Part two of our "things we hope to learn" series features five players (see part one here), some not as well known as the other five we featured first but maybe just as important. It calls for people to fill voids, go beyond expectation and just flat out be prepared to compete.
Remember we are fast forwarding to April 25th, 6:00 pm. What do we hope to know about these five players at that time? Let's draw it up:
DL Conrad Obi - with Curtis Cunningham LIMITED this spring, the best chance for the Buffs to sure up the line looked to be a fall practice task. Further, many Buff fans are still holding out hope that incoming freshman Edward Nuckols and Nick Kasa may have an immediate impact but Conrad Obi has really stepped up and filled a vacant spot on the defensive line. At 6'3' 265, Obi has the ability to play both inside and outside and his motor looks have improved from his freshman year. Shields and Goree also showed well but Obi stood out the most of all defensive lineman and if the learning curve continues for young guys like Goree, Shields, Obi, Cunningham and Pericak, Colorado might not have to force incoming freshman Nick Kasa and Edward Nuckols into action, something that should be music to our ears.
WR Josh Smith - similar to the Simas situation, Buff fans were easily frustrated at Smith last year. We saw all the potential in spring and fall ball but rumors of a lack of commitment to the playbook to self prophesized comparisons to Jeremy Maclin to some head scratching decisions just kept Buff fans wondering if Smith would reach his potential and be our version of the Missouri all purpose player. Well, it looks like that frustration the players have had over the past couple of losing seasons really hit home with Smith. Coaches complimented Smith on his new dedication and like his nephew, he has assumed a vocal leadership role on this team. Finally healthy, Coach Kiesau and Helfrich have him inserted in the lineup on every play in the slot, being creative with Smith and getting the ball in his hands to make plays. When I was at practice, I didn't see one end around play called to #1, something that all Buff fans appreciated. What I did see is Simas and Smith working together to finally provide the Buffs a one-two punch in the offense-happy Big 12. Barring any injuries and the continuation of hard work from both Simas and Smith, we may be looking at a top four duo in the conference. Further, KR/PR Jason Espinoza looks to be healthy again, allowing the Buffs to monitor Smith's special teams output as to not affect his offensive production.
OL Bryce Givens - with Max Tuioti-Mariner out this spring and Devin Head & Mike Iltis LIMITED, guys not named Ryan Miller and Nate Solder have a chance to snag one of the three remaining offensive line spots come fall. No players' progress to gain weight has been followed more than Givens, a very talented redshirt freshman who's main task to go along with his athleticism was to gain weight this offseason. Givens succeeded to say the least. He added 25 pounds to get to 275 - 280 but I have heard rumors that he may be up to 290 pounds without having lost too much speed. Not only did he make it through camp without a re-occurrence of a concussion but he pretty much made it impossible for Denver Johnson not to find a place for him whether it means putting him at guard or moving Ryan Miller inside. He has the best feet of all the offensive linemen and now, can physically stand-up to the players on the other side of the ball. Givens provides another reason why Buff fans should be excited about the future of the offensive line.
TE Riar Geer - coming off a junior season where nothing seemed to go right for Geer both on and off-the-field, we saw a more effectively utilized tight end this spring. 2009 should be different for both Geer and Ryan Deehan as no position will get opened up more from what is going on around them than tight end. Injuries, the inability of the wide receivers to stretch the field, the spread offense and youthful core of players caused the tight end to be rendered useless in 2008. Last year, Geer had his least productive season as a collegiate player, only grabbing thirteen passes. With a new pro-style offense, the coaching staff made a point to bring back the tight end in both the passing game and as an effective second level blocker, something that Geer can handle well with his big frame. Other than the University of Miami, Colorado has had one of the more successful programs in turning out big time pro prospects at the tight end position. This year with a trio of impressive candidates in Geer, Deehan and Ryan Wallace, I would be shocked if we see the position go ignored again. If the Buffs are hitting the tight end like they showed in spring ball, this offense just became more dynamic.
K Aric Goodman - public enemy number one last year showed that he can respond. Goodman had a very impressive spring, gaining his confidence back with a more effective two step approach to place kicking. Although practice was not Goodman's problem in '08, he did nothing this spring that would hint to the coaches that he lost his confidence or had a hangover. Hawkins and Riddle made a point to make Goodman's life miserable with constant taunting and hints of 2008's misfortunes. Every day, the Buffs conditioning program was increased in severity based on the performance of Goodman, bringing pressure from both coach and player. Buff fans should be rooting for a turnaround from Goodman. Something tells me we don't want a freshman kicker trying to win the game at West Virginia. Goodman continued to show he had a strong leg and so far accuracy doesn't seem to be a problem.