Spring Preview -- WR's/TE's

No unit loses more production from the 2003 team than the CU wide receivers. Yet while CU graduates three standout pass-catchers, two of whom were a record-setting part of the Buffs' offense, wide receivers coach <b>Ted Gilmore</b> says there are several talented players waiting to fill the vacated shoes. We also preview the Tight End spot where <b>John Wristen</b> and <b>Shawn Watson</b> think they have a group as good as 2001 with <b>Joseph Klopfenstein</b> being one of the best in the nation.

D.J. Hackett (78) and Derek McCoy (63) set a program record for catches in a season by two players when they combined for 141 catches in 2003. Both players are expected to hear their names called during the NFL Draft in April. John Donahoe also leaves with 30 career catches. Seven scholarship receivers return.

"If I could describe this group I'd say we're going to have a bunch of blue-collar guys," said Gilmore, going into his second year coaching the group. "They're going to have to bring their lunch pail and go to work. They're going to have to be where they're supposed to be with high energy until the experience, the tricks of the trade, that part of it comes along."

The one player who does return with some experience -- other than Jeremy Bloom, whose future with the Buffs is uncertain after he began accepting endorsement deals for his skiing exploits this winter -- is senior Ron Monteilh. The 6-1, 190-pounder had 18 catches last fall. Even so, a leadership role will be new to Monteilh.

"I'm going to lean on Ron pretty heavy," Gilmore said. "He's going to have to show the kids the way, and he's going to have to make sure he's doing it right. Obviously, there's a group of kids coming up and they're hungry. I told Ron, I said you're going to lose your position if you're not doing it the right way.

"It's a great opportunity for him because the whole time he's been here, he's kind of been in the background a little bit. And now it's his chance to lead."

A key to CU's receiving corps may fall on the shoulders of a pair of redshirt sophomores -- Tyler Littlehales and Blake Mackey. Both were highly recruited players who have yet to push the players above them on the depth charts. And both bring decent size to the field, just like Hackett and McCoy did. Mackey is 6-3, 195 pounds, and Littlehales is 6-4, 200.

"Blake has all the ability in the world," Gilmore said. "(He stacks up ability wise) with the guys we lost this year. He's what you want -- he has good size. Can he get stronger? Absolutely. And he's got to get more consistent catching the ball and get tougher. If he does those things, in my opinion, when you talk about potential, he has the potential to be an all-league type player.

"He's got to do it though."

Gilmore has also thrown a challenge Littlehales' way. The coach said that perhaps Littlehales had been too polite the past year -- not pushing hard enough to earn the right at playing time.

"His talent level is unlimited," Gilmore said. "The light switch has got to go on for him. There's no more perfect time than this spring. I think he's probably guilty in the past of waiting his turn. Well, it's his turn now.

"But he has the ability to be a real good player for us. I'll be disappointed if Tyler doesn't contend for a starting job in the fall."

Another youngster to keep an eye on is Stephone Robinson. The 5-9, 175-pounder should be in the two-deep next fall.

"Stephone is going to give us quickness," Gilmore said. "He has very deceptive speed too. I envision him playing when we're in the three or four-receiver set more in the slot to take advantage of his quickness.

"He's a compact player. He's going to have a bright future."

Gilmore calls Robinson's fellow redshirt freshman classmate Dusty Sprague the hardest worker of the bunch.

"Obviously, there's still a lot he has to learn about the position, since in high school his primary position was quarterback. But he's a fast learner," Gilmore said. "I am so impressed with this kid from a work-ethic standpoint. And once again, you're talking about a big kid that runs very well. Good athlete. And it's important to him. He'll figure in the mix."

Former walk-ons, junior Evan Judge, and senior Mike Duren, have been in the system for a while now. Both are on scholarship, as well, and could make a case for playing time.

"There's not a lot that separates them," Gilmore said of all the wide receivers. "And that's what is going to make this spring interesting. It's going to be very competitive. I'm just looking for someone to separate himself. At this point, I don't know who that's going to be.

"They all bring things to the table. It may be a deal by committee, I don't know."


Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson thinks the current crop of tight ends has the opportunity to be as productive as the group CU had in 2001, when Daniel Graham won the Mackey Award and the Buffaloes' ground game grinded out a path to the Big 12 title.

One of the bright spots on the offense in 2003 was the emergence of Joe Klopfenstein at the position. As a true sophomore, Klopfenstein caught 20 passes last fall and found the end zone four times.

Tight ends coach John Wristen said he wants Klopfenstein to improve upon the effort.

"My goal for him is to be really physical during the spring," Wristen said. "If you look at his body, he's ready to take that next step.

"As a tight end group, we've got to be more physical."

That group includes seniors Quinn Sypniewski and Jesse Wallace and redshirt freshman Joe Sanders. Sypniewski, the group's best blocker, was granted a medical redshirt after sitting out most of last fall with a chronic toe injury. He may not be 100 percent during spring practices.

Wallace has been perhaps the unit's most underutilized player. At 6-3, 245 pounds, Wallace has good hands, and knows what's expected of Colorado tight ends in the running game. This spring could be big for him.

And Sanders is itching to get onto the field and see some live action after sitting out last fall, recovering from shoulder surgery he had over the summer. He dropped down to around 205 pounds during his recovery period, but is up in the 225-pound range heading into spring ball.

"He's very athletic," Wristen said about Sanders. "And he's got a very intelligent head on his shoulders that's going to be hard for me to screw up."

But the 6-5, 240-pound Klopfenstein is the plum of the group.

"We feel Joe Klopfenstein is a big-time tight end; one of the best in the country," Watson said.

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