkins, C Keenan Stevens, OG Ryan Miller and OT Nate Solder. Coach Brad Bedell was spending a lot of time with Bryce Givens. You never know about the offensive line until that first game. Max Tuioti-Mariner is sporting a shaved head, different from the long hair we are used to. OT Sione Tau was practicing after taking a leave from the team last year.
-Tyler Hansen was the first quarterback in the team drills. He looked pretty solid today. Cody Hawkins has already taught true freshman Nick Hirschman how to roll his sleeves up on his jersey. For a player who is supposed to be in his second semester of high school, Hirschman looked pretty good. Didn't get a lot of reps. The reps were given in this order: Tyler Hansen, Cody Hawkins, Seth Lobato, Nick Hirschman with Hansen and Hawkins understandably receiving the bulk
-Kickers Zach Grossnickle and Aric Goodman took turns kicking both field goals and punting. Both were inconsistent on their punts and both looked decent, from what I saw on field goals.
Let me know if you have any questions about the practice and I will answer them below in the comment section.