Buffs Looking for Big Plays in Running Game

Last Saturday's scrimmage was marked by big plays on both sides of the ball. Absent, however, from the stat sheet was any significant yardage gained by the CU running backs. Running backs coach <b>Shawn Simms </b>wants to see that trend change as the Buffs move through their final week of spring practices. So does tailback <A HREF=[PlayerNode:1397303]>Hugh Charles</A>.

In Saturday's scrimmage five running backs combined for 35 carries for 71 yards. That's just 2.02 yards per crack. The two expected to compete for the starting job in August — sophomores Hugh Charles and Byron Ellis — were 10 for 16 and 7 for 16, respectively.

The running backs, and their coach, Shawn Simms, have been talking about changing that trend. While the passing game has broken open some big plays this spring, the running game is still waiting to break some.

"Our ability to run the plays, know what we're doing, is there," Charles said. "But we've just got to start making those big plays."

In recent springs under head coach Gary Barnett, the running game has shined, particularly in the spring game. The stated emphasis for this series of practices has been on the passing game, which may explain some of the drop off in production in the rushing department so far this April. But Simms isn't buying that.

"You could use that as an excuse if you want, but when you hand the ball off, there's a chance of a big play," he said. "We've got to make ‘em no matter if it's five times we get it, or if it's 25 times we get it. We've just got to make some big plays."

That's not to say Simms hasn't been pleased with some of the things he's seen from his group.

"We've seen some drastic improvement in the receiving part of our game, blocking — I'm extremely happy with the blocking and picking up blitzes. The reads for the most part are pretty good," he said.

But in Simms' mind, no one has established himself as a clear-cut first-string back. Ask him if the competition is still open and Simms responds with an emphatic "Definitely!"

"(Charles and Ellis) both are working hard," Simms said. "They've still got a lot of room for improvement, so there's no way we're thinking about a starter right now. We're just trying to get them sound and relaxed out there."

Brandon Caesar could have his name in that group, but nagging injuries have kept him out of roughly half of spring ball. He was held out today, and is questionable for Saturday's spring game.

Watching practices the past few weeks, it's clear that both Charles and Ellis are more comfortable than they were in August, during their first taste of college football. Charles spent the offseason in the weightroom and on the track, where he competed in the long jump and in some sprints for the CU track team.

He came close to qualifying for the NCAA Championships in the long jump.

"That kind of workout keeps you in shape, and it keeps the competitiveness in you," Charles said.

And that competitiveness is keeping Charles' desire to win the starting role alive.

"I want to be the guy that makes the big plays," he said.

Practice Notes
The Buffs went through a practice in shells Monday. They'll go full contact Wednesday, and have a light contact practice Friday before Saturday's spring game. Monday, the Buffs looked lethargic through the first half of practice, which was marked by dropped passes and missed assignments during 11-on-11 situations. But tongue lashings from more than one coach seemed to wake the players up, and they finished more focused than they had begun.

Both Brian Iwuh (ankle) and Ryan Walters (concussion) wore the orange jerseys Monday, but Barnett thought both would play in Saturday's scrimmage. He said Evan Judge, who's missed most of spring ball, and Brandon Caesar are questionable.

New Spring award will honor Crowder
The Buffs have created a new award that will be given each spring to the player who shows the most outstanding leadership during spring practices. The award will be called the Eddie Crowder Leadership Award, in honor of the former football coach and athletic director.

"There can be no more meaningful an award or anyone more deserving of having such an award named after him than Eddie Crowder," Gary Barnett said Monday. "We've probably been remiss not to do it before now. To give it to someone who provides outstanding leadership in the spring is just perfect."

Crowder coached the Buffs to a 67-49-2 record in 11 seasons. His 1971 team went 10-2 and finished No. 3 in the country. As athletic director, Crowder hired three of the most successful coaches in school history — Ceal Barry, Bill McCartney and Mark Simpson.

Grad rates out
The Colorado football program graduated 79 percent of its players who began in the 1998 and '99 seasons and who exhausted their eligibility, the program announced Monday.

Coaches' vote
Officials who run the ESPN/USA Today Coaches' Poll are considering making the season's final vote public. Currently, coaches' votes are kept private, while sportswriters' votes in the Associated Press poll are typically public. Asked if he would agree to make his vote public if it came to that, or if he would opt not to vote in the poll, Barnett said he hadn't had time yet to think about that decision.

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