We are talking today with a new entrant to the Pac-12, Colorado fans The Ralphie Report. Even though they are technically our conference mate in 2011, we are playing a non-conference game against them. This is to finalize the home and home agreement that saw Cal dominate Colorado at home last year. One of the few bright spots in a difficult 2010 football year.
We're hoping to learn more about the Buffs and The Ralphie Report is the crew with their ears to the ground on all this Colorado. They are in a new post-Hawkins era in Boulder and are hoping to recover from the frustrations of the last few years. After the jump, check out their answers to our questions. Many thanks to The Ralphie Report for taking the time to provide such thorough answers! We look forward to working with them on Pac-12 related material for years to come. GO BEARS!
1. What were the core questions that you had hoped would be answered by Spring Practice? Were conclusions reached?
With a new coach in place, there are a ton of questions. One thing we painfully learned from Dan Hawkins' tenure is never make judgments based on preseason hype and hoopla (i.e. Dan Hawkins saying "10 wins, no excuses" one off season). That being said, practices had a different tone to them. They were much more intense from a coaching standpoint. I think the staff is demanding more of these players than the previous regime. They made that point clear by cutting players who weren't buying into the program this spring. Personally, I love that. The attitude of the program needed a change and I think Jon Embree is instilling that. He is going back to the old school philosophy that this program has had success and can have a ton of success and it is a privilege to play division one football.
These coaches have also taken a different approach in recruiting, being very active and aggressive. They had 20+ recruits at the spring game. We didn't see this early aggressiveness from Hawkins especially the last few years.
2. Any major style changes coming our way in the fall? New offense or defense installed?
Everything is new. On defense, the Buffs were missing a ton of players to injury especially in the front seven so it was extremely hard to make many conclusions on schemes. We won't get a feel for the first team defense until fall practice resumes.
On offense, from the spring game and a few scrimmages we attended, the scheme was pro-style, something that was to be expected from Jon Embree and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy's background in the NFL. Embree being a former tight end, certainly instilled more tight end sets, something that was missing from the Dan Hawkins' offense. The Buffs will be much better if they can attack the middle of the field with their tight ends. Consistent with their NFL roots, Embree and Bieniemy have said that they want to play physical and that starts up front in the running game.
3. What players emerged on offense? On defense?
Offense - QB Tyler Hansen locked up the starting quarterback spot by a wide margin. He looked very good, especially in the scrimmage leading up to the spring game, going 18 for 19 and 3 scores. I think he will benefit from not having to look over his shoulder worrying about being replaced with Cody Hawkins. He is the clear starter.
RB Tony Jones and Josh Ford - a huge worry coming into spring ball was finding a #2 running back behind Rodney Stewart. Stewart at 5'7" carried the ball 290 times last season while the #2 back Brian Lockridge only toted the rock 35 times. Finding a reliable backup who can effectively take some of Stewart's carries was a big concern this season. Redshirt freshman Tony Jones (5'7") and Kansas State transfer Josh Ford (5'9") looked great in the spring. Both are smaller backs as well but they showed very well this spring and will be a factor in the year.
WR Paul Richardson - the former UCLA signee who transferred to Colorado last season was great as a true freshman and is fully expected to be a Pac-12 all conference player the next three years. He has big play ability and is a great route runner. Look for a huge year from Richardson as the main threat at receiver.
Defense - It is hard to tell because of all the injuries. Senior DT Conrad Obi, a relative underachiever over his Colorado career turned some heads this offseason. His 300 pound size would be great to have in the middle.
LB Doug Rippy, who is the most physically imposing player on the defense, looks to have benefited from the coaching change. He never seemed to be able to crack the lineup his first two years under Dan Hawkins but now is starting and making plays. Rippy and Jon Major should be two solid players at the linebacker position this season.
4. What are your biggest worries coming out of spring ball for the fall?
Three major concerns. First, we like the coaching staff's activity on the recruiting trail, like their intensity but until we see them in game day action, we just won't know. Embree has never been a head coach and Eric Bieniemy has never run an offense. They may be great coaches but we just don't know yet so it is a worry.
The defensive backfield is a major concern. Colorado lost two corners to the NFL in first round draft pick Jimmy Smith and fourth round pick Jalil Brown. Replacing two starters is always tough to do and even with two draft picks, the Buffs were 110th in the NCAA last year against the pass. I don't think anyone stepped up enough to make fans feel comfortable going into fall practice.
The kicking game. Colorado's special teams has been awful the past few years, hasn't seemed to improve much this offseason.
Finally, not a concern per se, but something we just don't know is who will assume the leadership roles on this team. Popular players like CB Jalil Brown and WR Scotty McKnight are now in the NFL. With Embree coaching Hawkins recruited players and that lack of success over recent years, you always wonder about where the player's heads are at and who will be the guys to fully buy in and take on the leadership role. I expect players to buy into the change for the better but it is always something that needs to develop.
5. Project your season. Contender? Pretender? Middle of the pack?
I don't think anyone's expectations for this season are high. Most are predicting second or third from the bottom in the standings. The Buffs' schedule is brutal with non-conference games against Colorado State, California, @ Hawaii and @ Ohio State. The conference looks to be very strong this year as well. Expecting a five or six win season until Embree can get his own players in and get some momentum.
6. Tyler Hansen & Jon Embree are in charge now. What's going to be different from Dan Hawkins?
Hopefully every single thing. No more starting quarterback shuffle. No more vague, ridiculous quotes. No more excuses. Buffalo fans hope that they have a staff in place that will challenge and push our players in the weight room, on the practice field, and during the games. Finally, we hope the biggest difference is in the win column. Not necessarily, this season, but an upward trend and smart, tough play out of this team would be a great start.