Colorado Football Fall Camp Preview: Offense Ready to Roll

From www.cuatthegame.com

2011 Colorado Preview - Offense

Quarterbacks

Personnel: Senior Tyler Hansen; red-shirt freshman Nick Hirschman

New to the Buffs this season: Junior college transfer Brent Burnette; freshman Stevie Dorman

Strengths: For the first time since 2005 (you remember 2005 don't you? ... The last season Colorado had a winning record?), Colorado enters the fall without a battle for the starting job at quarterback. 

Senior Tyler Hansen eliminated all doubts this spring, as junior college transfer Brent Burnette and red-shirt freshman Nick Hirschman failed to mount a serious challenge to the incumbent.

Hansen was the starter for the first seven games of 2010, completing 112 of 164 passes for 1,102 yards and six touchdowns. Hansen has played in 20 games in his Colorado career, starting 16 of them.

With the switch to a more ball-control, two-tight end or fullback offense, Hansen will not be required to carry the team for the Colorado offense to be successful. The senior will have to be a good game manager, and Hansen has demonstrated he has this ability.

The Pac-12 is heavily weighted in excellent quarterbacks, so it is a safe bet that Hansen will not be All-Pac-12 in 2011.

However, for Colorado to have a winning season and earn a bowl invitation, he doesn't have to be an All-Pac-12 performer ... he just has to be efficient and effective.

Weaknesses: Tyler Hansen has started 16 games over three seasons. However, when he was finally given the reins last fall, he did not complete the season, suffering an injured spleen in Game 7.

In 2011, Hansen will be counted on to start for 13 consecutive weeks. If Hansen is injured again, Colorado's offense could grind to a quick halt. Brent Burnette had a modicum of success at Arizona Western Junior College, but after he was injured last season, he could not win back the starting position.

Nick Hirschman has been with the program for a year-and-a-half, but did not give any indication this spring that he is ready to take charge of the offense. Stevie Dorman will be in Boulder for fall practice, but he will not immediately be ready to take over against Pac-12 competition.

Simply put: There is not much on the depth chart to indicate that the Colorado offense can be successful without Hansen behind center.

The Buffs can go 8-5 if: Tyler Hansen has a productive season. He doesn't have to have a record-setting year, but he can't be mediocre. Hansen has 15 career touchdown passes, but also has 17 career interceptions. 

A similar ratio in 2011 will not result in a winning season for the Buffs. Hansen has a very good offensive line to work with, a 1,300-yard rusher to hand off to in Rodney Stewart, and Paul Richardson and Toney Clemons to (hopefully) stretch defenses. Hansen can lead an offense which will should improve on its 24.2 points/game output in 2010.

The stories coming out of the "voluntary workouts" this summer have been that Hansen has made the Buffs his team ("He's not just a leader, he's been the leader", said head coach Jon Embree). Hansen has to call a good game, make good reads, and let the athletes on the team make plays.

The Buffs will go 5-8 if: Tyler Hansen does not start every game. An injury to Hansen would place the Buffs in a difficult position of placing a caretaker behind center. The rushing attack the Colorado coaches hope to establish will not have a chance to dominate, as teams will load eight or nine players into the box, challenging the inexperienced backup to beat them through the air.

What needs to be resolved in fall camp:  Who is the No. 2 quarterback? While the Buff Nation will hope to see Tyler Hansen take the first snaps of every game this fall, a clear backup needs to be established. Burnette, Hirschman, or Dorman needs to step up and take charge as the definitive No. 2.

 

Running backs

Personnel: Senior Rodney Stewart; senior Brian Lockridge; sophomore (walk-on) Josh Ford; red-shirt freshman Tony Jones, red-shirt freshman Cordary Allen

New to the Buffs this season: freshman Malcolm Creer (another freshman recruit, Rashad Hall, did not qualify, and will have to go the junior college route)

Strengths: Rodney Stewart left the Big 12 as a record-breaker...but not the way you think. Stewart, with his 1,318 yards rushing last season, became the first (and only) Big 12 running back to rush for over 1,000 yards and not receive any sort of All-Big 12 recognition. Still, the snub  from last fall matters little to the Buff Nation now, as Colorado fans are hoping for a repeat of Stewart's heroics against Pac-12 competition.

Behind Stewart, Colorado is finally developing some depth, with three red-shirt freshmen filling the gaps left behind when Darrell Scott left the program, and Ray Polk switched to the defensive side of the ball.

