2011 Colorado Preview – Offense
Colorado RB Rodney Stewart
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Colorado Buffalo Offense
Preview 2011 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: So long, spread. Hello, pro-style attack. New coordinator Eric Bieniemy will spend the offseason installing an offense that employs more traditional looks, including better use of the fullback, tight end, and two-wide sets. His most important pupil will be QB Tyler Hansen, who'll be trying to bring some long-awaited stability and spark to the passing game. If he's not up to the challenge, the Buffaloes are in deep trouble because his caddy has yet to take a snap. The skill positions have plenty of upside with the returns of 1,000-yard rusher Rodney Stewart and three of last fall's top four pass-catchers. Paul Richardson, in particular, is on his way to becoming one of the Pac-12's premier young playmakers on the outside. The line is a perennial issue, more so now that LT Nate Solder is a member of the New England Patriots.
Star of the offense: Senior RB Rodney Stewart
Passing: Tyler Hansen
112-164, 1,102 yds, 6 TDs, 6 INTs
Rushing: Rodney Stewart
290 carries, 1,318 yds, 10 TDs
Receiving: Toney Clemons
43 catches, 482 yds, 3 TDs
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior QB Tyler Hansen
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LT David Bakhtiari
Best pro prospect: Senior RG Ryan Miller
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Stewart, 2) Miller, 3) Sophomore WR Paul Richardson
Strength of the offense: Veteran quarterback, the running game, the receivers, ball protection
Weakness of the offense: Pass efficiency, offensive line, lack of explosiveness
State of the Unit: For a change, there'll be no controversy under center, a position that's haunted the Buffaloes for years. In fact, an inability to properly develop a quarterback is a big reason why Dan Hawkins is no longer employed as the head coach. You've got to go all the way back to 2003 to find a year that Colorado ranked higher than No. 50 in passing efficiency. The good news is that the program has already named its starter, a veteran who was in the starting lineup for last season's opener.
At the conclusion of spring practice, 6-1, 215-pound senior Tyler Hansen was named the starter by head coach Jon Embree. He was in the lineup for the first seven games of 2010 before suffering a ruptured spleen that shut him down for the balance of the year. He's an accurate passer, who completed more than 68% of his throws, but has thrown more career picks than touchdowns. Last season, he went 112-of-164 for 1,102 yards, six touchdowns and six interceptions. Also a nimble athlete, he scored four times on the ground.
Redshirt freshman Nick Hirschman is in line to be the backup and the successor to Hansen in the lineup. More of a traditional dropback passer, he figures to be a good fit for an offense shifting to a pro-style attack. This is an important year for the 6-3, 225-pounder, who'll now be one vicious hit or twisted ankle from being in the huddle. Trailing Hirschman on the depth chart is 6-3, 210-pound junior Brent Burnette , a recent transfer from Arizona Western Community College. He has upside and experience as a thrower, but looked a step behind the competition in the spring at grasping the system and the playbook.
Watch Out For … a more relaxed Hansen to deliver his best season in Boulder. Clearly rattled by Cody Hawkins, the coach's son, looking over his shoulder, the senior can now wrap up his career with far fewer distractions. Relaxed and healthy, he's impressed the new coaching staff with his poise and retention of the offense.
Strength: Experience. At this spot on the field, there's no substitute for reps, and Hansen has plenty of them. A senior and three-time letterwinner, he's seen just about everything over the course of 20 games. He's also a team leader, a galvanizing and confident figure in the huddle for the younger Buffs.
Weakness: Pass efficiency. This is an ongoing problem at Colorado, which needs to be addressed soon if the program plans to reverse course. Hansen has thrown too many picks throughout his career, and big plays have been far too uncommon. The Buffaloes attempted nearly 400 passes in 2010, but just two that connected for more than 50 yards.
Outlook: While Colorado isn't going to light up Pac-12 secondaries this fall, there's also reason to believe that the passing game won't be anesthetized for a change. Hansen has put together a solid offseason, and is reveling at being the unequivocal starter. He's surrounded by an underrated supporting cast, which will afford him an opportunity to close his career on a high note.
Unit Rating: 6.5
State of the Unit: Colorado is going to build a decent chunk of the offense around a running game that welcomes back a 1,000-yard rusher as well as his backup. However, despite harboring the nation's No. 12 rusher in 2010, the Buffaloes still need to become far more efficient on the ground. The team ranked 85th nationally in rushing and averaged a mere 3.6 yards a carry.
