This is the 11th in a series reviewing spring football camps in the Pac-12. Today, Colorado.
Starters returning – 10 (4 on offense, 6 on defense), plus P Darragh O’Neill and PK Will Oliver.
Refresher on 2011 – In the maiden season of former Buff Jon Embree as head coach, Colorado took its lumps and finished 3-9, struggling in virtually every phase. The Buffs did save the best for last; as a three-touchdown underdog in its final game of the season, Colorado shocked Utah, which not only bounced the Utes out of the first Pac-12 title game, it ended a 23-game road losing streak for CU that had stretched back to 2007. Mostly, though, it was a painful first season in the Pac-12 for Colorado, marked by a seven-game losing streak that stretched from September to early November. During five games of it, the Buffs allowed 235 points, as there was a palpable difference in speed and playmaking between Colorado and its opponents. Among conference categories in which Colorado finished last were scoring offense (19.8), scoring defense (36.5), pass efficiency (123.7 rating) and pass-efficiency defense (156.5). Eligibility ran out on leading rusher Rodney Stewart and QB Tyler Hansen.
Coaching changes — None.
Developments – Embree noted that the thrust of the spring was more technique-oriented than physical, unlike his first program-setting tone a year ago . . . Buffs suffered a tough blow when they lost their best receiver, junior Paul Richardson, to a torn ACL. Although he missed four games in 2011, he had 555 yards receiving on 39 catches, including a school-record 284 yards against Cal . . . QB Nick Hirschman, expected to battle for the starting job vacated by the graduation of Hansen, sustained a broken bone to a foot a second time and missed drills. That left the reps to Texas transfer Connor Wood and walk-on John Schrock. Hirschman should be ready for fall camp . . . Buffs expect to dip significantly into their February signing class for fall help, having signed nine DBs and nine defensive linemen . . . Nick Kasa, a 6-6, 265-pound senior converted from DL to tight end, showed signs of progress late in the session . . . with Richardson gone, finding quality receivers was a priority. Two who could factor in are RS freshman Nelson Spruce and soph Tyler McCulloch . . . Embree liked the development of junior WLB Derrick Webb . . . OT and RS freshman Stephane Nembot, who committed to both Washington and WSU before picking the Buffs a year ago, missed the first half of drills getting over a knee injury sustained in winter conditioning. He was on the defensive line last fall but has switched to offense . . . S Parker Orms sat out with hamstring problems . . . like several schools in the Pac-12, Buffs dealt with depth issues on the OL . . . junior DE/OLB Chidera Uzo-Diribe (6-3, 250), heretofore known as a pass-rush specialist, drew raves from DC Greg Brown as the Buffs’ best defender halfway through the session, having improved against the run . . . LB Doug Rippy sat out rehabbing a torn ACL . . . Kyle Washington, 6-1, 220-pound soph, made a successful move from safety to linebacker . . . linebacker appears to be the strength of the defense, and the line the best part of the offense . . . incoming in the fall is controversial CB Yuri Wright, who signed with Colorado after being kicked out of Don Bosco Prep in New Jersey for sexually explicit and racially charged tweets. Embree said the decision to sign Wright went all the way to CU chancellor Phil DiStefano . . . Embree and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy were part of a welcoming committee for President Obama before a speech in late April at the Coors Events Center.
Spring game – Actually, it was a 42-play scrimmage, with Wood leading the offense to two 75-yard TD drives in three possessions. Wood was seven of 10 for 137 yards and two touchdowns, but the battle for the starting QB job will continue well into fall camp with Hirschman. Junior Josh Ford had eight carries for 141 yards and two long TDs, but the tailback leader entering the fall is 5-7, 185-pound soph Tony Jones.
2012 schedule – Buffs are optimistically talking bowl game, and they have a schedule they can grow into, with Colorado State, Sacramento State and Fresno State to start out of league, and then Washington State (in Pullman) followed by UCLA and Arizona State in Boulder. It gets seriously tougher after that, so the Buffs better bank a lot of wins early. Off the schedule are Cal and Oregon State.