Stewart will not only have one of the best offensive lines in the conference to run behind, but he will now have a fullback or an extra tight end to help clear the path.

Weaknesses: Brian Lockridge is the only running back with any game experience to back up Stewart. Last season, Lockridge had 146 yards rushing on 35 carries in only five games.

Lockridge should be fully recovered from his ankle injury, but the Buffs must have Lockridge ready to play. If not Lockridge, then one of the new Buffs (Tony Jones, Cordary Allen, or Josh Ford) will have to become an unexpected star.

The Buffs can go 8-5 if: Rodney Stewart receives All-conference recognition. The media voters will not nominate Stewart to make up for his lack of recognition in 2011.

As a result, if Stewart can garner All-Pac-12 status in 2011, it will mean that the new Colorado offense is working, and that Stewart was a focal point.

If Colorado is running an offense with a fullback and/or a second tight end, its star running back had better be a star.

The Buffs will go 5-8 if: Rodney Stewart does not lead the team in rushing. If Stewart goes down, or is ineffective, Colorado will have to revert to being a passing team in order to be successful.

Tyler Hansen and Paul Richardson are good, but, as 2010 demonstrated, they are not that good. The passing game will work if, and only if, the rushing attack keeps the defenses of the Pac-12 honest.

Tony Jones or Josh Ford may evolve into stars (and, for the Buffs to be successful in 2012, they'd better), but they haven't yet shown that they are ready to step in for Rodney Stewart.

Buff fans need to hope that Colorado has a few blowout wins (remember them?) when backups can gain game experience.

What needs to be resolved in fall camp: Just as is the case with the quarterbacks, the competition in fall camp will be to establish a clear No. 2 on the depth chart. Is Brian Lockridge fully healed, and ready to supply a counter-punch to Rodney Stewart? Or will a new back earn his way onto the field?

Fullbacks

Personnel: Senior Tyler Ahles; senior Evan Harrington; sophomore Scott Fernandez (also listed as a tight end); sophomore Matt Allen

New to the Buffs this season: None.

Strengths: Colorado has some large individuals to help carry the load at fullback this fall. Tyler Ahles and Evan Harrington are both former linebackers, and have demonstrated the toughness it will take to help create holes for the Buff running backs this fall.

Weaknesses: While Scott Fernandez is technically a returning starter, the reality is that Fernandez, like Ahles and Harrington, is in a new position. Fernandez (who is now also listed as a tight end on the CU depth charts) was a defensive lineman until the Buff coaches decided last year that it might be a good idea to have a blocking back on the field for fourth down and goal-line situations.

Translation: Colorado has no natural fullbacks on the roster this fall. Opposing defenses will not have to account for the Buff fullbacks in their game planning, as none of the fullbacks have made a catch or carried the ball in a game.

The Buffs can go 8-5 if:  The new fullbacks are effective in generating holes for the offense. Colorado was 87th in the nation in rushing last season, even with Rodney Stewart's 1,318 yards. The 137.0 yards/game average needs to significantly improve if the Buffs are to post more victories.

The Buffs will go 5-8 if: The fullback position doesn't carry its weight. Colorado quarterback Tyler Hansen is somewhat agile, but is not a running quarterback (and, with Colorado's lack of depth and experience at quarterback, will not be told to take off and run on a regular basis).

Normally, then, teams would be scheming for 11 players on defense against 10for the Colorado offense. If the fullback position proves to just be dead weight, the scheming will be 11-on-9, a scenario which will make it all the more difficult for the Buffs this fall.

What needs to be resolved in fall camp: Colorado coaches need to decide if they have one, two or three effective fullbacks. Buff fans will certainly see more fullback play this fall than they have for many years, but there needs to be production from the position. Tyler Ahles and/or Evan Harrington need to become dominant this fall camp.

Wide receivers

Personnel: Senior Toney Clemons; senior Jason Espinoza; senior (walk-on) Kyle Cefalo; junior (walk-on) Dustin Ebner; sophomore Paul Richardson; sophomore Jarrod Darden; sophomore (walk-on) Alex Turbow; red-shirt freshman Keenan Canty.

New to the Buffs this season: senior transfer Logan Gray; freshman Tyler McCulloch; freshman Nelson Spruce; freshman Austin Vincent

Strengths: On paper, Colorado has depth at the wide receiver position, as over a half dozen receivers are back who caught passes in 2010. The Buffs also have a potential break out star in sophomore Paul Richardson.