In 2008, Rodney Stewart was an afterthought in a recruiting class dominated by blue-chip RB Darrell Scott. Scott is now at South Florida, a big disappointment, and Stewart is one of the nation's top returning rushers. The 5-6, 175-pound senior jetted for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns on 290 carries. He also added 29 receptions for 290 yards, redefining what a workhorse back looks like. Much tougher than his size might indicate, he'll quickly squirt through the hole and make defenders whiff when he plants and cuts out of trouble.
Providing occasional breathers for Stewart will be 5-7, 185-pound senior Brian Lockridge , a three-time letterwinner and special teams contributor. One of the fastest players on the roster, he makes a nice fit as a third down option. In an injury-shortened year, he carried 35 times for 146 yards a touchdown. The battle for the No. 3 job is between 5-7, 185-pound redshirt freshman Tony Jones and 5-9, 195-pound sophomore Josh Ford . Jones can flat out fly, an exciting young player who'll entice the staff to get him occasional touches. Ford is a former walk-on, with a little punch between the tackles and the blue-collar work ethic that the staff appreciates.
Duking it out at fullback will be seniors Tyler Ahles and Evan Harrington . At 6-2 and 240 pounds, Ahles is the bigger and stronger of the two. He's a former linebacker who loves to lower his shoulders and hit someone. Harrington only goes 5-11 and 220 pounds, but is a bit more nimble out of the backfield as a runner and a receiver. Both players will be busier than in recent years now that the Buffs are adding a fullback back into the mix.
Watch Out For … bigger holes for Stewart to navigate. With the addition of a fullback in the starting lineup, the jackrabbit will be able to hide behind a much bigger teammate before exploding into daylight. Just because Ahles and Harrington won't touch the ball much doesn't mean they won't have prominent roles in 2011.
Strength: Quickness. If it seems as if all of the Colorado backs are small, fast, and elusive, that's because they are. With Stewart setting the tone and the standard, the Buffs are diminutive gamebreakers, zipping into the secondary and making defenders look slow.
Weakness: Lack of a big back. Sure, Stewart is plenty tough, but its not ideal for a 5-6, 175-pounder to absorb so many hits, especially in short yardage. The Buffaloes don't have a bruising complement to all of those jitterbugs, a thumper to employ in short yardage situations.
Outlook: Stewart will once again set the tone in the backfield for the Buffaloes, giving the offense at least 25 quality touches a game. He'll take care of business on the ground, but still needs more support from his blockers up front. The staff would prefer to lessen his load a bit in 2011, helping keep him fresh through November and getting snaps for his successors.
Unit Rating: 7.5
State of the Unit: Even with the tough loss of sure-handed Scotty McKnight, Colorado enters 2011 feeling confident about its receiving corps. The next two most productive pass-catchers are back in Boulder for another year, as is the Buffs' all-star tight end. If a deeper rotation can be developed, QB Tyler Hansen will have no shortage of weapons to team with in the passing game.
Returning to "X" receiver is 6-2, 205-pound senior Toney Clemons , a one-time can't-miss recruit of Michigan. A rangy and physical target on the outside, he's equally effective working the middle of the field as he is getting behind the secondary. He has the necessary talent and the year of experience in Boulder, but needs to make more money plays after turning 43 receptions into just 482 yards and three touchdowns.
On the opposite side of Clemons, at "Z" receiver, is 6-1, 165-pound sophomore Paul Richardson , one of the budding stars of this offense. The Buffs' big-play weapon in the passing attack, he debuted with 34 catches for 514 yards and six touchdowns, taking part in four of the program's seven longest plays of the year. While his deep speed is his calling card, he also has soft hands and the determination to become a better route-runner.
Rounding out the pass-catching trio will be 6-5, 250-pound senior Ryan Deehan , an honorable mention All-Big 12 selection last fall. He took a giant step forward in his first season in the starting lineup, catching 25 passes for 249 yards and a touchdown. With continued improvement as a blocker, he's going to field plenty of attention from NFL scouts.
Depth concerns at wide receiver ensure that auditions will be held right through the summer. At least in terms of experience, the early edge goes to 5-10, 170-pound senior Kyle Cefalo and 5-8, 180-pound senior Jason Espinoza at "X" and "Y", respectively. Cefalo took the scenic route to Boulder, making stops at Oregon State and Wenatchee (Wash.) Valley College. A quality all-around athlete, he started the opener and finished with six catches for 35 yards. Espinoza is a better fit as a slot receiver, using his strength and quickness to find the soft spots in a defense. A former walk-on, he still has the blue-collar mentality that's earned him a spot in the rotation.
