Buffs short-handed at LB
Half of team's 14 linebackers have missed much of spring
Colorado football coaches are likely to discover a lot about current members of a very young football team today when the Buffs hit Folsom Field for the first scrimmage of spring.
Regardless of what happens over approximately 125 plays in the 1 p.m. scrimmage, coaches won't know nearly as much as they would like about their linebackers.
After navigating their way through the entire 2007 season short-handed at linebacker and requiring players such as Jordon Dizon, Brad Jones and Jeff Smart to play almost every down, coaches were excited to amp up competition in the heart of the defense this spring with 14 linebackers on the roster and more set to join the program in the fall.
Bad luck and poor performance in the classroom has put the team right back in the same boat it was in last fall. Seven of the 14 linebackers have missed significant time in the first six practices.
It started when true freshman Lynn Katoa was arrested last month for felony assault. He was indefinitely suspended before the start of drills. In the second practice of spring, redshirt freshman Josh Hartigan suffered a neck injury that has prevented him from participating.Juniors Marcus Burton and Jake Duren and sophomores Michael Sipili, Nate Vaiomounga and B.J. Beatty all have been held out of practice this week in what coach Dan Hawkins calls his "mentoring program." All are focusing on improving their performance in the classroom.
"It doesn't help you. That's for sure," Hawkins said. "You need to have everybody here putting it full-throttle and doing everything.
"But that being said, you can't sacrifice your standards."
It is pure coincidence that the hardest hit area by academic problems this spring is linebacker. Hawkins emphasized that no coach serves as a better mentor to his players than longtime CU linebackers coach and assistant head coach Brian Cabral, who is entering his 20th year coaching the position in Boulder.
Cabral has been asked to make the most of bad situations in the past and he's trying to do so once again.
"Obviously, I'm not getting anything accomplished with them," Cabral said. "Those guys need to be out here and they're not here, but academics discipline is going to override any football."
Hawkins said today's scrimmage, which is open to the public, will be designed to be as much like a game as possible. Even with a shortage of linebackers it will probably be the most valuable scrimmage work during the first three springs of Hawkins tenure because everyone knows the system now and the program has enough offensive linemen once again to make scrimmaging a legitimate exercise.
Hawkins said making it more game-like will help identify who is ready to play. Of the 85 active players on the spring roster, 55 are freshmen or sophomores and 18 more freshmen are slated to join the program this summer. Coaches still expect a high level of performance with players finishing each play and knowing their assignments.
"It's always still very high," Hawkins said of his expectations. "I don't think you ever lower the bar that way. I think it's even more important for us. "They need to be in an uncontrolled environment where they're by themselves out there playing football."
Fans who choose to attend will get a chance to see a handful of young offensive and defensive linemen competing for playing time. The same is true of a gaggle of young defensive backs.
The quarterback position is always a focal point and CU is adding a hurry-up facet to its offense this spring with players no huddling and getting the plays signaled in from the sidelines. It will be tested today for the first time.
Most of Friday's practice was focused on position-specific drills, in part, to benefit about 100 high school coaches participating in the annual coaches' clinic. Hawkins said the practice was one of the most productive so far. ... CU is expecting about 40 high school juniors on campus for the annual junior day today. ... Senior defensive tackle George Hypolite has been named to the Lott Award watch list along with 41 other players from across the nation. The award is given each year to the best defensive player in college football.