2009 Colorado Preview - Offense
Colorado OT Nate Solder
Colorado OT Nate Solder
Posted Jun 22, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Colorado Buffalo Offense

Colorado Buffaloes

Preview 200
9 - Offense

- 2009 CFN Colorado Preview | 2009 Colorado Offense
- 2009 Colorado Defense | 2009 Colorado Depth Chart
- 2008 Colorado Preview | 2007 Colorado Preview | 2006 Colorado Preview

What you need to know:
There was a fun offensive party going on in the Big 12 last season and Colorado didn't get the invite. While it was generally acknowledged that the O needed a year of seasoning, finishing last in the league in total offense and scoring offense still stunk. Worst of all, the Buffs were last in passing efficiency. There won't be too much of an improvement in the passing game unless a slew of new recruits can shine right away, but QB Cody Hawkins is a promising veteran who should be more consistent. The running game should be far better with an improved, deep line that should pound away for, arguably, the Big 12's best stable of backs. Darrell Scott appears to be ready to be the superstar everyone was hoping he'd be as the team's top recruit last year, while Rodney Stewart, Demetrius Sumler, and Brian Lockridge can all carry the load. For the passing game to improve, the line has to be far better keeping the quarterbacks upright and the receivers have to be far more explosive.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Cody Hawkins
183-320, 1,892 yds, 17 TD, 10 INT
Rushing: Rodney Stewart
132 carries, 622 yds, 2 TD
Receiving: Scotty McKnight
46 catches, 519 yds, 5 TD

Star of the offense: Sophomore RB Darrell Scott
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore WR Markques Simas
Unsung star on the rise: Junior OT Nate Solder
Best pro prospect: Senior TE Riar Geer
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Scott, 2) RB Rodney Stewart, 3) Geer
Strength of the offense: Running Back, Tight End
Weakness of the offense: Wide Receiver, Proven Pass Protection


Projected Starter
While it's considered a dead-even fight for the starting job, junior Cody Hawkins, head coach Dan Hawkins' son, is the one who's the safest choice and the best of the passing options. The 5-11, 190-pound junior was originally expected to go to Boise State, but changed his choice to Colorado when his dad switched jobs. While he was a top recruit, he hasn't quite blossomed as expected and has been inconsistent. While he has put up some big numbers with 4,907 yards in his first two years with 39 touchdown passes, he has also thrown 27 interceptions. While he's not all that big, he has a live arm and just enough mobility to take off from time to time. While he has had some rough patches, he has seen enough action to make a big jump in production and consistency.

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Tyler Hansen was thrown into the mix as a true freshman and came up with a win over Kansas State and wasn't too bad over the second half of the season completing 52% of his passes for 280 yards with a touchdown. However, he threw four interceptions and wasn't consistent completing 12-of-16 throws in the blowout loss to Missouri and 4-of-12 against Iowa State. At 6-1 and 200 pounds, he's bigger than Hawkins and he's a much better runner with 261 yards, including 86 against Kansas State. While he's more polished than last year and appears to have become a better decision maker, he's still not quite as smooth as Hawkins.
Watch Out For ... Hawkins to take hold of the position. Hansen will get his chances to win the starting job and could even take on an X factor role seeing time as a change up, but Hawkins is the passer who can get the offense moving best.
Strength: Playing time. Hawkins has played in 25 games over his first two seasons, and Hansen is a veteran backup and could even win the starting spot with a great fall camp.
Weakness: Efficiency. There weren't enough big plays made down the field and the consistency was never there. The passing game isn't going to be more explosive now that one of the most dangerous targets, Josh Smith, is gone.
Outlook: With Matt Ballenger leaving the team, the quarterback situation is all about Hawkins and Hansen, and that's not a bad thing. Both quarterbacks looked strong in spring ball and appear to have better control of the offense, but someone, most likely Hawkins, will have to be able to start bombing away more to be able to keep up with the more explosive Big 12 passing games.
Rating: 7

Running Backs

Projected Starters
The hype for Darrell Scott was off the charts. Considered by many to be the nation's top running back recruit last year, he came in and was expected to carry the offense from day one. He was fine, rushing for 343 yards and a touchdown as the team's second leading rusher, but he was hardly special after suffering a slew of minor injures. Last year he wasn't in fighting shape; now he looks the part. A bit tentative at times while rarely showing off the explosiveness of his 4.3 speed last season, this offseason he appears ready to blossom into superstardom. The 6-1, 200-pound sophomore ran for 3,194 yards and 45 touchdowns in his final year in high school and was almost going to go to Texas, but Colorado was able to pry him away and now he should be the focal point of the attack for the next three years.

