Spring Preview -- Running Backs

The vaunted Colorado rushing attack from 2001 and 2002 declined last season. And while CU managed to replace some of its lost offensive yardage with a strong passing attack, one of the main goals of spring practices is to upgrade its ground game. Offensive coordinator <b>Shawn Watson</b> and running backs coach <b>Shawn Simms</b> tell BSN how they plan to do that.

"We need to get better rushing the football," Watson said. "We need to get back to the team we were in 2001."

That season, CU featured a balanced offensive attack, churning out 2,742 yards on the ground and 2,471 through the air.

The following season, Colorado relied mostly on its run game (3,136 rushing/1,907 passing), while last year, it was the passing game that carried the load (1,122 rushing/3,351 passing).

Simms is heading into his second spring as running backs coach.

"I can't wait to get better as a coach, and I can't wait for the players to get better," he said. "When you come in your first year, you're just kind of getting used to some things. But being here a year now, you look back on the season and see things you did well, and some things you didn't do quite as well. And I just can't wait to get back at it again to make a big difference."

Simms will be working with a group of players that will be among the deepest and most experienced on the team next fall. Last year's rushing leader 5-10, 185-pound junior Brian Calhoun (810 yards) returns, as does 6-0, 210-pound senior Bobby Purify (1,999 career yards), who was given a medical redshirt year after sustaining a high ankle injury last fall.

Also returning are junior Lawrence Vickers (6-2, 230) and sophomore Daniel Jolly (6-0, 225). The combination of the two traditional tailbacks — Calhoun and Purify — and the two bigger backs in Vickers and Jolly, gives the Buffs some flexibility in the backfield. All four can carry the rock with effectiveness, and Calhoun can move out into a slot receiver position as well.

"We want to be in pro personnel as much as we can be, with two backs in the backfield," Watson said. "With Jolly and Lawrence, they give us a rushing threat at the - I don't want to call it fullback position - but the other halfback in the offense.

"We're going to continue to move (Calhoun) out of the backfield and use him in receiver alignments, and use Lawrence as a rusher, Jolly as a rusher, and stay in two backs with both Jolly and Vickers, and Bobby and Brian at tailback."

Watson continued his explanation of the pro, or "Jet" personnel.

"We call it Jet personnel. That's with two tailbacks in the ballgame," he said. "Our true fullback position is something we need to strengthen and work on. So we're going to use more Jet personnel. And that's still two tailbacks, but we have two big tailbacks in Lawrence and Daniel. And that allows us an opportunity to use a two-back set in a number of ways."

Simms also commented on the group's flexibility.

"They can run the ball, they can catch the ball, they can run routes," Simms said. "We've got some guys big and strong enough to bang it in there when we need to, and athletic enough to do the things we ask when break into different formations, and one-back or two-back, or zero-backfield sets."

In an effort to strengthen the fullback spot, former tight ends Paul Creighton and Brendan Schaub will move to the backfield. Schaub is a 6-4, 240-pound transfer from Whittier College. He prepped at Overland HS in Aurora. Creighton has steadily put on weight since coming to CU at around 200 pounds. The sophomore stands 6-5 and weighs in the 250-pound range.

Also in the mix at running back will be sophomore Brandon Caesar and redshirt freshman Isaiah Crawford. Caesar has bulked up to 210 pounds, while Crawford — who demonstrated a tough, north-south style of running during fall scrimmages last August — is listed at 5-10, 190.

Simms also said the team will look to the running backs for guidance this coming season.

"They're going to have to provide some leadership," he said. "Last year we had great leadership at our wide receiver, but now the running backs have experience. We need them all to step up big. There's no reason why they shouldn't."

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