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Defense Dominates - April 7th Spring Ball Report

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For the first day of practice outside of the bubble, the defense sure looked more energized and faster than the offense today. Of course, the rule is the defense is always further ahead of the offense at this stage of the game but with flashes from the front three and extremely strong play from the back eight, the defense won today's battle...handily.

  • First off, guards Matt Bahr and Ryan Miller sat out today's practice. They were wearing jerseys and warmup pants, no shoulder pads and they weren't participating in drills. I could not tell what is wrong with them, Hawkins said Matt's shoulder was hurt and Ryan was dinged up. Filling in for them on the first team was Ethan Adkins and Sione Tau. Givens and Solder were at tackle and Iltis was at center.
  • If the competition for quarterback is open, I just don't see it right now. Ballenger seems to have gotten the boot back to third string and got very very few reps. Cody Hawkins got 90% of the reps with the first team on 7 on 7 drills, 11 on 11 drills and no-huddle. Hansen would get a tail end of the work with the starters and then would line up with the second team. Maybe this will be rotated more as we go on but right now, Hawkins is getting most of the shots to prove himself and Hansen is pretty limited in his exposure to the first team. Helfrich has had the QB's do these drills to add enough touch to get the ball over the heads of a would be linbacker in a zone drop about 10 yards deep to a turn-in route 17 - 20 yards deep. All about touch on those passes and Hawkins has excelled. On the first day, they were throwing over the goal post and same thing, Hawkins excelled. Hansen was high on most of his throw as the tip of his ball is continually up, making the ball come out high. Still love the footwork of Hansen but I don't get to see enough of him in 11 on 11 to really critique him. Both quarterbacks got pressure from the front seven whether it was Sale, Burton, Sipili, Goree or Shields. In 11 on 11, no huddle towards the end of practice, the offense went about eight plays before they even gained a yard, looking flustered and hurried at all positions. You can tell the injuries to Bahr and Miller made a difference today on the offensive line.
  • For how much good pub WR Markques Simas was getting earlier, today was not a good practice for him. When I first got to practice, he made this great double in route where you could see the greatness in his footwork and athleticism. That was the high point for Simas. Two dropped passes later, a coach yelling at him for not getting lined up, getting pulled for Ryan Maxwell after dropping a pass and I would say a rather lethargic effort, I found myself a little dumbfounded. My biggest worry with Simas is there is really no competition. He has pretty much been granted the position and with nobody really as gifted as he is on the limited depth chart, I thought his performance was marginal today. Jimmy Smith absolutely bumped him off his route multiple times. I would like to see more intensity and urgency in Simas' step. Again, a bad day for the offense with probably the best day belonging to WR Ryan Maxwell who seems determined to make a statement, replacing Simas after he screwed up and catching a touchdown from Hansen over the middle. McKnight dropped a few punts that Hagan got on him for. The corners were very physical today, something coach Hawkins welcomed. More on that later. Josh Smith had one nice turn in route reception and beat many of the cornerbacks on one-on-one drills but the QB's couldn't deliver the ball. Just not a great day for the offense.
  • The 11 on 11 drills were much more no huddle today so less running plays. Not a whole lot of plays to evaluate the running backs. At one point, the running backs were matched up with the linebackers and safeties on pass routes. Scott made some fluid catches and looks absolutely great. Fit, tall, a spring in his step, he looks more and more like that Adrian Peterson comparison. Nobody on offense, I mean nobody really shined today.
  • Defense, defense, defense. Some interesting things I noticed today in the way the defense lined up. Mostly three down lineman but varying sets in the back eight. Sometimes it was four linebackers and four defensive backs. Rippy and Beatty flexed up with either Mohler, Burton, Sipili and Smart in the middle (Smart lined up a fair amount on the edge as well). I also saw many cases where it would be 3 - 3 - 5. Two cornerbacks, Anthony Perkins and Patrick Mahnke at safety and either Tyler Sandersfield, Ben Burney or Jalil Brown in a rover safety position. Either way you cut it, the Buffs were aggressive regardless of the package, part of the reason the Buffs looked awful on offense. Whether it was Mahnke playing rover, rushing off the edge, sacking the quarterback or Burton and Sipili in the stand up right on the line of scrimmage, pressure was applied and the offense had issues picking up the multiple looks. If this sort of defense is called this year, I am optimistic that it may evolve into a playmaking unit, not a bend but don't break squad. The key will be making sure those not on a blitz are in the proper assignments to avoid giving up the big play.
  • They are really hiding the defensive linemen well, placing them towards the end of the field. Like I said before, in 11 on 11, the added blitz packages from the linebackers and safeties, really freed them up. Sale, Goree and Shields stood out to me today. Saturday will tell a lot about this group but the game against Texas will be the ultimate test.
  • As for the linebackers, Doug Rippy, Michael Sipili and Marcus Burton stood out today. The best would have to have been Burton who blocked a punt, knocked down a pass and was constantly applying pressure. I was skeptical at first because it looks like Burton is 270 pounds but he was solid in the middle. Sipili also looked strong getting pressure. Rippy played a lot flexed up on the line or in a two point stance, all at outside linebacker. He still seems a little tight in the hips, visible on pass coverage but he has made plenty of plays.
  • Cornerbacks were amazing today, just amazing. I never remember Ben Burney as physical as he was today. His pads were popping, getting under McKnight's skin many times, playing solid bump-and-run and using his size well. Cha'pelle also looked strong, recovering from that stomach virus and showing good speed. Jimmy Smith once again catches my eye every time he is on the field. Whether it was jamming Markques Simas not letting him get past five yards in one-on-ones, returning punts, blocking a Goodman field goal at the end of practice or just physically controlling his side of the field, he stands out. He gets his hands on the ball a lot on defense, dropping a few here and there, but those interceptions will come. It looks like Greg Brown will have any easy year when it comes to the cornerback spot. This Saturday at the scrimmage, we will get a better look at the safeties.
  • Special teams - Aric Goodman had to kick with a pretty good cross wind today. The six to eight I saw him kick, he probably made only three or four, with one getting blocked. He made his last 50+ yarder but the other kicks were shaky at best. I think the wind got to him a little bit. It was funny, a group of 10 players, coaches, whoever would yell different things at Goodman right when the ball was snapped. I thought P Matt DiLallo did very well today, getting good spin on his punts and good distance.

I can't wait for Saturday's scrimmage, a good chance to see a more diverse offensive set of plays and hopefully a healthy Miller and Bahr. The offense still needs to show that they are going in the right direction, as of now, I am still nervous at quarterback and wide receiver. 

Incoming TE DaVaughn Thornton and walk-on athlete Quentin Hildreth, both from Denver East, were at practice again, enjoying themselves and taking it all in. Jon Major did not have the blue jersey on today (signifying limited participant) as he is coming back from the ACL injury. You could tell he is still getting back into the speed of the game.