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David's 2011 Colorado Buffaloes Spring Game Report

Hello TRR readers! I'm back in Boulder and having a wonderful time. Saturday was the spring football game which I attended along with more than 15k CU fans. It was a nice warm day that cooled off pretty quickly, and most importantly, THERE WAS FOOTBALL!

Find my analysis, concerns and other random thoughts after the jump!


First, there are a LOT of injured Buffaloes. Hopefully they will all get healthy between now and summer practices, because our roster of guys who can contribute is pretty small at the moment. Even some guys who played were clearly banged up. Forrest West, for example, was out there with his left arm dangling at his side. The defensive line has definitely been hit hardest, with more injured players than active ones. Josh Hartigan and Chidera Uzo-Diribe each only played in the first half of the game, and both are coming off of injuries (Hartigan hurt his ankle last week according to someone in the crowd and Uzo-Diribe had some sort of off-season surgery). Getting guys back along the defensive line will definitely help our defense out, and I'm excited to see what Tui and McGhee can do with a full crew.

I won't be able to give notes on everybody, but I can tell you who played with what units, what looked good or suspect, and how some of the guys did. So here I go:

The offense (as it stands now) looks a lot like what we could have guessed before the spring. Tyler Hansen at QB, Rodney Stewart at RB (though he definitely has some competition from Tony Jones), Toney Clemons and Paul Richardson at Wide Receiver, Ryan Deehan at tight end, either Evan Harrington at fullback or DaVaughn Thornton as the second tight end (though Kyle Slavin may push him a bit for time. I'll talk about him later). Along the offensive line left to right we've got David Bakhtiari, Ethan Adkins, Whoever plays center, Ryan Miller and Jack Harris. Center will be interesting. If Iltis can come back strong, he's got the experience, but Daniel Munyer and Shawn Daniels both looked solid spelling him in the spring game. I'll discuss center more later. Kyle Cefalo and Will Jefferson (and probably Jason Espinoza, but he didn't suit up yesterday) look like they'll be the next couple of guys at wide receiver. Brian Lockridge is going to have a tough battle for that #2 spot at RB when he comes back from injury, because Tony Jones is the real deal. He looks more and more like Bieniemy to me, he's like a bowling ball and runs like a much bigger back. Not to mention Josh Ford, who looked really good and was FAST.

On defense, it was a little hard to tell along the defensive line (because more guys didn't play than did), and I'm not sure Greg Brown has any idea who his two (or three) starting cornerbacks will be against Hawaii. At linebacker, I think we'll see two of Jon Major, Derrick Webb (who has been injured) and Douglas Rippy. Rippy and Major both looked good filling in against the run (though Major still hasn't regained all of his speed). Patrick Mahnke also started and was solid, but I'm interested to see what Liloa Nobriga and the incoming Freshman can do at that LB spot. Ray Polk will probably be a starter, and he really is fast, but he still isn't quite the safety we want him to be. Travis Sandersfeld looked good as well, but the middle of the field was a little open between the safeties and the linebackers. That's something for us to watch in the summer. Anthony Perkins is still recovering from his knee injury. If he can come back, that may help the secondary, but it's never good to hedge your bets on a single player returning from injury. Terrel Smith looked pretty solid behind them as well, and he also lined up at Nickel Back for a few plays and looked really good blitzing off the edge. He was held twice and it was called once. This week at corner, Jonathan Hawkins and Deji Olatoye started. Last week it was Paul Vigo and Jered Bell, and this week Bell was playing with the #3s. The guys all looked OK, but none of them set themselves apart. I have a feeling that we're going to see a true-freshman get some significant playing time this season at CB. Not a great feeling, so hopefully a couple of the guys we have start separating themselves from the pack. Everybody at defensive end is injured. Tony Poremba and David Goldberg started yesterday, and Goldberg looked pretty good. I don't know where they will fit in once guys come back from injury. Uzo-Diribe played in the first half, but didn't look quite like himself yet. Hartigan also played in the first half a little bit, but I didn't see much of what we saw from him last year. West was playing wounded, but stayed in (I have a feeling playing hurt now will pay off for him in terms of playing time later). At defensive tackle, Curtis Cunningham is still out with "elbow soreness," and Nate Bonsu only got limited snaps and still looked like his knees weren't quite 100%. Will Pericak and Conrad Obi started and were solid. Obi really does look the part, and might be the most intimidating looking guy on the team (sorry Ryan Miller). Behind them were Kirk Poston and Eric Richter, who both may not be ready to contribute this season, despite the fact that we will probably need them to. Richter is big and hard to move, but is clearly still working on technique. Poston is still a little light and drew the ire of the coaching staff for something I didn't see (I think he thought that he was blocked too long and tried to get a shot or two in). You should have seen the way Embree glared at him on the sideline until the next play was run. He definitely played better after that though.

