2012 Colorado Preview – Offense
Colorado OT David Bakhtiari
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Colorado Buffalo Offense
Preview 2012 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: After showing intermittent hints of progress in its new pro-style offense, Colorado could be in store for another reboot in 2012. Not only have seven of last year's starters graduated, but star WR Paul Richardson was lost for the year to a spring ACL tear. The Buffs are going to be painfully young on offense, especially at the skill positions. With youth, though, comes hope. QB Connor Wood, a transfer from Texas, is the most decorated passer to wear the gold and black in more than a generation. RB Tony Jones is coming off a terrific spring. Receivers Nelson Spruce and Tyler McCulloch appear poised to pick up some of the slack left by Richardson. And the line, the strength of the ground-based attack, will start no more than one senior. Colorado will be rather green and inconsistent this fall, but those fans who are patient will be rewarded with a unit that's going to get increasing better with more seasoning.
Star of the offense: Junior LT David Bakhtiari
Passing: Nick Hirschman
18-35, 192 yds, 0 TDs, 0 INTs
Rushing: Tony Jones
78 carries, 297 yds, 2 TDs
Receiving: Tony Jones
27 catches, 168 yds, 2 TDs
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore RB Tony Jones
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LG Alex Lewis
Best pro prospect: Bakhtiari
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Bakhtiari, 2) Jones, 3) Sophomore QB Connor Wood
Strength of the offense: Young arms, slippery backs, the offensive line
Weakness of the offense: Proven players, big backs, youth at receiver, red zone offense, third down offense
Koy Detmer in 1996. That's how long it's been since the Buffaloes have bred an all-conference passer. It's also an indication of how thrilled the program is to have sophomore Connor Wood at the top of the depth chart. The 6-3, 235-pound transfer from Texas was the ninth-rated quarterback recruit of 2010, the kind of gem that would not have considered Boulder at the time. Yeah, he lacks relevant experience and was inconsistent in the spring, which could make for a slow start, but his physical tools are rather promising. He's not only Colorado's biggest quarterback in almost two decades, but he backs it up with a strong arm and a nice feel for the pocket. For the first time in a long time, the Buffs have a kid behind center who finally looks the part.
The anticipated duel between Wood and 6-4, 230-pound sophomore Nick Hirschman never materialized. Last year's backup to Tyler Hansen broke a bone in his foot in March, the third time he's required surgery on his feet since last August. A prototypical dropback passer, he also possesses the arm strength to stretch a defense. He appeared in five games in 2011, completing 18-of-35 passes for 192 yards.
Watch Out For … Wood to not only hold off Hirschman in the summer, but build some distance on him. The former Longhorn showed enough flashes as the March session progressed, capping his effort with a knockout spring game. The presence of more competition is going to bring out his best when the hurlers square off in August.
Strength: Big arms. Gone are the days when the Buffaloes quarterback are barely over 6-0 or 6-1. The new era of Colorado quarterback is a strapping hurler with the RPMs to make all of the throws. From Wood and Hirschman on down, all of the passers are at least 6-3, and can reach receivers on the long ball.
Weakness: Inexperience. The anticipated starter has never thrown a pass at this level. The veteran, Hirschman, has played meaningless minutes in five games. And the balance of the quarterbacks on the roster are freshman. The Buffs are going to be painfully green at the most important position on the field.
Outlook: There's a lot of excitement surrounding this year's quarterbacks … and a lot of uncertainty. Wood and Hirschman both have high ceilings, but it's likely that neither will reach them in 2012, especially considering the program's problems at wide receiver. Ideally, the sophomores will get progressively sharper as the season unfolds, setting the table for far better consistency and production in 2013.
Unit Rating: 6.5
Colorado will be looking to replace one of its top backs of the last decade, Rodney Stewart. In sophomore Tony Jones , the program believes it may have uncovered a clone. At 5-7 and 185 pounds, he's built similarly to Stewart, yet hits the hole hard and will play bigger than his stature. He also shares his former teammate's shiftiness in the open field, both as a runner and a receiver. Jones displayed flashes as a rookie, carrying 78 times for 297 yards and two touchdowns, and catching 27 passes for 168 yards and two more scores.
