2013 Colorado Preview – Offense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Colorado Buffalo Offense
Preview 2013 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: New head coach Mike MacIntyre is installing a version of the Pistol offense in Boulder. Now the Buffs must make sure they don't shoot themselves in the foot. Colorado has been abysmal for years with the ball, ranking 116th in total offense and 117th in scoring offense in 2012. And while no change in scheme will have an overnight impact, it's worth noting that it didn't take MacIntyre very long to inject life into San Jose State, which ranked No. 6 nationally in passing a year ago. The Buffs need to improve … everywhere. However, no player will be more important than wayward QB Connor Wood, who transferred from Texas and then struggled for playing time. He'll be surrounded by a decent corps of skill players, like RB Christian Powell and big-play WR Paul Richardson, who's finally healthy again. The line houses next-level blockers—again—yet needs to start performing like a cohesive unit. Any progress on offense will be measured in baby steps, with the main goal being to fully digest the system before the end of the year.
Star of the offense: Junior WR Paul Richardson
Passing: Jordan Webb
144-265, 1,434 yds, 8 TDs, 8 INTs
Rushing: Christian Powell
158 carries, 691 yds, 7 TDs
Receiving: Nelson Spruce
44 catches, 446 yds, 3 TDs
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior QB Connor Wood
Unsung star on the rise: Senior OT Jack Harris
Best pro prospect: Harris
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Richardson, 2) Harris, 3) Sophomore RB Christian Powell
Strength of the offense: Backfield depth, the receivers
Weakness of the offense: Quarterback, big plays, turnovers, pass protection, third-down conversions
The quarterback situation in Boulder is complicated, but not quite as messy as it looked before the start of spring drills. While the Buffs unsuccessfully used three hurlers in 2012, two are out of the mix. Nick Hirschman announced that he planned to graduate and then transfer. Senior Jordan Webb tore his ACL in April, sidelining him for at least half the year. Suddenly, junior Connor Wood is in the driver's seat. The strong-armed transfer from Texas was the ninth-rated quarterback recruit of 2010, but he has failed to live up to expectations for two schools. He was ineffective in his Colorado debut, going 21-of-42 for 265 yards, one touchdown and four picks. While Wood is now far and away the elder statesman, there are whispers that he may have been vastly overrated from the moment he arrived in Austin.
Trailing Wood is heralded redshirt freshman Shane Dillon , the nation's 28th-ranked quarterback of 2012. The tall and rangy 6-5, 200-pounder has decent mobility, which is a plus as Colorado shifts to the Pistol. His ceiling is high, but getting on the field will require him to clean up his throwing motion and improve his timing with the receivers.
Watch Out For … rookie Sefo Liufau to get a long and hard look from the coaching staff this summer. The three-star recruit may be a long shot to play right away, but he was handpicked by the new regime, and it's not as if any of the other quarterbacks have put the job in a Brinks truck.
Strength: The future. Yeah, the present sort of stinks at quarterback for the Buffaloes, but hope is on the horizon. Dillon and Liufau were three-star prospects from 2012 and 2013, respectively, and the coaching staff will get a chance to mold them from a very young age. Colorado might have to endure lots of growing pains this year before reaping some of the benefits next fall.
Weakness: Accomplished passers. Does Colorado harbor a player worthy of being called a starting Pac-12 quarterback? It's up to Wood, whose early returns have not been all that encouraging. The Buffs ranked 119th nationally in passing efficiency last year, when Webb and Hirschman were still at the coaching staff's disposal.
Outlook: These are dire times indeed for the Colorado quarterbacks. Okay, so neither Webb nor Hirschman was going to conjure up images of Kordell Stewart, but at least they injected depth and competitiveness into the unit. Ideally, Wood improves enough to allow the kids to learn at a reasonable pace. If he plateaus, though, Dillon or Liufau will be given a crack at some on-the-job training.
Unit Rating: 5.5
Through all of the misery that comes with a one-win season, at least Colorado feels that it may have located a feature back. Without a lot of advanced warning, Christian Powell rushed for a Buff-best 691 yards and seven touchdowns on 158 carries in his first year out of high school. Thought to be strictly a fullback when he arrived from Upland (Calif.) High School, the 6-0, 240-pounder quickly showed that he had feature-back ability. Powerful between the tackles, Powell also has just enough giddy-up to outrun smaller defenders to the end zone. As an added bonus, he's an asset in pass protection as well.