I'll talk more about the players, but first I want to talk about the general atmosphere and the way the coaches ran things. One of the people I watched the game with put it best: This is now a business. The coaches have brought that attitude with them from the NFL. If you're not able to do the job, there is somebody behind you who is. If you make a mistake, they pull you off of the field and tell you what you did wrong, how to fix it, and they expect you to get it right the next time. The coaches were talking to guys on the sidelines, they were motivating guys, Embree was on the field right behind the offense the whole time being loud and involved in the huddles and everything. I sat on the defensive side, so I only got to see how those coaches interacted with the players, so someone else will have to talk about that. Greg Brown was a little less involved with coaching up individual guys during the scrimmage because he was busy calling the defense. But Brian Cabral, Tui and Kanavis McGhee were getting in guys ears about their mistakes and coaching guys up every chance they could get. They are very vocal, and they get on guys when they make mistakes, but they also were quick to let the players know when they did things well. And I know this isn't the appropriate place to discuss it (though I'm sure you all are curious), but I have the beginnings of my list of players who may get "cut" by the coaching staff. That's not the kind of thing we want to talk about here, but for those people at the game, I'm sure you saw the guys who were dogging it out there.

OK, back to the players!

First of all, for all of you who are interested, they released a pre-spring game depth chart, which is located here.

There are some interesting things at each position:

Quarterback: Hansen looks like a different player. His mechanics and technique look much improved, he actually is able to move through his reads (a bit) and he looks like a quarterback. I'm excited to see what additional progress he, Hirschman and the incoming guys can make over the summer under Coach Rip. Bieniemy said we wouldn't recognize Hansen, and he's right. It gives me a bunch of hope for our offense. A real QB to get the ball to our playmakers? I've almost forgotten what that looks like...

Running Back: Stewart looks good, we all knew that, but so do Jones and Ford. I wonder where Lockridge will fit in on the offense when he comes back, especially when the two bigger freshmen come in. Cordary Allen is just such a long-strider, he might not be the greatest fit in this offense. I think the incoming freshmen will have a very good chance to contribute because there will be a good number of quality carries to go around.

Fullback: Both Evan Harrington and Tyler Ahles looked like solid lead blockers. Harrington worked with the #1s on Saturday, but I couldn't tell who looked better. They both are solid are don't shy away from contact. They are both also a little raw there, but hopefully more reps will help with that.

Wide Receiver: It sounds like we've added one more player to the mix in Logan Gray (the former QB/WR from UGA). I have a feeling he breaks into the two-deep, because we are pretty thin there. Toney Clemons didn't play, but he is probably one of the starters next to Richardson. After that it is fairly wide open. Jefferson still shows flashes and Cefalo is solid, but other guys need to step up. One of those players may be Keenan Canty, who made a couple of plays during the spring game. He is quick, but is still pretty small. This will be an area of concern.

Tight End: We may finally see Deehan play up to his potential this season. He already looks better as a blocker, and our offense will definitely make use of the TE. Behind him, DaVaughn Thornton is probably still the #2 guy, but Kyle Slavin did everything he could to earn some playing time. Basically, I think we will be just fine at TE after Deehan graduates. Matt Bahr didn't suit up and Scott Fernandez used the spring game as an opportunity to show off his improved blocking abilities at TE. Bahr will be fighting Fernandez and Alex Wood for time as the blocking TE. Henley Griffon and Harold Mobley both still look pretty slight, but Griffon seemed to get more chances during the game.

Left Tackle: I think Bakhtiari has this spot locked up, but Alex Lewis (the grayshirt from last year) looked pretty good behind him. He's got great height and length and looks bigger than he's listed. I don't know if he pushes for playing time this year, but I have a feeling he will soon enough. I'm excited to add the incoming freshmen into the here.

Left Guard: Adkins improved as the season wore on and he should be the starter here come September. Behind him, Kaiwi Crabb looks pretty good, and they have Blake Behrens listed there as well. Behrens is the seasoned reserve, but Crabb looked pretty strong at the point of attack and has pretty good size at the position. Considering Adkins is a Senior, having Crabb looking pretty good there is a good thing.

Center: Considering Iltis seems to be permanently afflicted by the injury bug, it's good to see that we have other options here. Iltis had an up and down season last year, but probably would have the #1 locked up if he wasn't injured. In his stead, Munyer actually looked really good, and Shawn Daniels is back from his injury as well. Behind them there is also Gus Handler who has been practicing there for a couple of years. I could easily see Munyer (a redshirt freshman) get the nod here. He looks bigger than he's listed and has a very good base. This will be a position battle to watch.

Right Guard: Not surprisingly, Miller should be our RG in his final year. I'm still waiting to see him reach his potential, and it sounds like Coach Marshall may be the guy to get him there. He has worked his butt off in the off-season workouts and looked as nimble as I've seen him on Saturday. He can still get better though, and I'm hoping he finally becomes the guy we thought he would be coming out of high school. Behind him, Ryan Dannewitz went down in the scrimmage last weekend and didn't suit up for the spring game, but I have a feeling that he will be our RG in 2012. Behind him are David Clark and good old Max Tuioti-Mariner. Clark played and looked OK, but MTM didn't.

