Brooks: Leadership Begins To Form Among Young Buffs
BOULDER - So many Colorado freshmen have played this season that football coach Jon Embree is tempted to say the future is now. He knows better. He also feels certain about this: the Buffaloes' future will be better.
As the season's final month and final four games approach, Embree is taking stock of his freshmen, their overall improvement and leadership capabilities. But he's also cognizant of what they can learn from a small senior class in terms of how to finish under adverse conditions.
Embree is preparing the Buffs to play No. 15 Stanford on Saturday (noon, FX) at Folsom Field in the first of three November home games. He believes CU's younger players are "excited every time they get to go out there; it's still new to them," while his seniors - even though there's no winning season or bowl game awaiting - should be calling on their experience to set an example.
If the seniors needed reminding, Embree did so in a Monday meeting. "They have four games left . . . they have to keep the energy going and keep (the freshmen) playing hard," he said. "Yeah, we've had some bad losses, but with the exception of one game I feel like our kids have played hard and competed hard from start to finish. That's starting to become a fabric of who they are . . ."
CU has played 13 true freshmen this season, tied for sixth most nationally. For comparative purposes, Embree has shown them (and other youngsters) tape of their first-year performances. When they watch those same clips in the future, Embree said, "They'll say, 'That's not me; I'm better than that now.' That's true. As you watch yourself as you evolve as a player, you'll be shocked at some of the stuff you put on tape when you first start playing.
"It'll blow your mind because you realize how much better you are. That'll help you gain confidence. They good thing is, they don't go through it alone. That's when it's hard. They're all going through it together."
In addition to his senior meeting on Monday, Embree also met with his freshmen, redshirt freshmen and sophomores. He talked to them, according to freshman safety Marques Mosley, "about us being a bigger part of the team and stop having the mindset of a freshman. I feel like a lot of us are coming out and really trying to put out effort to make this team better."
After Tuesday's practice, Embree kept his younger players - those same freshmen, redshirt freshmen and sophomores - for nearly half an hour working on individual techniques. He's serious about not waiting until next year for them to show improvement; if it happens this November, all the better.
It's the time of season and the kind of season when leadership - even in the freshmen class - has begun to emerge. Hard times can be revealing times and Embree has noticed a handful of freshmen begin to "take the reins." Among freshmen who have played significantly, he mentioned Mosley, tight end Vincent Hobbs and receiver Gerald Thomas "to a certain extent," as well as defensive end De'Jon Wilson, who is redshirting and currently in a protective boot because of a leg/foot injury.
In the sophomore class, Embree said offensive lineman Alex Lewis has begun to assert himself, while junior linebacker Derrick Webb and junior receiver Paul Richardson - even though he's redshirting - also have come to the forefront among the underclassmen.
Mosley said he has merely been himself in his first two months of college football: "I've done what I did in high school; I'm just trying to go out and keep everybody's head up on third downs, telling everybody we've got to get off the field. It's just how I am."
What Embree also has noticed from players like Mosley is "guys are holding each other accountable; that's the first step in a leadership program." He said for the longest time, some young players were reluctant to do that because they believed "to be a leader it meant you had to do everything right and be perfect. That's not the case; it's just about accountability. As I tell players all the time, when people look at you, are you giving maximum effort? And are you holding yourself accountable?
"So it's not necessarily about doing things right all the time. A lot of those guys I mentioned are kind of natural at that to begin with. They have kind of a 'swag' attitude about themselves, but yet you see them instinctively lifting up other teammates when something happens . . . they're there to pick them up and say, 'Let's go, let's get the next one.' I do feel like that's growing in our program."
Mosley conceded the length of the season has been grinding "a little bit," and the Buffs' record is difficult to digest. "But I realized when I came here that we weren't going to be the best team and we were going to have a little trouble," he said. "But I also realized that next year and years to come we have a lot of talent so we're going to pick it up.
"You can tell a few people, it's getting to them. But for the most part, the younger guys realize they're going to have to step up and make plays and take a position next year in order for us to be a better team."
Linebacker Doug Rippy, whose senior season has been interrupted by a knee injury on top of one that prematurely ended his junior year, said he sees significant leadership developing among the freshmen. He also mentioned Mosley and "most of the younger DBs, simply for the fact that they're so close and they all come from winning programs. (Tailback) Christian Powell is not a vocal guy, but he shows it through his play.
"You've got guys who just play day in and day out. That's showing a characteristic of leadership, rather than them telling you what they can do."
Embree is hopeful that the Buffs, who have lost four consecutive games and are 1-7 overall (1-4 Pac-12 Conference), can fashion an upbeat finish. Last season, two of CU's three wins came in the final three games - including a 17-14 victory at Utah that snapped a 24-game out-of-state losing streak.
He said the win in Salt Lake City was one the 2011 seniors would "remember forever . . . it all kind of clicked for them, this stuff that we'd been trying to hammer home all year. It was an opportunity to really say they helped accomplish something, do something that I don't know how many people outside that locker room thought we could do . . . that's something they'll always take with them and remember."
ORMS' FUTURE ON HOLD: Junior defensive back Parker Orms is out for the Stanford game after suffering his second concussion in two games. Embree said he is "not counting on having him for awhile," and that Orms' future could be in jeopardy.
Embree's view on concussions was impacted by the head injury suffered by former CU teammate Ed Reinhardt in 1984 at Oregon, so much so that he made a decision in August to not let defensive back Will Harlos compete again after Harlos had suffered multiple concussions.
Some of what decides Orms' future, said Embree, "will be gut instinct . . . I try to treat these guys like they're my only child." He said there will be "dialogue over a period of time, then we'll decide what's best for Parker."
QB DECISION ALSO COMING FROM THE GUT: And that gut belongs to - who else? - Embree. After quipping that Saturday's starter would be redshirt freshman walk-on John Schrock, who has battled mononucleosis for most of the season, Embree said, "We'll go through the week. I want to see if something develops . . . I have a gut feeling, I think, on what I want to do.
"I just want to see through the week of practice. It'll probably be something we sit down and discuss as a staff on Friday - who we want to do it. But it'll probably be a gut instinct."
Junior Jordan Webb, CU's starter through the first eight games, and sophomore Nick Hirschman, who led the Buffs on a pair of second-half scoring marches at Oregon, are the two QBs in contention.
BUFF BITS: Embree said missed tackles and missed assignments - many times the second affecting the first - continue to plague the Buffs and are 75 percent of why they've allowed so many big plays. CU is last in the NCAA (No. 120) in scoring defense, yielding 46 points a game . . . . The Buffs' offensive line continues to develop, said Embree, and was cited by the coaches after the Oregon game as the "unit of the week." Junior left tackle David Bakhtiari (knee) expects to play this week, but junior center Gus Handkler (knee) is out . . . . CU's penalty count has dropped from last season, when the Buffs' 103 penalties was the second-highest number in the Pac-12 (Arizona State had 104). Embree said while this team still isn't where it needs to be in terms of speed and athleticism, an improvement on those two fronts from 2011 has resulted in fewer flags this season. The Buffs' 48 penalties through eight games ranks them as the third-least penalized team in the conference . . . . Rippy said he was "really close" to being 100 percent from a physical standpoint. "I think to myself I'm 100 percent . . . but you're never going to be 100 percent in a season," he said.