A true freshman in 2010 (and one who did not join the team until the week fall camp opened), Richardson started slowly, with only eight catches for 55 yards in the first half of the season. Then Richardson caught fire, with 27 catches for 459 yards and six touchdowns in the second half of the 2010 campaign.

Weaknesses: For most observers of Colorado football, the list of wide receivers reads: Paul Richardson, and .... nothing to be afraid of. Senior Toney Clemons was second to Scotty McKnight in catches last season, with 43 catches for 482 yards and three touchdowns.

For the most part, though, other than an exciting 73-yard touchdown against Hawai'i, Clemons was rarely visible ... and certainly not the game-changer Buff fans had hoped for.

Other than Clemons, though, there is no significant experience on the depth chart. Are there talented wideouts on the depth chart? Yes, but you have to put "unproven talent" in front of every name.

The fact that Colorado brought in Logan Gray, a senior transfer from Georgia, is all the evidence you need that the Colorado coaching staff did not see enough talent and experience on the existing roster to compete in the Pac-12.

The Buffs can go 8-5 if: Paul Richardson is All-Pac-12, and one or more of the new wideouts show promise. With a greater emphasis on the running game this fall, the wide receivers do not have to carry the team. Richardson, though, cannot carry the passing attack alone.

Toney Clemons has to demonstrate the "wow" factor which was expected when he transferred from Michigan, and/or one or more of the underclassmen will need to step up and take the pressure off of Paul Richardson for Colorado to have a winning season.

The Buffs will go 5-8 if: Paul Richardson is the only Colorado deep threat, and opposing defenses are allowed to double team Richardson without fear of being burned by other Colorado wideouts. Colorado's all-time leading receiver, Scotty McKnight, is gone to the NFL.

McKnight took with him his 50 catches from 2010, amongst those being 13 catches for first downs on third or fourth down. If Clemons does not prove out to be the Buffs' answer to the need for a possession receiver, and Richardson cannot get free for big plays, the Colorado offense will bog down.

What needs to be resolved in fall camp: Who will be in the rotation alongside Richardson and Clemons? Colorado signed three wide receivers from the Class of 2011 (though Tyler McCulloch and Austin Vincent came to the Buffs after Signing Day). The Buffs already have three more receivers committed for the Class of 2012.

The Colorado coaching staff is working hard on the future of the CU wide receiver depth chart, with six wideouts added in the past six months. What needs to be found this August, however are the receivers presently on the depth chart who can be counted upon to step up.

 

Tight ends

Personnel: Senior Ryan Deehan; senior Matthew Bahr; sophomore DaVaughn Thornton; sophomore Scott Fernandez; red-shirt freshman Kyle Slavin.

New to the Buffs this season: None.

Strengths: Colorado returns senior Ryan Deehan, who had 25 catches for 249 yards and a touchdown in 2010, along with potential stars in sophomore DaVaughn Thornton and red-shirt freshman Kyle Slavin.

The Buffs also happen to have as their head coach Jon Embree, who was All-Big Eight at the position in the mid-80's, played the position in the NFL, and has coached the position in college and in the NFL.

While Embree will not be the tight ends coach for Colorado this fall (that job falls to J.D. Brookhart), it is safe to say that the Colorado tight ends are not only talented, but will be well coached.

Weaknesses:  Colorado is planning on running the ball more this fall, and intends to utilize two-tight end sets regularly. The problem is that Colorado only has one tight end with experience.

Ryan Deehan fills the roles of both blocker and receiver, but converted lineman Matthew Bahr is not a receiver, and sophomore DaVaughn Thornton still needs work on his run blocking.

In the group, there are receivers and blockers, but not enough players on the roster who are proficient at being both.

The Buffs can go 8-5 if:  Sophomore DaVaughn Thornton has a break out season. Thornton only had one catch last season (though it did go for a 12-yard touchdown). For Colorado to be successful, Thornton will have to become an over-the-middle catch-and-run threat to keep opposing safeties honest.

Ryan Deehan needs to become (at the very least) a dependable third-down receiver and dominating blocker. If the Buffs can get that much production out of Deehan and Thornton, anything extra from Slavin or Bahr will be a bonus.

The Buffs will go 5-8 if: The Colorado tight ends fail to step up as a unit. The returning running backs are smallish (though tough); the wide receiver corps is thin and inexperienced. Colorado needs a third area of attack to supplement the running backs and wide receivers.