Projected Top Reserves: While everyone was waiting to see what Scott could do, another true freshman, Rodney Stewart, turned out to be the team's best back last season. The 5-7, 170-pound sophomore might not be all that big, but he's a speedster, clocking in at 10.7 in the 100 meters, and he showed he could handle the workload as he carried the offense at times throughout the first half of last season, highlighted by a 166-yard day against West Virginia. While he led the team with 622 yards and two scores, he suffered a broken leg and missed the final three games of the season. Almost all the way back, he'll be a key No. 2 runner used around ten times a game in a variety of ways.

Junior Demetrius Sumler is more than just an afterthought among the rest of the good talents. The 5-10, 215-pound junior was a superstar recruit a few years ago and has shown a good combination of quickness and power. More of an inside bruiser than a speed back, he has the wheels to break off the big run when he's not pounding away. He ran for 251 yards, getting most of his work against Oklahoma State with 86 yards and a score before finishing off the year with two touchdowns against Nebraska. Now he has to start averaging more than four yards per carry, something he hasn't been able to do over his first two years.

5-7, 175-pound sophomore Brian Lockridge missed last year with a hernia problem, but when he's right, he's a small, lightning-quick speedster who ran for 213 yards and a score, averaging 5.6 yards per carry, as a freshman. With his wheels, the offense will try to get him in space on the outside and on the move as both a third down runner and a speedy backup option.

When the offense use a fullback, senior Jake Behrens will step in after getting a little bit of starting work. He didn't run the ball, but he caught 12 passes for 75 yards and two scores and was a strong blocker. At 6-0 and 240 pounds, he has the body to blast away for the ground game.
Watch Out For ... Scott. In a backfield full of very fast, very good runners, Scott appears ready to be special. He has it all with size, speed, vision, and the ability to run inside and out. He's ready to show what all the fuss was about.
Strength: Speed and options. Scott, Lockridge, Stewart and Sumler would form a dangerous relay team. This foursome isn't just really fast, it's really talented.
Weakness: Consistency. Injuries were part of the issue, youth another factor, the lack of a big-time passing game was a problem, and the awful play of the O line really hurt. With all the talent the Buffs have, there should be far more production.
Outlook: It's not a stretch to call this the most talented group of backs in the Big 12, especially if Scott turns out to be as good as expected. There are four excellent options who can all fly and can all make things happen. There should be a good rotation and a great year if there's some help from the line.
Rating: 9


Projected Starters
Junior Scott McKnight might not be the flashiest receiver, but he's been the most productive over the last two years leading the team with 45 catches two years ago and 46 last season with 519 yards and five scores. The 5-11, 185-pound junior suffered a broken ankle two years ago and missed spring ball this year with a triceps injury, but he's expected to be back and the key go-to target. He didn't come up with any big games, but he has been consistent and tough with the ability to make plays inside or out.

With Josh Smith leaving the team, sophomore Markques Simas is now a key part of the passing game and he appears to be ready to shine after a strong spring. The 6-2, 200-pounder has good size and good upside, but he didn't see any time last year. The one-time star recruit is slow, but he'll be asked to be a field stretcher.

When healthy, senior tight end Riar Geer is one of the team's most dangerous receivers. The leading receiver three years ago, he had off-the-field problems with the law that kept him off the team for a stretch, but after everything was cleared up, he ended up starting in seven games making 13 catches for 183 yards and two scores. The 6-4, 250-pounder is trying to come back from a knee injury, but when he's right, he's a good deep threat and a great route runner.

Projected Top Reserves: Former walk-on Dustin Ebner will become more of a factor at the X now that Smith is gone. The redshirt freshman isn't all that big at 6-1 and 175 pounds, but he's one of the team's fastest receivers and needs to be a field stretcher and has to do things with the ball in his hands. He'll get his chances.

Sophomore walk-on Jason Espinoza is only 5-8 and 175 pounds, but he has the best combination of strength and speed of any of the Buff receivers. He didn't see any work last year, but he'll be a part of the rotation on the inside as a quick target who showed this spring that he can find the holes in a defense and can make things happen.

JUCO transfer Andre Simmons could be a No. 1 target right away. He's coming to campus this fall after starring for Independence Community College with 60 catches as a freshman and 31 as a sophomore with every defense double and triple teaming in his second season. At 6-3 and 210 pounds he's a big target with big-time upside.

6-4, 205-pound Terdema Ussery comes in from Texas after catching 46 passes for 615 yards and eight scores in just six games last year. He missed half his senior year of high school with a concussion problem and suffered a broken ankle early in his high school career, but when he's healthy, he has all the skills with size, speed, and smarts.

