After being moved up nearly a month from its usual March starting date, spring ball started last Monday. While this helps the team deal with injuries and get more lifting in, Colorado weather did not agree with this decision, and February reared its ugly, winter head. Enough about the weather, let's get to the players and coaches, specifically the ones to watch for during the buildup to the spring game.
New Coaches, New Schemes
As we all know, after months of waiting, the Buffs struck gold with the DC and assistant coach hire, snagging Jim Leavitt of 49ers and USF fame for the DC and Joe Tumpkin, former CMU coordinator, as a safeties coach. While CU grabbed one of the best linebacker coaches in the land in Leavitt, his impact will be felt more heavily at his coordinator position, as a scheme change may be in order. While he ran a 4-3 at KSU and USF, during his time with the 49ers they ran a 3-4 under, which is very well detailed here. There have been rumblings out of the closed practices that we have been shifting to a 3-man front, which is a change I can get behind. Specifically in the 3-4 under, there are suddenly plenty of places for the tweeners that Coach Mac has accumulated (Jimmie Gilbert, Terran Hasselbach, Christian Shaver, etc.) while also taking advantage of the ridiculous d-line depth. In reference to Tumpkin, I would like to see how he teaches the safeties. His background is largely with linebackers, so one would have to assume that a heavier emphasis will be placed on open-field tackling and run support than last season. Tumpkin and Leavitt bring a new kind of energy with them, a more upbeat and loud presence, that is a welcome breath of fresh air. Come spring game, expect the defense to look completely different than last year, and not just in scheme...
Bigger, Stronger, and Faster
As I tweeted out a little while ago, CU has made a concerted effort to get bigger on the front lines. Last year, the most heavily used DE's (McCartney, Gilbert, Coleman, Shaver) weighed 238 pounds on average. In 2015, adding just juco transfer (not including weight gain, position changes, or incoming freshmen), the average is 250ish. Along those same lines, the unit also grew about an inch and a half on average, from 6'3 to 6'4.5. MacIntyre has stressed a need to get bigger and stronger as a team this offseason, as well as saying Coach Forman (the S&C coach) has been focusing on that same goal. Well, even without all of that upcoming weight gain, the trenches have become enlarged from last year. On the offensive line, even though two 5th-year seniors left, the expectation is that the big uglies will get bigger through replacement, as Shane Callahan (6'6, 300) and Gerrad Kough (6'4, 300) are projected to slide Into those spots and start mauling. Almost everywhere you look on this roster, there's weight gains, height increases, and a maturation process. For the first time in what seems like a long time, the Buffaloes have minimal attrition, older players, and only a couple of rehabbing players. While this is still a young team with a lot of question marks, there's hope that CU will look like it belongs on the field with its PAC-12 brethren.
Saved by the Bell, and something something Addison Gillam
Unfortunately, at the end of last year's season, the Buffs hobbled to the finish line. A ridiculous amount of injuries hit the safety position, and other key players (Michael Adkins, Addison Gillam) were severely limited or out for much of the second half of the season. There's some good news and bad news heading into 2015. The bad news is a few of these players are still infected by the injury bug. Gillam has struggled to put on weight and I would imagine it's hard for him to cleared for contact with his three concussions. The tight end position, already thin, is without Dylan Keeney or Hayden Jones, both promising redshirt freshmen. Jered Bell is still inexplicably not cleared by the NCAA for a 6th year, though he wouldn't be able to practice this spring anyway, and Michael Adkins and Phillip Lindsay are nursing some leg injuries. *sigh*. On to the good news. Tedric Thompson and Chidobe Awuzie have made full recoveries and look to be two of the Buffs' best players, and both lines have players coming back from injury. If Bell gets his sixth year, the Buffs gain an experienced player in the back of the secondary and allow Chidobe to move around the D, and if Gillam can bulk up and regain his form, this is starting to look like an impressive defense. Watch out for Bell's sixth year.