Behind Powell is junior Tony Jones , a terrific complement to the starter. He's only 5-7 and 190 pounds, yet hits the hole with authority and won't shy away from contact. He's also shifty in space, both as a runner and a receiver. Jones started a couple of games, catching 26 passes for 146 yards, while rushing for 320 yards and three scores on 63 carries.
The Buffs are blessed with substantial depth at the position, welcoming back last year's top four rushers. Sophomore Donta Abron was No. 3 on the team as a rookie, running 51 times for 256 yards and two touchdowns. The 5-10, 190-pounder really came on late, flashing the ability to make things happen with the ball in his hands. Senior Josh Ford is a self-made former walk-on who can always be counted on in a pinch. Selfless and hard-working, he went for 127 yards and a score on 27 carries in 2012.
Watch Out For … Powell's health. The program wants to be sure that a concussion suffered late last year by the sophomore doesn't have any lingering effects in 2013. This is a hot topic in the sport, so any additional head problems could impact the promising future of No. 46.
Strength: Depth. The running backs are likely the deepest position on the roster entering 2013. The Buffs boasts three diverse runners, Powell, Jones and Abron, who are capable of starting on a given week, and a fourth runner, Ford, who's a quality role player.
Weakness: Support. The Colorado backs may not be mistaken for the gang in Eugene, but they form a solid bunch. Their biggest hurdle to success in 2013 will be a lack of support from the blockers and the passing game. If the Buffs cannot keep defenses honest—and out of the backfield—the production of Powell and Jones will be severely impacted.
Outlook: Last season was a transitional year in the backfield, as Rodney Stewart exhausted his eligibility. All things considered, the transition went rather well. The program leaned on underclassmen, who wound up performing rather well. As long as Powell's health is fine, the Buffs will feature a suitable diversity of options on the ground in 2013.
Unit Rating: 6.5
Cautious optimism. It's the best way to describe Colorado's approach to WR Paul Richardson , who sat out the entire 2012 season recovering from an ACL tear. The junior is, bar none, the Buffs' best all-around weapon on offense, the kind of deep threat who'll provide an instant shot in the arm to the team's beleaguered cadre of quarterbacks. But the 6-1, 170-pounder has had durability issues, and isn't exactly built to withstand a pounding. What Richardson does excel at is stretching a defense from "Z" receiver with his speed and elongated stride, and elevating high above defensive backs to make plays. In his first two seasons, he turned 73 receptions into 1,069 yards and 11 touchdowns.
With Richardson out last year, 6-2, 200-pound sophomore Nelson Spruce stepped into the role of go-to guy, at least by Colorado's standards. He'll be back in the slot, or "X" receiver, after catching a team-high 44 passes for 446 yards and three touchdowns. He has the quickness and strength to get separation on defenders, and the sure hands to once again become a preferred target of the quarterbacks on third downs.
Currently running in a dead heat at tight end are 6-4, 250-pound junior Kyle Slavin and 6-3, 245-pound senior Scott Fernandez . Slavin performed steadily in his year of serious action, showcasing soft hands by catching 14 balls for 109 yards and a touchdown. Fernandez is a one-time walk-on who brings a selfless, blue-collar mentality to the position. His lone catch of 2012 went for a 71-yard touchdown.
The Buffs are optimistic about their depth at both wide receiver and tight end. Behind Spruce in the slot is Tyler McCulloch , a can't-miss, 6-5, 210-pound target over the middle. Former head coach Jon Embree gave junior No. 87 because he reminded him so much of former Denver Bronco Ed McCaffrey, another long target who used his hands well when catching the ball. McCulloch finished second on the team a year ago with 34 receptions for 436 yards and two scores. So far, so good on the move of 5-7, 170-pound D.D. Goodson from running back to "Z" receiver. He consistently earned attaboys from the staff during the spring.
At tight end, 6-3, 245-pound sophomore Vincent Hobbs may be hustling for reps now, but he's too athletic to stay off the field for very long. As a rookie in 2012, he battled through family issues back home in Dallas to start five games, making 16 grabs for 153 yards. He's a special player, one Colorado would like to utilize a little more in 2013.
Watch Out For … Richardson to shake off what's left of the rust after missing 2013. It was vintage Richardson in April, a relief for the entire program. Barring a setback with the knee, there's no reason why he can't pick up where he left off two seasons ago.