If the Colorado tight ends merely provide the Buff offense an extra offensive linemen, Colorado will find it very difficult to move the ball effectively and consistently this fall.

What needs to be resolved in fall camp: Whether DaVaughn Thornton and/or Kyle Slavin can become household names in the Buff Nation. DaVaughn Thornton, coming out of high school, had the look of the next Jon Embree or Daniel Graham. After two years of tutoring, weight training, and study, it's time for Thornton to take on a prominent role in the Colorado offense.

Offensive Line

Personnel: Senior Ryan Miller; senior Ethan Adkins; senior Blake Behrens; senior Shawn Daniels; senior Sione Tau; senior (walk-on) David Clark; junior Bryce Givens; junior Ryan Dannewitz; junior Eric Richter; sophomore David Bakhtiari; sophomore Jack Harris, sophomore Gus Handler; red-shirt freshman Kaiwi Crabb; red-shirt freshman Daniel Munyer.

New to the Buffs this season: grey-shirt freshman Alex Lewis; freshman Marc Mustoe; freshman Alex Kelley; freshman Paulay Asiata; freshman Brad Cotner

Strengths: Colorado lost senior tackle Nate Solder to the first round of the NFL draft. Otherwise, the Colorado offensive line returns largely in tact, with the only other loss being the graduation of center Keenan Stevens.

Senior Ryan Miller, with 35 career starts, has already been named to the watch lists for the Lombardi and Outland Trophies. Left guard Ethan Adkins has 20 starts to his resume; David Bakhtiari 11. Another former starter, Blake Behrens (who sat out last season with injuries) returns with his 16 career starts.

In addition, there are a number of talented underclassmen. In other words, there is plenty of talent there with which new offensive line coach Steve Marshall can mold something special.

Weaknesses: The numbers contradict the talent level. With all of the above players, including All-American Nate Solder, Colorado still ranked 85th in rushing offense. Total offense? 79th. Scoring offense? 84th. These are not great numbers, folks...and not the numbers one would expect from a talented offensive line.

Perhaps it was the coaching or play-calling of the previous regime which was to blame for the lack of production. Until proven otherwise, however, the Colorado offensive line has to be placed under the category of "underperforming."

The Buffs can go 8-5 if: The Colorado offensive line channels the 2001 offensive line. Chris Brown, Bobby Purify, and Cortlen Johnson looked like world-beaters a decade ago, but they were only able to make all of those touchdown runs because they had the likes of Andre Gurode, Victor Rogers, Marwan Hage, Wayne Lucier, and Justin Bates (not to mention Daniel Graham) to run behind.

Colorado wants to run the ball in 2011. The talent is there to do so. The Buffs can bring a rushing attack to the Pac-12 which was more familiar to the teams of the Big 12 (or even the old Big Eight). If they are successful, the Buff Nation will be excited (and the rest of the nation surprised).

The Buffs will go 5-8 if: The lack of production from the Colorado offensive line wasn't due to poor coaching or play calling, but rather due to a lack of talent, technique, or desire. When the Colorado offensive line breaks down (see: Cal game, 2010), games get out of hand early.

Colorado has to be in the top half of the nation in rushing, total offense, and scoring to offset the Buffs' deficiencies on defense and special teams. If the Colorado offensive line this fall produces numbers similar to 2010, the victory total will be similar to 2010 as well.

What needs to be resolved in fall camp: Finalize the offensive line depth chart. It has driven me crazy the past few years how the Colorado coaches kept trying "different combinations" in fall practices. That's what spring practices are for, gentlemen! This fall, the Colorado coaching staff, behind Steve Marshall, needs to settle on a starting five and give them as many reps as possible.

Three of the five positions seem set, with Ryan Miller at right guard; Ethan Adkins at left guard; and David Bakhtiari at left tackle.

The Buffs need to settle on a center (red-shirt freshman Daniel Munyer? Senior Shawn Daniels? Sophomore Gus Handler?) and a right tackle (sophomore Jack Harris? Senior Sione Tau?), and get down to business.

Thanks for getting this far. Now its your turn. Click on "Comments", and let me know how you see the Colorado offense unfolding this fall ...

Up next: 2011 Preview - Defense (will be posted July 22 or 23); 2011 Preview - Special Teams (July 29 or 30).

Fall camp opens: Wednesday, Aug. 3.

Originally posted at www.cuatthegame.com

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