At 6-5 and 210 pounds, true freshman Jarrod Darden is huge and plays bigger with track star leaping ability. A top high jumper, he's unstoppable on jump balls and has the deep speed to hit the home run. While he'll need time to get back in the swing of things after missing his senior year with an ankle injury, he'll be a dangerous option.

Watch Out For ... the new recruits. The receiving

Former quarterback Patrick Devenny was a decent spot starter in place of Riar Geer, making 14 catches for 116 yards and two scores, and he should be more than just a nice second option. The 6-3, 240-pound senior has the hands and he has the deep speed, but he was an afterthought over the second half of last year with just two catches in the final six games. He'll see more action if he can do more as a blocker.

corps needs to get a lot better in a big hurry. Darden, Ussery, and Simmons might be the very big, very promising starting trio sooner than later.
Strength: Tight end. The Buffs are loaded here. Geer and Devenny could start for most teams, while Luke Walters has good upside and Devin Shanahan is a terrific blocker.
Weakness: Speed. The loss of Josh Smith, who left the team to pursue a music career, is a killer. Simas and McKnight, the projected starters, run in the mid-4.7s, and there aren't any true burners among the backups.
Outlook: Unless the new recruits can come in and shine right away, this is a major weak spot now that Smith is gone. Smith only caught 29 passes, but he appeared to be on the verge of becoming a desperately needed gamebreaker. McKnight is serviceable, but it's uh-oh time if he's the team's leading receiver again. There are too many walk-ons in the mix and too many unknowns across the board, but the tight ends will be a major plus.
Rating: 6

Offensive Linemen

Projected Starters
The one big loss across the front is Daniel Sanders, the rock of the young line last year, In steps Mike Iltis, a 6-3, 275-pound sophomore who had a strong offseason and appears ready to be a big part of the front five for the next three years. While he's not all that big, he's tough and consistent, at least in practices. He's coming off a knee injury that killed his 2008, but he's has his quickness back and he's incredibly strong.

The strongest and toughest player on the line is left tackle Nate Solder, who struggled last year in past protection after moving over from tight end but is a big-time all-around athlete. He's a massive 6-9 and 300-pound junior who runs as fast as some of the Buff wide receivers (good for Solder, bad for the CU passing game) and is a weight room superstar. Now it all has to convert to production on the field.

When back from injury, 6-3, 290-pound sophomore Blake Behrens will likely be the starter at left guard again. He started for most of last year but was out this spring and is expected back again in the fall. He's a decent run blocker who needs to be more consistent overall and has to show more for the passing game. He can step outside to tackle if needed.

6-8, 310-pound Ryan Miller is built more like a tackle, which he played for the first half of last year, but he'll move to right guard where he'll be a very big, very athletic inside presence. He had a hard time handling speed rushers over the last two seasons, but he'll have no problem whatsoever with the interior pass rushers. The former Colorado Gatorade Player of the Year has tremendous upside, but he has to start showing it.

With Miller moving inside, 6-6, 275-pound redshirt freshman Bryce Givens will take over the right tackle job. A superstar recruit last year, he was considered a possible starter right away but ended up redshirting. A great technician, he might not be big but he doesn't make mistakes. He should provide a stable upgrade for the overall pass protection up front for the next four years. 

Projected Top Reserves: With Behrens out this offseason, 6-4, 295-pound sophomore Ethan Adkins got the longest look at left guard. Considered a possible tackle prospect when he first started out his career, he'll stay on the inside where he should be better now that he has bulked up. A tall, skinny blocker when he first arrived in Boulder, now he's a big bruiser for the ground game.

Senior Devin Head started for most of last year at right guard but will move to a backup role with Ryan Miller moving inside. The 6-4, 290-piunder will work at left guard in a battle to see playing time, but he can play anywhere. He can even move to center to add more size if needed.

Junior Keenan Stevens appeared to be on the verge of taking over the starting job in the middle going into this year, but instead he'll be one of the team's most versatile backups able to work at either center or guard. At 6-2 and 285 pounds, he has decent size and a little bit of experience.
Watch Out For ... an overall improvement. The right combination was never found last year, but lots of players got starting time and there's plenty of experience across the board. The young, inconsistent front five of last year should be more consistent this season.
Weakness: Strength. This should be a strong run blocking line with good bulk and raw strength. This isn't the most athletic line around, but there won't be five blocks of granite. This group should do far more to open things up for the talented group of backs.
Outlook: After a rough year when it allowed 30 sacks, too much pressure, and was never able to field the same starting five for more than a few games in a row, this year's line should be better. There are plenty of veterans, good depth and after a nice spring there should be a big improvement.
Rating: 7