Colorado's annual spring game "kicked off" this afternoon on a glorious March day in Boulder, Colorado. As has been the case for a number of years now the Buffs broke the event up into a series of drills followed by a quick scrimmage, ending with a few quick line drills and red zone looks. A small number of players sat the day out due to injury, most notably Addison Gillam, who I'm assuming was rested to avoid any further head issues and to give him some more time to heal up. Jaleel Awini, Donovan Lee, and Josh Tupou, the three players involved in February's allegations, sat out as well. Their status going forward remains up in the air.
The first half hour of the afternoon consisted of position group work. For this session I stayed closest to the receivers and watched Troy Walters fling tennis balls to his wide-outs following some 15 yard route-running work. As is to be expected, Nelson Spruce looked terrific. His hands continue to amaze and he appears to be in great shape. Shay Fields remains quick and explosive with his legs and soft with his hands. Picking up a tennis ball high in the sun and catching it at full speed seems fairly difficult and I was impressed at how good many of the other guys (specifically Devin Ross, Robert Orban, and Jay MacIntyre) looked, both with their hands and their feet.
Following the position-specific drill session, a team-wide Oklahoma drill took place down the middle of the field. This is where things started to get interesting, First of all, Jim Leavitt is a crazy man but in the best sense. He is constantly flying around, always moving and communicating with one player or another. His energy is ceaseless and may just be exactly what this defense needs to take the next step. He even at one point jumped into the drill and grabbed Samson Kafovalu's facemask with both hands, screaming and shaking his head. I honestly have no idea whether it was in congratulations or if it was Leavitt's special brand of constructive criticism. Kafovalu overall looked fairly solid, it's a good bet he'll see significant time on the line later this year. On the offensive side of things Stephane Nembot continues to resemble a monster, throwing his size around to great effect during this drill. He's poised for a massive season.
As for the secondary, Afolabi Laguda looks as advertised. He's got the size and the athleticism to be a significant contributor this fall. During the 7-on-7 skeleton drills he looked solid in coverage, staying with his man, playing aggressively, and making a couple of plays on the ball. Chidobe Awuzie and Ken Crawley looked themselves, both making solid open field tackles in the scrimmage and playing tight coverage. Awuzie was out wide a good deal and was effective coming up in run support. Importantly, Tedric Thompson appeared to be back to normal until he walked off about midway through the scrimmage with a small limp, nothing major.
Following the Oklahoma drill, the team split into two groups to go through pass skeleton drills and 7-on-7 work. After that session the scrimmage began in earnest, with Team Black getting the ball first. Jordan Gehrke was quarterbacking that squad and quickly locked on to his best target, Nelson Spruce, and let one fly his way. Seeing this early and reacting, Ahkello Witherspoon was able to jump the route and snag the pass taking it all the way back for the game's first score.
Gehrke would have a decent afternoon, completing a nice throw to Spruce 15 yards down the sideline later on, but nothing spectacular happened through the air for Team Black, their points came on the ground from freshman tailback Kyle Evans. He ripped off a 65-yard touchdown run following Team Gold's pick six, finding a huge hole and then turning on the jets to beat the remaining defenders. Evans is legitimately fast, another smaller back in the mold of Speedy Stewart and Tony Jones, who seems to have moves to go with his speed. However, it's hard not to compare his spring game performance to those of Josh Ford the past few seasons. Ford would impress each spring but rarely ever see carries in the fall. Hopefully Evans can contribute on Saturdays but the Buffalo backfield is about to become much more crowded come August.
Another member of that backfield, Phillip Lindsay, had himself a day for Team Black. He consistently ripped off positive yards and broke a few longer dashes. He looks to be running as hard as ever, not slowed much at all by the nagging turf toe he came into the spring with. If he continues to perform at this level I'd guess he'll receive more than his share of carries this fall. Christian Powell was the lead back for Team Gold and had an average day, never really breaking through to the secondary, generally being dragged down after 3 or 4 yards.
As for the special teams, there wasn't much to be gauged from the punters and the coverage units as returns weren't live and I think it's a pretty safe bet that Alex Kinney will be the starting punter when he arrives in August. Diego Gonzalez missed a 51-yard field goal wide and then later connected on a 38-yarder to put Team Black up 10-7. The jury will remain out on him until the fall.
The game's final score came on a 70-yard Sefo Liufau bomb to Devin Ross, who made a nice catch and got to show off his speed but the play was more a result of the blown coverage by Yuri Wright who for whatever reason still looks a step behind, and a bit too thin to really be a factor this coming season. Liufau's day was steady, nothing remarkable but no poor decisions or rushed throws either. We weren't going to learn much of anything more about him today anyways.
Overall, it was a terrific day to bask in the sun at Folsom Field. It's debatable how much information can really be gleaned from what is essentially a glorified practice taking place five months before the season starts but a good amount of guys appear to be on the verge of breakout years. It's mainly just nice to see the team relatively healthy and competing. Nothing earth-shattering happened (the uniform wait continues, I'm hearing those will be unveiled in early May) which is fine, everything went to plan. The payoff from this work won't be evident until the fall, but it appears that the program's slow but steady upward trend is continuing.