Camp Preview — Offensive Backfield

Who starts at tailback? Will Lawrence Vickers have the ball in his hands this fall? How wise is it to bring in a backup quarterback, just to show the defense a change of pace? BSN previews the Buffaloes' offensive backfield as Colorado's August camp is just over a week away.

OFFENSIVE BACKFIELD

Quarterback
14 Joel Klatt, Sr., 6-1, 210
10 James Cox, Jr., 6-3, 210
7 Bernard Jackson, So., 6-0, 190
3 Brian White, So., 6-5, 235

Despite the fact that sophomore Bernard Jackson created a buzz this spring, don't expect a quarterback controversy in Boulder in August. Senior Joel Klatt is the Buffs' starter …and he should be. You don't bench a third-year starter and talented team leader for a player whose understanding of the basic offense hasn't yet caught up with his physical gifts. Jackson isn't ready to run CU's passing game.

Meanwhile, if he can get some help from his receivers (who had 39 drops in '04), Klatt is ready to become only the second quarterback in CU history to throw for more than 2,000 in three different seasons (joining Kordell Stewart).

But the question remains: Will Jackson see the field in certain situations, so the Buffs can take advantage of his ability to improvise with the ball in his hands? His running ability certainly provides a unique weapon in the CU arsenal.

I think the CU offensive minds need to find a way to get him on the field. But it will be a precarious situation. Using Jackson could create some problems, in the name of trying to create them for opposing defenses. Arbitrarily putting Jackson into the lineup could disrupt the starting quarterback's rhythm. And if Jackson is secure with only a portion of the playbook, doesn't that become predictable and easier to defend?

How to best use Jackson will test offensive coordinator Shawn Watson. He'll have to keep team chemistry in mind and keep from tipping his hand when Jackson sees the field..

Tailback
2 Hugh Charles, So., 5-8, 185
22 Byron Ellis, So., 6-0, 200
21 Brandon Caesar, Jr., 6-0, 210
23 Kevin Moyd, Fr., 5-8, 190

This is the first time in several years when the Buffs go into the season without a proven player at tailback. Hugh Charles and Byron Ellis have displayed their talents in flashes, both last fall and in the spring, but neither has been asked to carry the rock 20-25 times a game.

With Terrence Wheatley sidelined, Charles is the fastest player on the team (though incoming corners Gardner McKay and Terry Washington may have something to say about that). He runs north and south and isn't afraid to punch it up the gut of the defense. Charles is a superior athlete, a weightroom champion in his weight class, and a track athlete as well (sprints, long jump). He's also avoided injury so far. Coaches think he gives the Buffs a home run threat coming out of the backfield.

Ellis is a slasher with good hands. He still needs to get bigger and stronger, and should over the next two years. His style provides a good change of pace from Charles. Junior Brandon Caesar has battled injuries his entire career, and it's unclear if he can be relied upon over the course of a season. However, if healthy, he'll see the field in spots this fall.

Charles and Ellis are untested sophomores. Chris Brown was an untested sophomore in 2001 when he led the Buffs with 946 rushing yards. However, Brown dominated August practices that fall. Practices were closed to media and public then, but we all kept hearing about how Brown was turning heads as he ran over defenders every afternoon. The following spring, Brown and Marcus Houston both looked spectacular. The two backs both ran for over 100 yards in the 2002 spring game.

What concerns me is that none of the current tailbacks dominated practice sessions last spring. That could be in part because the emphasis was on improving the passing game, while the emphasis in August 2001 and spring 2002 was developing a physically tough running game. Still, you have to label the tailback position with a big question mark.

Charles should be the starting tailback Sept.3 vs. CSU. We should have a clearer idea in the coming weeks if he's ready to have a breakout season, or if the CU offensive will look more like it did in 2003, when it relied mostly on its pass game.

V-Back
17 Lawrence Vickers, Sr., 6-2, 235

LV will reportedly play at a lighter weight than he did last year, in case Charles or Ellis struggle and he's needed at tailback. Hopefully, the CU game plan will include putting the ball in Vickers' hands on a regular basis, wherever he lines up. With 43 career receptions, Vickers needs just 15 catches to move into second place all-time in receptions by a CU running back.

Fullback
30 Paul Creighton, Jr., 6-5, 250
43 Brendan Schaub, Sr., 6-4, 250
35 Jake Behrens, Fr., 6-1, 225

The Buffs abandoned the traditional tailback/fullback look after Brandon Drumm graduated in 2002. For better or worse, they've opted for more sophisticated uses for their running backs the past two seasons. Creighton is a tough traditional fullback, who's a solid blocker. He scored the only rushing touchdown in the spring game on a short yardage plunge. Coaches like Behrens' toughness, and he comes from a storied program, Omaha's Millard North.

Keep An Eye On: Two players. It's always fun to discover what a new tailback can do, especially when he's from a heralded South Florida program like Miami Northwestern as Kevin Moyd is. What kind of back is Moyd? Is he low to the ground and shifty? Can he make people miss? Does he have an extra gear? We'll soon see.

Also, Brian White didn't throw in the spring with a wrist injury. He's been throwing all summer and word is he's looked sharp. He was brilliant in the Houston Bowl practices.

Biggest Battle: Be surprised if Charles isn't named the starter at tailback. The real battle will be for No. 2 quarterback. Watson likes junior James Cox. Cox and Jackson will probably be named co-No. 2s, and playing either one of them — should the need arise — will come down to variables like who looked better in practice that week, and whose strengths match up best with a particular opponent.


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