Right Tackle: Harris looks the part here at RT, with the size and nasty attitude to be the guy. I like him and he's still improving. I think he will be a pleasant surprise over there. Also, he brings the attitude without all of the out-of-control recklessness (both on the field and off) of Bryce Givens. I certainly hope Givens can get his act together, but I'm no longer holding my breath. Behind Harris is Sione Tau, who has certainly been around for a while, but I'm still not convinced wouldn't make a better guard than tackle. Again, a position where depth will hopefully be added in the summer.

Defensive Tackle: Some combination of Obi, Pericak, Cunningham and Bonsu will get a majority of the playing time here, but Bonsu is still working his way back from knee troubles and Cunningham needs his elbow to heal up. Behind them are Youth and Inexperience (my nicknames for Poston and Richter), and leave me slightly worried about DT beyond this year. Kasa will probably get some snaps inside again, only because our depth is limited and the injury bug has hit already. Hopefully everyone gets healthy, but that isn't something you can always count on.

Defensive End: Again, injuries abounding. Hopefully everyone will be healthy by the Summer, and at that point I have a feeling we'll see West, Uzo-Diribe, Kasa, Goldberg and Hartigan get most of the snaps, with West probably logging a majority. His willingness to play hurt will, with this staff, probably get him more playing time. We're still waiting for Kasa to play like the 5* recruit he was, so hopefully McGhee can get that out of him this season (he's already a junior!).

Linebacker: Rippy, Webb and Jon Major look good and will be fighting for time, but Mahnke, Lowell Williams and the freshmen walkons behind them have me slightly worried. Williams is still very small and didn't seem to make many plays, the freshmen walkons played alright against Burnette and the third offense, and Zac Blaha actually looked pretty good, but I'm looking forward to getting Brady Daigh in here to compete with the inside LBs not named Webb & Rippy. Liloa Nobriga sat out of the game, but hopefully he shows up at some point. He's a fantastic athlete and could make a big contribution.

Safety: The listed starters are Polk and Perkins, but we know the guys behind them are pretty good. Terrel Smith backs up Polk, but also got some looks at nickelback, and as I said earlier, looked pretty good there. Sandersfeld could push Perkins for the starting spot depending on how the knee rehab is coming. He looked pretty good out there, and is a heck of a football player. Behind them are the injured Vince Ewing and a couple of walkons (who didn't look terrible) in Jordan Marquez and Justin Gorman. Gorman is the holder, so he's going to stick around, and Marquez (a 'Baby Buff') made a couple of plays in the game.

Cornerback: "Gaauugghhh!?!" No, the situation here isn't great, but it's not terrible. I have a feeling Orms ends up starting or playing as the 3rd CB inside only because he's really good and Greg Brown is going to find a way to get him on the field. On the pre-spring-game depth chart, Arthur Jaffee and Orms were listed as the starters, but Olatoye and Hawkins started the game, after a different pair started at the previous scrimmage. Jered Bell will probably be in the mix for a starting spot, but really this position is up in the air. At times, Olatoye has looked good, as have Paul Vigo, and Josh Moten. Makiri Pugh actually might be the only one who has really been unimpressive. He is fast, but didn't seem particularly smooth. Again, I think we have a real chance to see a true freshman see some significant time here. Oy.

Kicker: Justin Castor looked a bit better kicking during the spring game and there didn't seem to be many problems with the short-snapping from Ryan Iverson or the holding from Gorman, but it's still not where we want it. I'm excited to see what the competition from the incoming freshman kicker will do for Castor, plus the possible addition of a new snapper.

Punter: Zach Grossnickle only got one chance to punt and it was mediocre, only going about 32 yards. It had solid hang-time, but that isn't everything. The snap from Iverson looked OK, but he just doesn't get great velocity on his long-snaps. Hopefully that improves, because no punter will look good with the kind of snapping that Grossnickle has been getting. He really does have a big leg, but still hasn't been able to consistently punt.

Snapper: This spot still has me nervous. Last year made it very clear to me that our MVP during the Hawkins era was Justin Drescher. I think he was more important to us than anybody, whether than be Scotty McKnight or Jimmy Smith or any of the good players we had. Because his absence has been painfully clear. Hopefully Iverson can improve on his velocity and placement, or even Slavin can push for playing time. As I mentioned earlier, there have been rumors that a new snapper will be joining the team in the summer. I saw it first on a website, it was then confirmed to me by an additional source, and I'm hopeful that whoever it is will make all the difference in the world.

Overall, the team looked pretty good. They were playing hard, guys were getting on each other about making mistakes as well as the coaches. One of my favorite moments was Rippy getting on one of the other defensive players for making a mistake. He looks like a different guy out there, and that can only be good for us.

Cornerback is the first, with Parker Orms listed as a starter even though he's injured. I think that's good, because he is a guy that we need on the field. I still maintain that he was one of the best players out there last summer