Buffs Launch Spring Drills In Bubble; Optimism Abounds
BOULDER - Spring, that familiar harbinger of hope and optimism, is upon us. True, two weeks remain on the calendar until the season officially begins, but those who are immersed in the spectacle that is college football have decided to officially say goodbye to winter.
With Friday's opening of spring practice at the University of Colorado, now is the time to officially put behind all that went wrong last fall and watch with anticipation as Mike MacIntyre's Buffs prepare for 2014.
MacIntyre's second spring drills at CU began in the indoor practice bubble as snow flurries dominated Friday's early morning skies. The weather outside may have slowed many of the morning's commuters, but inside MacIntyre's snow globe of a practice facility an evolving team was taking the spring's first step in what he hopes is a climb back to respectability.
"I thought today went well," said MacIntyre. "The first practices are always a little bit rusty but I was pleased with the effort. We got a tremendous amount done. The flow of the practice went smoothly and I was impressed with some of the things I saw some of the young guys do."
After a disastrous 1-11 2012 campaign that ended with the firing of head coach Jon Embree, the Buffs showed signs of improvement as they increased their win total to four in 2013. MacIntyre's first season was not an overall success, but there were signs that the Buffs are headed into that direction under their excitable 48-year old coach.
This time last year, MacIntyre didn't know what to expect as he began his first spring camp in Boulder. Fast forward one year and MacIntyre now sees a team that has progressed.
"We're much farther ahead (than we were last year)," said MacIntyre. "They knew the snap count and they knew what they were doing today. They knew where to go on the drills and everything. So, it was a lot smoother in some areas compared to last year."
Opening spring camp with a sense of urgency escaped a team that was still trying to find its way as a foundation was being built. That sense of urgency seemed much more prevalent Friday as the great majority of the practice took place without the confusion and error that sometimes can typify spring football on many campuses.
In that aspect, the Buffs are ahead of last spring. Although it would be too early to know if that will manifest itself in anything positive for the season ahead, players and coaches are excited about what transpired on day one.
"It felt like things were clicking out there, which is great," said quarterback Sefo Liufau. "Obviously there were a few hiccups here and there but I think for the majority of it we had a really good practice."
The biggest uncertainty heading into the 2014 season will center on trying to account for the loss of record-setting wide receiver Paul Richardson, who decided to skip his senior season to enter the NFL Draft. Richardson was the biggest playmaker on an offense that frequently struggled to move the football without his playmaking ability when he was injured. In his absence, it will become paramount that Liufau and his mostly young and inexperienced receiving corps matures quickly and makes progress.
"The majority of the receivers are a lot better at route running and coverage recognition (than a year ago)," said Liufau. "That's the main thing that stood out for me today. As far as me individually, I just want to get better, and that will go a long way into improving the team all around. I want us as an offense to be more consistent."
Last year, Liufau took over the starting job after a lackluster offensive start in the team's fifth game. This season, after a full year of learning the system and more than half of it facing live competition in the ultra-competitive Pac-12, MacIntyre thinks Liufau is ready to take the next step in the growth process. A good spring start will help in accomplishing that.
"He was throwing the ball better today than he did at any point in time last year," said MacIntyre. "He's just feeling better and he's more comfortable. He's throwing off his back leg better and he's improved on some of the things (offensive coordinator) Brian Lindgren told him to work on over the offseason."
Even if Liufau and the offense's skill position players do take that next step in 2014, how they will go about replacing a class that included pass-rushing specialist Chidera Uzo-Diribe, sure-tackling safety Parker Orms and offensive line mainstays Gus Handler and Jack Harris, along with Richardson, figures to be the biggest question mark throughout the spring and into the fall.
"No doubt you're going to miss those guys," said MacIntyre. "The young guys are doing well though. Today we even made some of the same plays vertically that (Richardson) made in the passing game last year. These guys just have to do it in games. That's how college football is. That's how pro football is. Somebody has to step up. We have guys here that keep working and I'm impressed with that."
Practices will continue over the next month on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings from 8:30-11 a.m. with the exception of spring break week (March 22-30) when no practices will be held. All practices are open to the public.