Behind Jones, who has built a wider margin, will be a swath of unproven players. Sophomore D.D. Goodson is a versatile all-around athlete, with the speed to help compensate for a diminutive frame. He's just 5-7 and 170 pounds, yet plays with such passion and instinctiveness that he'll begin fall camp No. 2 on the depth chart.
If Colorado wants a bigger option on the ground, it's liable to turn to 5-9, 205-pound Josh Ford who has had a great offseason of conditioning. The former walk-on will provide some pop between the tackles, and operates with the kind of blue-collar mentality that the staff likes.
Playing fullback for the Buffs will be 6-2, 250-pound junior Alex Wood . Yet another former walk-on, he used to be a reserve tight end, and will strictly be used as a blocker.
Watch Out For … the arrival of true freshman Davien Payne . The Buffs are obviously facing a shortage of depth, size and overall talent at running back, which Payne will arrive from California determined to address. He's a three-star recruit with a very good shot of shooting up the depth chart.
Strength: Quickness. Exiting spring drills, the Buffaloes' top two runners, Jones and Goodson, were small, quick as a hiccup and able to hide behind linemen before exploding into daylight. They'll also be lethal receivers, swinging out of the backfield and juking their way past defenders when they get out into space.
Weakness: Lack of a big back. Jones is tough as nails, but he's also only 185 pounds playing in the Pac-12. Goodson is even less durable. The Buffs desperately need someone, like the 215-pound Payne, to gobble up some carries, while punishing opposing defenses at the same time.
Outlook: With Stewart gone it figures to be a transition year for the Colorado ground game.
Goodson and Jones will have their moments and occasional highlight reel plays, but it's unrealistic that either sophomore will be able to carry the load for the offense. The Buffs will try to spread out the carries to keep everyone fresh, holding out hope that the backfield will a lot deeper a year from now.
Unit Rating: 6
The receiving corps already suffered an enormous loss when star Paul Richardson went down with a season-ending ACL tear in April. Couple that misfortune with the graduation of Toney Clemons, and the Buffs are basically starting from scratch on the outside. First in line to benefit from the dearth of veterans is 6-2, 195-pound Nelson Spruce . Though just a redshirt freshman, he spent the spring solidifying himself as the top option in the passing game. He's been light years tighter than in his rookie year, running good routes, rarely dropping balls and getting behind defenders with deceptive speed.
Providing cover for Spruce at "Z" receiver will be one of his elders, senior Dustin Ebner . The 6-1, 190-pounder is a hard-working former walk-on who has three career receptions, which he made as a freshman in 2009.
Lining up at "X" receiver will be sophomore Tyler McCulloch who caught 10 passes for 96 yards and a touchdown in his first year removed from Albuquerque. Head coach Jon Embree gave his recruit No. 87 because he reminds him so much of former Denver Bronco Ed McCaffrey, another long, hard-to-miss target who used his hands well when catching the ball.
When the Buffs want to put a smaller, quicker receiver in the slot, they'll summon sophomore Keenan Canty off the bench. The 5-9, 160-pounder played valuable minutes in his first year of action, catching 14 passes for 161 yards.
Not only will Colorado be without last year's top two wide receivers, but leading TE Ryan Deehan has graduated as well. Senior Nick Kasa will fill the void. One of the more intriguing stories on the roster, the 6-6, 260-pounder arrived in Boulder as one of the most decorated defensive linemen in school history, but never panned out. He has since found a home at tight end, where he's working on becoming a better receiver.
Watch Out For … the Connor Wood to Spruce connection to gain traction as the season unfolds. Both the quarterback and his young receiver are unproven, but they'll have an opportunity to grow up together and develop a little chemistry. By midseason, it shouldn't surprise anyone if the two are playing pitch and catch at least five or six times a game.
Strength: Length. Spruce and McCulloch are a couple of long striders who run the kinds of efficient routes that can get them behind a secondary in a hurry. Plus, because of their size and leaping ability, the projected starters are going to be dangerous weapons on jump balls in the red zone.
