Spring fling: offense steps forward
Freshmen should provide another boost in fall
There were two bits of good news to emerge from the Colorado spring football game Saturday at Folsom Field.
The offense has improved in the year since it produced a horror show of incompetence in the first spring under coach Dan Hawkins. And it only figures to get better when the freshman class arrives in the fall.
Hawkins said a significant number of true freshmen will probably see playing time next fall as the program rebuilds from a 2-10 season in 2006. The offense figures to receive the greatest boost from the recruiting class, with impact signees at offensive line, tailback and wide receiver.
"I think all those guys are very prolific and good with the ball in their hands and good skill guys," Hawkins said. "So I think it will be great competition. We'll look forward to those guys coming in here in the summer and working and learning and being able to engage in some meaningful reps in the fall."
But before CU sees any benefit from Hawkins' first true recruiting class, the players will have to survive the academic cut from the NCAA Clearinghouse and CU admissions standards that have cost both the football and men's basketball team several significant recruits in recent years.
A handful of recruits from the 2007 football recruiting class are said to be in danger of falling victim to the same pitfall in which they are declared eligible by the NCAA but the school pulls the rug out from beneath them.
"We're doing pretty good right now," Hawkins said when asked about the possibility of losing members of the class to academic issues. "Of course it's never over until it's over, but we're doing pretty good."
Talented tailback P.T. Gates, who is scheduled to transfer to CU in August from Saddleback College in California, is one example. Gates is taking six classes this spring and four this summer in hopes of qualifying by August.
CU quarterback Nick Nelson played with Gates last season at Saddleback before transferring to Boulder in January. Nelson said he keeps in regular contact with Gates and he believes his friend is doing his best to get the job done. Gates' fate likely won't be decided until early August.
A running joke among the offense, particularly the linemen, centers on high school All-American Ryan Miller from Columbine High School in Littleton taking someone's job in the fall.
Knowing their coaches already think so highly of the incoming freshman has led to a better overall attitude and work ethic this spring, players said.
"You shouldn't be playing at this level if you're concerned," said wide receiver Dusty Sprague, who will be competing against three talented newcomers in the fall. "The more talented people you have at your position, the better your position is going to be, but also it's going to push you to become a better player.
"You've got to look at it that way. If you look at it negatively, you're going to end up, probably, on the bench."
The CU offense at least was capable of completing passes and driving the ball down the field Saturday, unlike a year ago.
Both quarterbacks — Cody Hawkins and Nelson — threw two touchdown passes in a game that featured both 11-on-11 competition and seven-on-seven drills.
Hawkins appears to be the clear front-runner to win the starting job at this point but offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said the competition is closer than it might appear. Helfrich is the man who will ultimately decide the starter, Dan Hawkins said.
Cody Hawkins completed 12 of 20 passes for 119 yards Saturday. His worst mistake was throwing an ugly interception near the next of the game that was nearly returned for a touchdown.
Nelson completed three of 10 passes for 30 yards and also threw an interception.
While the passing game seems to be improved, the Buffs might have taken a step back in the running game. Outside of one long run from former starting quarterback turned all-purpose back Bernard Jackson, the stable of running backs produced fairly modest numbers Saturday.
Starter Hugh Charles ran 11 times for a meager 20 yards.
"I would have liked to run the ball a little bit better," Dan Hawkins said.
On the defensive side, the Buffs did not allow big plays Saturday, but they managed only one quarterback sack.
Defensive coaches don't have nearly as many questions to answer before the season opener in September. Most of their issues center on developing a pass rush, more consistency in pass coverage and quality depth.