The story lines won't be lacking going into spring camp, as many starting positions will begin to be fought for in less than 10 days. This will be the first installment to a three or four part series, looking at the position battles that will be going on.
1) Starting Running Back - Darrell Scott and Rodney Stewart
With the new pro-style offense coming the Boulder this offseason, both of these running backs should have plenty of chances to carry the ball in 2009 but it is always fun to talk about who will be the starter and get a little more each game. Stewart, the de facto offensive MVP last year, is recovering from a knee injury while Darrell Scott is supposed to be in shape and ready to go. Both will benefit from a more experienced and hopefully, healthier offensive line. The key for Stewart is to get healthy and continue to make plays. That is why he saw the field last year over guys like Scott and Sumler, he outworked everyone and was able to make plays for a team that had no playmakers. As for Scott, consistency and making the jump is the key. After a tumultuous year of lofty expectations and injuries, Scott just needs to play and let his skills shine through. I also think Scott has something to prove to the coaches that he is mentally and physically tough enough to handle the load. Should be a great battle to track in spring and fall practices. Again, these two playmakers should see plenty of time on the field.
The Ralphie Report Prediction: Darrell Scott. Don't get me wrong, replacing Stewart as the starting running back is not going to easy and as much as I think Scott will blow up next year, Speedy should still get 20 touches a game. I feel Scott will bring another dimension to the team. I can also see Scott and Stewart being on the field together. With a healthy duo back there, it could spell trouble for a defense and should make Colorado more dynamic. Stewart will probably prove me wrong by embracing the underdog role yet again .
2) Starting Center - Evan Eastburn, Mike Iltis, add any name here
With the departure of All Big 12 performer Daniel Sanders, center is one of the few question marks on the offensive line in 2009 and frankly, is wide open. I am satisfied with the option at guard and tackle, even with the injury to MTM At center, though, their is no heir apparent as Sanders was a stalwart at the position. A solid performance out of Sanders replacement will fill out what looks to be a strong line going forward in the Big 12. Offensive tackles get all the glory in terms of being the most talked about on the field but the leader is usually at the center position, something that Sanders excelled at on the field.
The Ralphie Report Prediction: Mike Iltis. All we have heard out of offseason camp is Iltis has really impressed Denver Johnson and that he will be hard to keep out of the rotation at center or guard. Eastburn will definitely get a fair shake.
3) Starting Cornerbacks - Jalil Brown, Anthony Wright, Cha'pelle Brown, Jimmy Smith, Ben Burney
Like the linebacker group, this unit has talent from top to bottom. Jimmy Smith is probably the most athletic player on the entire team and if I had to circle on guy on the defensive side of the ball who will be playing at the next level, it would be him. He has the size that defensive back coaches dream of. Last year, he came through towards the end of the season, showing he can support the run as well as make big plays. All Cha'pelle Brown did in 2008 was come in fourth in team tackles, lead the team in pass breakups, tie for the team lead in interceptions and had a late pick six against Eastern Washington, avoiding the FCS disaster. The Buffs will also be aided by the return of 2007 starter Ben Burney who was out in 2008 due to multiple injuries. Jalil Brown was also impressive last year with 55 tackles and playing a ton in the nickel spot. He is also a bigger type of defensive back, similar to Jimmy Smith.
The Ralphie Report Prediction: Jimmy Smith and Cha'pelle Brown. Don't get me wrong, Ben Burney and Jalil Brown will make it interesting on Cha'pelle Brown but I don't think anyone can take Jimmy Smith off the field baring injury or bad effort from Smith. He is too talented. It will be interesting to see how Burney recovers and fits in the secondary that seems to have recovered nicely from losing him and Terrence Wheatley two years ago. Cha'pelle made a ton of plays last year so that is why he gets the nod but I have visions of Jalil Brown and Jimmy Smith, both big body cornerbacks, playing physical on the edge against Big 12 WR's. With the lack of a defensive line, this unit will need to be spectacular this year if the Buffs have a chance at a special season.