Most collegiate coaches will tell you that the Spring game is more of a show for the fans, it's relatively meaningless in their book, just another practice with vanilla offenses and defenses in an attempt to keep secrets (for cases of extreme paranoia) until the season. Basically, in coach speak terms, it means relatively little but I am not in that camp. I am still a big believer in the old grade school slogan, "practice how you play" and for our Buffs, every practice is important (gaining experience playing together), even if it is in front of a few more spectators.
But for the most part, no one should really get too worked up over a wrong read or missed assignment because practice is practice. Yes, we talking 'bout practice. Still, this spring game is our last chance to personally view the 2009 team (I assume fall practices will be closed) that aren't guided by statistics on the press release or fall practice news reports. In the grand scheme, football is fundamentally pretty basic, no matter how vanilla you are, no matter how few packages you show, you can still make judgments based on the fundamentals. Here are ten observations that you can all look for in person or on cubuffs.com that shows progression from last year.
1) Energy - If you have been reading the Ralphie Report for a while, you know that I am big on energy, enthusiasm and a general excitement to play the game. We won't fill Folsom like they do at 'Bama or Nebraska but playing in Folsom in front of a good number of people for the first time in a while should get the team's blood pumping. A few times last year, the team started slow or looked a little lethargic. There were times when energy seemed to be lacking (probably due to all the injuries and a lack of depth). Based on the few practice I saw, the offensive line looked to be fired up with guys like Ryan Miller leading vocally, the defense seemed to rally around each other after big plays or turnovers. Watch for player body language, how each unit gets in and out of the huddle and player interaction, all should show the energy level on the field. Depth and gaining experience should help in all facets of the game as well as the team's energy.
2) WR Markques Simas - The big observation that I have had this spring is plenty of coaches talking to Simas about bringing it every play, visualizing making plays in front of 50K+ and to appreciate the opportunity. Watch how Simas approaches a game-like atmosphere. Does he rise to the level of playmaker and show his true talent? How does he get off the line? Is he proving he is better than everyone else? Is he determined to be the best player on the field, even if it is only practice (remember, practice how you play)? This spring game, against probably one of the top cornerbacking units in the Big 12, we should learn a little bit about Markques Simas' competitive fire.
3) Linebackers - This is probably one position Buff fans don't have to worry about so sit back and watch which linebackers excel, which are more fluid, who seems to fly around the most and who seems to always be around the ball. Keep an eye on Doug Rippy, he has climbed up the depth charts and has been in the starting mix all spring. Rip is a redshirt freshman who might not have the savvy of an experienced linebacker but should make up for it with aggressiveness and strength. Another player to watch is Marcus Burton who has been a staple this spring at MLB. A senior who didn't get a ton of time last year has emerged as a "Levon Kirkland" style backer. Things to watch with him is his ability to move in space and in pass coverage due to his 260 pound frame but he seems like a good option in the middle if the Buffs choose to run the 3 - 4. Many will be surprised how lean Michael Sipili looks and rumor has it that Jon Major is starting to make plays. Again, sit back and enjoy a glimpse of what should be one of Brian Cabral's strongest units in recent memory.
4) CB Jimmy Smith - He just grabs your attention any time you watch the defense. I know we hype him up a lot but it is hard not to notice an athletic, strong and gifted 6'3" cornerback. He seems to have realized that the sky is the limit and is focused on becoming one of the premier corners in all of college football. Watching Jimmy Smith be physical on the line of scrimmage with a depleted wide receiving core should be fun to watch. Also, he has shown he can fill against the run, making him that much more valuable. Of course, when he is lined up against Simas, make sure you take note. That should be a great test to see how physical Simas can be at the line. Smith is also a playmaker on special teams so make sure you spot #3. Everyone remembers the Nebraska game last year and he has been able to block a few field goals this year in spring ball.
5) Defensive Formations - The Buffs might show a base 4 - 3 just for the spring game but if they follow what they had been working on in practice before it got shutdown, you will see three different types of formations: 4 - 3, 3 - 4 and a 3 - 3 - 5 where they bring in another safety as rover. They like to use Jalil Brown, Ben Burney or Tyler Sandersfield as a fifth defensive back. This allows players like S Patrick Mahnke to roll up and play aggressive at the line of scrimmage, something Mahnke excels at.
the next five will be featured later today or tomorrow...