Before Fall Arrives, Buffs Need Spring Clean-Up
BOULDER - Perfection isn't to be expected in a first spring scrimmage, but neither is sloppiness.
The Colorado Buffaloes weren't that sloppy Thursday in a 163-play, 2 hour-plus session at Folsom Field - but the spring clean-up that coach Dan Hawkins keeps mentioning still needs to be implemented.
Asked if he believed his team is where he thought it might be at the halfway point of spring drills, Hawkins answered, "I don't know about that. We just need to clean a lot of things up - penalties, turnovers, not dropping the ball. I think the defense has kind of had the upper hand to his point, and if you look at the scrimmage, probably did here, too."
"There were a few too many penalties (10 for 63 yards), given the amount of plays. The turnovers (two interceptions, one lost fumble) probably weren't bad, given the amount of plays we had."
Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Eric Kiesau also lamented the number of penalties, but added, "I'm glad they called every one of them."
Hawkins applauded the defense for its pressure on the quarterbacks, but wasn't enamored with the running game. Overall, though, "I like their attitude," he said.
As for continuing to improve offensively, specifically in the run game, Kiesau added, "We've just got to continue to grind and stay on them. Right now, it's as simple as it can be. We just have continue to get better, emphasize the details and hope we see some progress. But today was definitely not what I wanted to get out of it."
Quarterback Tyler Hansen, who again is battling Cody Hawkins for the starting job, said he had an "an OK, an average, day." He called the spring competition at his position "dead even. We've got to compete . . . I can't have an OK day; I've got to have a great day."
EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES: The scrimmage was structured to give the top two quarterbacks an equal number of snaps with the first and second units, and in similar field position settings.
Kiesau said the equality plan also was extended to the wide receivers: "The ones were going 10 (plays), the twos eight . . . so within those 18 'reps' I was saying, 'whoever is moving the team, you're going to stay in there.' If you go three-and-out, it's not a bad thing, but let's give the other guys a chance and let them roll through."
Dan Hawkins said he would reserve grading the competitors until he studied film of the scrimmage, but he believed both QBs "did some (good) stuff. I think with those guys you could probably split them with a hair."
Cody Hawkins completed 25 of 44 passes (59.1 percent) for 194 yards and four touchdowns, while Hansen was 16-of-29 (55.2) for 136 yards and one TD. Each was intercepted once.
Hansen believed "some of the drives were stalled because of some drops and the run game kind of stalled a little bit." He said he was "disappointed in that pick . . . I tried fitting it in and I couldn't really fit it in that small of a hole; I was kind of ticked off about that."
Through the first six practices, Kiesau said his quarterbacks' completion percentage was "almost 70 percent" and the competition "was really good - the best it's ever been . . . Before (Thursday), I thought we were progressing well. But we still have two weeks - thank goodness."
ONE FOOT, TWO JOBS? It's a relatively short walk from CU's practice fields to Folsom Field, but Zach Grossnickle loves it. The stadium represents his comfort zone.
"I don't know what it is about this field, but I kick better here than on the practice field," he said. "I don't know why; I have no idea. I just feel comfortable kicking up here (in the stadium)."
Grossnickle felt the same way last season: "When I was in warm-ups, I just felt great. I guess when I'm practicing, I'm just trying to get it done."
Grossman, a redshirt freshman, made all four of his field goal attempts (32, 24, 38, 32) Thursday and averaged 37.2 yards on nine punts (44 long).
Using one player for both jobs is of no concern for Dan Hawkins: "You've got to go with the best guy, and if it's one guy, you do it."
He said Grossnickle is "coming around . . . he can really hit it. He did a nice job in his opportunity for field goals. He mishit a couple of punts, but he has the ability to really hang it up there. We're starting to kind of get the kind of numbers we want in our punt game . . . they've showed up a little bit.
"We're getting them in our field goal arena, but he's done a good job in the last few practices of trying to meet our numbers in the punt game."
Among the punt team's spring goals is increased hang time, and Grossnickle appears to be delivering.
"It's just basically dropping the ball a little bit later so my (punt) just flies up," he said. "I'm just trying to match my hang time with my distance, so when my punts goes 40 yards, I want to get like 4.2 seconds.
"I felt pretty good (Thursday). I had a couple that just weren't so great . . . but I hit some fives (seconds hang time), so I was happy about that."
NOWHERE TO RUN: After averaging just 87.9 yards a game rushing (2.78 a carry) last season - last in the Big 12 Conference - the Buffs still are searching for their legs.