Strength: Starting experience. The only silver lining pertaining to Richardson's injury a year ago is that it hastened the development of both Spruce and McCulloch. Had No. 6 been in the fold, the quarterbacks almost certainly would have turned a blind eye to the other pass-catchers and locked in on the star. Now that the slot guys have had a full season in the spotlight, the entire passing game is sure to benefit.
Weakness: Durability. Richardson is not only pivotal to the passing game, but he impacts the entire program. Yet, he's skinny and has had a history of getting banged around. While the Buffaloes have more capable hands than at this point last year, everyone at Folsom Field will hold their collective whenever the linchpin is slow to get off the turf.
Outlook: This is a very different corps, and maybe even a different offense, when Richardson is on the field. He's that dynamic of a playmaker, stretching out defenses so that there's more space underneath for the tight ends and slot guys. The trio of Richardson, Spruce and McCulloch will be steadily productive provided injuries don't strike and the quarterbacks finally cooperate.
Unit Rating: 7
The Buffs were all set to roll out one of the Pac-12's most underrated O-lines of 2013. And then all-league LT David Bakhtiari opted to leave school early for the NFL. And then honorable mention All-Pac-12 LG Alexander Lewis decided in May to transfer to Nebraska. Junior Kaiwi Crabb , who filled in for an injured Lewis in the spring, will now look to be the starter at left guard in the fall. The 6-3, 290-pound is making a return after sitting out all of 2012 with an injury.
Next to Crabb at left tackle is the team's new anchor, senior Jack Harris . The versatile 6-6, 295-pounder started 11 games a year ago, six at right guard and five at right tackle. He's smart and selfless, with just enough of a mean streak to leave a lasting impression on opposing linemen. He'll play anywhere, and he could be playing in the NFL with another solid season in Boulder.
Junior Daniel Munyer was well on his way to locking down the right guard job once again when he broke his fibula in the spring. It's his gig when he gets back, especially since he might have been blocking better than any of his teammates toward the end of last year. The 6-2, 295-pounder may not have elite skills, but he's a tough, no-nonsense run blocker. After Munyer went down, 6-3, 310-pound redshirt freshman Alex Kelley blocked as if he'd be ready for a full-time assignment if the opportunity arises. He was named most improved lineman of the spring.
Sophomore Stephane Nembot brings an interesting story to right tackle, a job he's currently holding. The native of Cameroon left his family to come to the United States, and has had limited experience playing football. However, he's 6-8 and 305 pounds, with the agility and retention to gradually sharpen his technique and fundamentals. Nembot is one to watch this fall and beyond.
The rock in the middle for the Buffs will again be 6-3, 290-pound senior C Gus Handler , a two-year starter. He began 2012 on the Rimington Award watch list, but after starting five games, he missed the final seven with ankle and knee injuries. His healthy return is a huge plus for Colorado entering this season.
Sophomore Marc Mustoe is going to be a key cog off the bench from tackle now that he's back from an offseason accident. At 6-7 and 280 pounds, he's an athletic, nimble pass protector who'll contend for playing time behind Nembot at right tackle.
Watch Out For … Harris to stay put at left tackle. Before Lewis announced he was leaving the program, there was talk that he might play left tackle, pushing Harris over to the right side. Suddenly, the topic has been rendered unnecessary as the shifts now center on replacing the program's most polished blocker.
Strength: Experience. Even without Bakhtiari and Lewis, the Buffs are bringing back an entire unit of blockers with starting experience. This group has played together, and is no stranger to live action facing some of the better defensive players in the Pac-12. Plus, at least a couple of these guys are going to wind up in the NFL before too long.
Weakness: Consistency and chemistry. On an individual basis, the O-line looks pretty formidable. But the results say something very different. The Buffaloes got abused at the point of attack last year, ranking 119th in sacks allowed and 109th in rushing. This group has to improve at the basics, or else the offense has no chance of advancing in 2013.
Outlook: There's fading … and rising concern. Colorado boasts a handful of returning starters, including all-league candidates, such as Harris and Munyer. However, recent history has not been pretty in the trenches, despite the unit's talent base. It's a critical offseason for assistant Gary Bernardi, who needs to get these Buffs blocking like a more cohesive group in 2013.
Unit Rating: 6
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