Watch Out For … Richardson to take the next step in his evolution as one of the game's brightest young receivers. Rapidly looking as if he has the total package, he has the confidence of the quarterbacks as well. With a little more muscle, he'll be even harder to stop in just his second year on campus.
Strength: The starters. On the front-liners alone, the Buffs have little to complain about. Clemons and Richardson form a dangerous tandem at wide receiver, and Deehan is eyeing a spot on the All-Pac-12 Team. All three are playmakers, with realistic hopes of playing on Sundays in the future.
Weakness: The backups. The Big 3 better remain healthy throughout the year because there's precious little proven talent behind them. Among the reserves, not one caught more than 10 passes a year ago, creating an open competition for playing time that's going to continue deep into the summer.
Outlook: Provided the starters don't miss much time during the season, the passing attack will be better because of the presence of the receivers. Clemons is set to make a salary run in his final season of eligibility and Richardson is on the brink of going national. When that pair stretches the field, Deehan has the right skill set to take advantage on the intermediate routes.
Unit Rating: 7
State of the Unit: Even with Nate Solder, a first round pick of the New England Patriots, holding down left tackle, the Colorado O-line was just average in 2010. Without him anchoring the unit, it'll be tough for the Buffs to elevate higher this fall. On a positive note, four starters do return, with an edict from the coaching staff to do a much better job of holding the line and allowing the skill position guys to maximize their potential.
With the departure of Solder, 6-8, 310-pound RG Ryan Miller takes over as the anchor of the front wall. The senior has been a starter since his first year on campus, earning All-Big 12 honorable mention in 2010. One of the program's strongest and most durable players, he has played on every offensive snap over the past two years spanning 1,876 plays.
Over at left guard will be 6-4, 305-pound senior Ethan Adkins , a starter in all but one game last season. He's come a long way since arriving as an undersized tackle, adding muscle and improving markedly in the weight room. As one of the more physical blockers on last year's team, he finished third with 66 finish or knockdown blocks.
The situation at center isn't expected to be decided until the summer. Redshirt freshman Daniel Munyer and little-used senior Shawn Daniels were in a dead heat at the conclusion of spring. Last year's starter, Mike Iltis, decided in June to leave the team. Munyer lacks experience, but has the edge since Daniels missed spring as he recovered from a foot injury. The rookie has a ceiling that'll only be reached once he improves his technique and fundamentals.
A veteran presence off the bench at guard will come from 6-3, 300-pound senior Blake Behrens on the left side and 6-6, 295-pound Ryan Dannewitz on the right. Behrens has starting experience that dates back to 2008, but has had a chronic problem with his shoulder. Dannewitz is one of the Buffs' more athletic blockers, a versatile player who can also play tackle in a pinch.
The unenviable task of succeeding Solder at left tackle belongs to 6-4, 295-pound sophomore David Bakhtiari
. He won the job on the right side as a rookie, starting all but the Texas Tech game and finish second to Solder with a grade of 89.4%. A finesse blocker, who's worked hard to add weight, he has the light feet and athletic ability that the staff requires to protect the quarterback's backside.
The favorite to fill Bakhtiari's old spot at right tackle is 6-5, 290-pound sophomore Jack Harris , a first-time letterman a year ago. Bigger and stronger than his partner at tackle, he fills the requirements for a team that wants more physicality and muscle on the right side. If he falters, 6-5, 350-pound senior Sione Tau is there to break his fall. The biggest member of the program, he'd help his cause by dropping weight and improving his conditioning.
Watch Out For … the medic's report. For the past few years, the line has been besieged by injuries. The past few months have been no different, with a handful of Buffs missing spring practice. This group's best chance of exceeding expectations will require the first two units to remain as healthy as possible.
Strength: Athleticism. The plan under the past regime was to recruit quality athletes, such as high school tight ends, and transform them into 290-pound offensive linemen. Across the board, the Buffs are agile, well-conditioned, and capable of walling off edge rushers.
Weakness: Center. It's the biggest question mark on a line wrought with uncertainty. The retirement of Iltis really hurt because he was the program's lone center with starting experience. Daniels doesn't appear to be the answer, leaving Munyer, a redshirt freshman, as the likely starter at the pivot.
Outlook: While Miller is a building block and Bakhtiari an up-and-comer, Colorado enters another season a little light on talent in the trenches. With so many injuries, there'll be plenty of shuffling of players in the summer and right through the fall. Keeping the better Pac-12's better front seven at bay will be a stiff challenge for this group.
Unit Rating: 6.5
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