September 2, 2010

Behind Enemy Lines: Colorado

With the start of the season just days away, we check in with's Adam Munsterteiger to find out the season's expectations for the Buffaloes from Boulder in a segment we like to call, "Behind Enemy Lines." We all know football teams tend to be as good as their offensive linemen. Last year the offensive line was a bit of a question mark, giving up almost four sacks per game, including back-to-back eight-sack performances by Texas A&M and Missouri. Tell me how the line has progressed from a year ago. I know there are some nice names with good size along the front, are they taking a step forward?

Munsterteiger: There is no substitute for experience, and the Buffaloes are a lot more experienced up front going into this season. In 2009, Colorado had three first-year starters on their offensive line. This year, 11 of the Buffs' 20 offensive linemen are upperclassmen; and nine have started multiple games in their college career. Starting left tackle Nate Solder was a preseason All-American pick and right guard Ryan Miller was a preseason All-Big 12 selection.
"We have more experience, more time on the job, and more depth. And overall, we're a lot healthier going into this season," Colorado offensive line coach Denver Johnson told me earlier this week. "We feel good about all that. But that has to manifest itself in production on the field and that is what is yet to be proven." Coach Hawkins has named Tyler Hansen as the starting quarterback for this game. I have been impressed with him as a running quarterback in the past, but tell me how he is looking in the CU offense this year and will we see any Cody Hawkins on Saturday? Scotty McKnight accounted for 76 receptions for 893 yards last year and was solid. What else does the CU passing game have to offer and how has it looked this spring? Have they added speed on the outside to the point teams cannot run man-to-man defenses against them?
Munsterteiger: There is a good chance you will see Cody Hawkins on the field at some point this season, but unless the Buffaloes' offense struggles mightily against Colorado State, I doubt you'll see him play in the Rocky Mountain Showdown. Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Eric Kiesau has told Hansen not to look over his shoulder.
Hansen will have a lot more talented targets in the passing game this time around. Michigan transfer Toney Clemons and USC transfer Travon Patterson both add speed and are expected to stretch the field. Clemons ran a 4.27-forty during spring testing and Patterson ran a 10.4 in the 100-meter dash back when he was in high school. True freshman Paul Richardson, who was a four-star recruit, is also expected to play. He is a fluid athlete that makes it look easy. And Will Jefferson is an under-rated pass catcher. Redshirt freshman tight end DaVaughn Thornton is a big, athletic target that is also expected to play a big role in Colorado's offense this season. Rodney Stewart is a very special talent at running back, posting 804 yards in 11 games against defenses stacked at the line of scrimmage. How are the Buffs planning to use him differently this year and what depth is there in the running game to help out an offense that rushed for just 2.7 yards per carry?
Munsterteiger: As you pointed out, Rodney Stewart is a special talent. He is just the second player to lead Colorado in rushing his freshman and sophomore seasons. Stewart often made something out of nothing last season. Even though he stands just 5-foot-6, 175-pounds, Stewart gained 367 of his 804 rushing yards after he was first hit by a defender. The offensive line is expected to be better this season so that should obviously help Stewart out. During the Buffaloes' three preseason scrimmages, he averaged 6.2 yards and scored six touchdowns on 31 carries.
Stewart is expected to get the bulk of the carries this fall. But junior Brian Lockridge, redshirt freshman Quentin Hildreth and true freshman Justin Torres will also get some work. Lockridge is a fast one-step then cut up the field type of runner, Hildreth runs with great vision and Torres is a bigger back that can get the tough yards inside. Defensively the Buffaloes had a tough time stopping the run last season (1,934 yards allowed on the ground). Did that have to do with injuries, scheme, a lack of birthdays and experience? How are they trying to shore up the front seven and who are some of the playmakers for the Buffs?
Munsterteiger: Lack of experience definitely played into it. The Buffaloes only had one upperclassman in their rotation on the defensive line last season. This year, they'll have five. Also, the stats are a bit misleading. Since the Buffaloes were playing from a deficit for much of the season, opposing teams ran the ball a lot more. That also made their pass defense stats look a little better.

Colorado has a number of talented defensive linemen and linebackers, but none have proven to be all-conference caliber players yet. Last year, the Buffs didn't have a pass rusher that would command constant double teams and that definitely makes it more difficult. Defensive coordinator Ron Collins had to be aggressive with his blitz packages and that can obviously leave other parts of your defense exposed.
Three underclassmen at defensive end - Nick Kasa, Forrest West and Chidera Uzo-Diribe - have good speed and have the potential to develop into really good pass rush specialists. But as I pointed out earlier, they just haven't proven it on game day yet. In the secondary, the Buffaloes seem to have more experience and explosion than anywhere else on the field? What do they do well in the defensive backfield and what impresses you about this group? How tough do you expect them to make life on the Rams' true freshman quarterback Pete Thomas on Saturday?
Munsterteiger:Jimmy Smith and Jalil Brown provide the Buffaloes with two of the best cornerbacks in the Big 12. Smith tested the NFL draft waters this winter but decided to come back for his senior season. He is a physical specimen. Smith stands 6-foot-2, 205-pounds and he ran a 4.35-forty during spring testing. Smith grabs more headlines, but Brown was actually more consistent during preseason camp. He really came into his own last season as a junior and tallied a team-high 15 pass breakups.
Junior safety Anthony Perkins is the quarterback of the Buffaloes' secondary. He has average size and speed, but is a heady player that knows when and where he needs to be. Redshirt freshman Parker Orms also has good football instincts. He will replace Cha'pelle Brown as the Buffs' starting nickel back. The biggest question mark in the defensive backfield is Ray Polk. He is an excellent athlete but the former four-star running back recruit is still learning the safety position after playing 283 defensive snaps in 2009.

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