The running game didn't appear to be a point of emphasis Thursday, but there has been a reason for not pounding away at the defense this spring. The running back corps is precariously thin and anxiously awaiting the arrival of at least four incoming freshmen at the position.
The two top returning tailbacks - Rodney "Speedy" Stewart and Brian Lockridge - had only four carries each Thursday.
Said Kiesau: "That's why we want to work on our passing game and protection and route running - and that's why I was disappointed with the number of drops."
Still, CU must come out of spring drills seeing improvement on the ground, and Kiesau noted the run game "is something we have to look at . . . we've got to be smart. I've made some changes to the offense to help that, and it might mean doing some other things to counter running the ball. But we'll still work on it."
Expounding on those "other things to counter running the ball," Hansen said the approach has "kind of changed. Last spring and fall we were kind of a more pounding (offense). We had the personnel for that - tight ends and fullbacks.
"But now we don't have those; we have more speed - more skill guys, more receivers. So now we're kind of playing to that and kind of using our short passing game as kind of that running game.
"We threw the ball a lot more, and I think you guys will be used to seeing a lot more of that. I think we're going to use Toney Clemons and Markques (Simas) as our outside running game and use some zone read stuff as our running game."
When reinforcements at tailback arrive this summer, Hansen believes their adjustment to the game will be evaluated, "And if they get it and see they can do it, then maybe we'll fit them in some packages and use them in certain ways."
MAKING HIS MARK: In his assessment of the scrimmage, Dan Hawkins noted that a number of "young guys made plays - that was good."
Atop that list was redshirt freshman Parker Orms, a budding safety who managed to make plays no matter his defensive unit - first, second or third.
A 5-foot-11, 180-pounder from Wheat Ridge, Orms mostly played the nickel position vacated by 2009 leading tackler Cha'pelle Brown.
And Orms apparently liked the role; in addition to being the afternoon's leading tackler (11 total, six unassisted), he contributed three tackles for loss, three third-down stops and one quarterback sack.
"He's a baller, he really is," Dan Hawkins said. "He's not maybe as tall as you'd want a guy to be, but again, he knows how to play football. He's not extremely fast, but he's a fast football player . . . he plays fast. Part of that is his instinct and part of it is physiological makeup.
"He's got a good head about him. He's one of those gym rat guys; he's played little league and basketball . . . he's been playing all the sports since he was very, very small - all the sports. He's just got a great awareness to him."
FASTER, WISER: The defense as a whole appeared to play faster, and Dan Hawkins attributed that to the unit being "a little more confident. They've been in the saddle a little bit more; they're not faced with as many new things and have some guys who've been through it a few times."
Inside linebacker Jon Major echoed his coach's belief that the defense is playing with more confidence. But he also pointed out that experience is showing up now in key places - "especially on the D-line. That kind of helps everyone; it kind of sets the tone up front and helps us play fast.
"I think we pretty well (Thursday), especially on the run. They (offense) made only a few big plays . . . one of our goals is to keep it under about 3.3 (yards) a carry, and I think we reached that."
Major, showing no adverse effects from the knee injury that sidelined him as a freshman in 2008, said his spring has gone well thus far, but added, "You can always improve. As long as I'm keeping on the incline; I don't want to plateau. But I'm feeling pretty good about being in this position, and being able to help younger people, too."
Of his pick and 41-yard return of a Hansen pass, he said, "I read the quarterback and tried to do what I was supposed to do. I had fun on that return . . . it was kind of back to the glory days."
MCKNIGHT INJURED: Leading receiver Scotty McKnight, who made three receptions for 31 yards - including a 14-yard TD, suffered an lower leg/ankle injury late in the scrimmage and left the field on a cart.
Trainer Miguel Rueda there was nothing peculiar from magnetic resonance imaging exam. Team doctors will examine McKnight again Friday morning and no determination has been made as to how long McKnight might be out.
BUFF BITS: Defensive back Travis Sandersfeld missed the scrimmage with a pulled hamstring . . . Redshirt freshman Derrick Webb saw some duty as a blocking fullback in short yardage situations. Hawkins said there is "no shortage of guys you could put back there," and mentioned Major among the possibilities. "Thankfully, we got some guys who are explosive and can run and hit." . . . . In addition to Major's interception, cornerback Jimmy Smith had one pick with a 47-yard return . . . . Stewart and Clemons worked as punt returners . . . . With campus virtually shutting down next week for spring break, the Buffs don't return to practice until Monday, March 29. They have eight practices remaining, including the Spring Game on Saturday, April 10.