Weakness: Inexperience. The decline in the receiving corps is going to be inevitable in Boulder. While it's not as if Colorado doesn't have a bright future at wide receiver and tight end, there's no seamless way to replace the production and playmaking ability of Clemons, Richardson and Deehan. How dire is the situation? The team's leading returning receiver is a back, Tony Jones. Second is Canty who is listed third on the depth chart.
Outlook: There was a fair amount of hope regarding this group before Richardson went down. Now the Buffs are in full-fledged rebuilding mode. Although it'll be exciting watching Spruce and McCulloch grow within the attack, it'll also be frustrating from time to time. As is the case with much of the offense, patience is recommended because better days are ahead for this unit.
Unit Rating: 6
Colorado has quietly done a nice job of attracting and developing quality blockers, such as Nate Solder and Ryan Miller, in recent years. So, even with the loss of a couple of senior starters, there's hope that the line will be the pillar of the offense. The leading man will be 6-4, 295-pound junior David Bakhtiari , the team's anchor at left tackle. He did a terrific job after sliding over from the right side, earning Second Team All-Pac-12 honors. Bakhtiari was penalized just once all year, while leading the returners in Great Effort Blocks and grade. He's worked hard to add weight and muscle, yet has maintained the finesse and footwork that have helped him become so effective at sealing off edge rushers.
Battling it out at right tackle will be 6-5, 305-pound junior Jack Harris and 6-6, 310-pound Ryan Dannewitz . Harris was the starter last September, but broke a bone in his lower leg in the Cal game and never returned. While the team loves his potential as a physical, downright nasty blocker, he needs to show he can stay healthy for the first time in his career. Dannewitz is Mr. Versatility in Boulder, a blocker who can line up at just about any position up front. The three-time letter-winning senior was in on more snaps than any other lineman in 2011, but also committed the most penalties, which needs to be addressed.
If Dannewitz loses his battle with Harris, he could still be the starting right guard in the opener. He's currently going toe-to-toe with 6-2, 295-pound Daniel Munyer who saw action in seven games in 2011 to earn his first letter. The staff really likes his toughness and his ability to slide his feet in order to protect the pocket.
The buzz around campus is that 6-6, 285-pound sophomore Alexander Lewis is going to be the school's next great lineman to use Boulder as a pipeline to the NFL. While slated to start at left guard, he has the type of build that could see him someday supplanting one of the tackles. He's still raw, but his bend and overall technique are indications that he's going to get markedly better with more reps and a little more muscle on that frame.
The Buffs feel fortunate to have a familiar face back at the pivot, 6-3, 300-pound junior Gus Handler . A 10-game starter in 2011, he got better throughout the season, and finished second among returning regulars in overall grade. He needs to continue to work on his snaps, while eliminating the penalties that plagued him at times last fall.
Watch Out For … Lewis to be this year's breakout star. There's cautious optimism since he played just 48 snaps in 2011, but the staff can hardly contain its enthusiasm about the sophomore. While it's early, he appears to be on the same kind of trajectory that Solder and Miller were at similar stages in their careers.
Strength: The tackles. The key here is going to be Harris. If he can play at full strength all year, the Buffs will have a terrific tandem on the flanks. Bakhtiari is already one of the Pac-12's premier returning blockers, and the program has always been impressed by Harris when he's had a chance to play.
Weakness: Drive blocking. Colorado needs to do a better job of winning the battles at the line of scrimmage, bullying opponents off the ball so that the skill guys can make things happen. A year ago, when Miller was still an amateur, the Buffaloes still ranked 87th nationally in sack allowed, and paved the way for the nation's 106th-ranked ground game.
Outlook: The line will be the strength of the Colorado offense, but that's a relative designation. Yes, there's plenty of experience and potential with Bakhtiari, Lewis and Harris, but the Buffs still need to do a much better job of executing and blowing open holes. A lack of proven depth besides Dannewitz is also an issue that the team hopes it doesn't have to address during the season.
Unit Rating: 6.5
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