Camp Preview — Receivers

How important will Quinn Sypniewski's presence be? Who'll start at wide receiver? Can Tim Lemon make an impact this fall? Inside, a look at the CU receivers heading into August drills.

RECEIVERS

Wide Receiver
5 Alvin Barnett, So., 6-0, 190
47 Marcus Gonzales, Sr., 6-4, 210
6 Reggie Joseph, So., 6-0, 185
82 Evan Judge, Sr., 6-2, 215
19 Tim Lemon, Fr., 6-1, 205
9 Blake Mackey, Jr., 6-3, 200
83 Dusty Sprague, So., 6-4, 190
4 Patrick Williams, R-Fr., 6-3, 200
80 Jarrell Yates, Fr., 6-1, 185

So concerned with the passing game after last season were the CU coaches, they started from Page 1 in the spring. Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson, with the help of assistant coach Darian Hagan, re-taught the CU passing game to the wide receivers from the ground up.

"We wanted to start at the very beginning of the passing game and re-teach everything to our receivers," Watson said. "One, because they were an inexperienced group thrown into a season (in 2004) where some of the detail in our execution (lacked). Obviously, we've got to improve that."

Watson saw improvement over the spring, but the group of receivers is still far from a finished product.

Each of the nine players above has the opportunity to contribute this fall. I've listed them alphabetically, rather than in depth-chart ranking because, despite the fact there will be a depth chart prior to Practice No. 1, the starting jobs are up in the air.

As a group, it's talented but largely inexperienced. Each player has potential, and each player has questions about reaching that potential. Here's my take:

Judge is the wizened veteran of the group. The fact that he's got just 29 career catches shows how green the wide receiving corps is. Judge was the talk of the group last August, but that buzz failed to materialize into a difference-maker on the field in the fall. Still, Judge, who missed spring with an injury, has good hands and could be a valuable possession receiver this season.

Mackey is an all-league talent, but the first play of the spring game (a dropped pass) showed he hasn't shaken the habit of dropping passes. He puts too much pressure on himself, but if he can solve the mental puzzle, Mackey will have a big year.

Williams has the raw talent to play at the next level, but two broken hands kept him out of practice most of last fall, and behind on the learning curve. When he gets some experience and confidence, things will click all of a sudden for the former option quarterback, and he'll emerge out of what seems like nowhere. The question is, when will that happen?

If you're looking for a go-to guy in this group heading into August drills, I think Sprague is the guy. He was developing into a playmaker last season before breaking his collarbone (8 catches at Texas A&M, 5 vs. Texas). It will be hard to keep him out of the starting lineup vs. Colorado State.

As you'd expect for a transfer in his first Division I practices, Barnett was inconsistent in the spring, looking spectacular one day, common the next. He can make yards after the catch. As soon as he's comfortable, the game will slow down for him, and he will get playing time. He has an outside shot at starting.

Joseph is a hard worker who reminds me of Ron Monteilh — he has solid skills, and could become a good possession guy.

Anyone who watched practices a couple years ago knows Gonzo didn't look like he belonged in a football uniform. You winced when this kid with sportswriter-skinny legs got the ball. But the walk-on is legit these days. He's put 35 pounds on and at times in the spring, Gonzales looked like the best wide receiver on the field. He's a feel-good story who has a shot to play this fall.

The Buffs need speed at wide out, and Yates will bring that element. If he can run the right routes, get open and catch the ball in August, he'll play in September. Sounds a lot simpler than it is.

Prepare for the newspapers and Internet message boards to buzz about Lemon, the intriguing 24-year-old (turns 25 in Sept.) player, who's walking on after six years of minor league baseball. Before he's even put on the pads, here are the pros • cons:

Pro: He was a great receiver in high school • Con: That was seven years ago.

Pro: Lemon has good speed, is a conditioned athlete and is used to competition night in and night out • Con: There's a big difference between baseball shape and football shape.

Pro: His maturity will help in the locker room • Con: Most players earn respect through their play on the field, and it remains to be seen if Lemon can play.

Whatever happens in the coming weeks, Lemon is a good guy, and it'll be easy to root for him to find success in CU uniform.

Tight End
89 Joe Klopfenstein, Sr., 6-6, 245
45 Quinn Sypniewski, Sr., 6-7, 265
46 Dan Goettsch, Jr., 6-5, 240

If he stays healthy, Sypniewski will be the difference in at least one victory this fall. His blocking ability will be invaluable in the running game. The sixth-year senior's habit of dropping passes is long gone, and he hasn't lost a step despite a nagging toe injury and some lower leg surgery. Could this finally be the year that one of the plums of the 2000 recruiting class plays to his potential? I think so, again, if he avoids injury. Sypniewski is my pick for offensive sleeper.

What can you say about Klopfenstein, but "throw him the ball!" A weightroom champion for his size category, Klopfenstein has the tools to be a first-day pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, and a first-team all-conference player by the end of the season. He combines the size and strength to take on any Big 12 defensive end, and the speed to run away from most linebackers and even safeties (remember the Houston Bowl touchdown catch?).

Gary Barnett and his staff have been criticized heavily in recent years for their recruiting, but Klopfenstein is an example of an in-state under-the-radar guy who chose CU and has developed into a big-time talent. It's hard to imagine a successful season without Klopfenstein being heavily involved this fall.

After being loaded the past two years, CU is a little thin depth-wise at tight end. Goettsch had a good spring, and the walk-on will play this fall. If Klopfenstein or Sypniewski go down with an injury, Goettsch will play a lot.

Keep An Eye On: Blake Mackey. CU pass receivers had 39 drops a year ago. It's not going to get any worse. Coaches want — need — for Mackey to succeed this year. He will. So much so that Mackey will find his name on some postseason all-conference honors lists.

Biggest Battle: With nine capable players at wide out but no one yet who's really distinguished himself, August competition should be fierce. My hunch in July is that Mackey and Sprague will start vs. CSU.

Note: Darian Hagan assisted Shawn Watson in coaching the receivers in the spring. Hagan will continue in that capacity this fall, rather than be given the group to tutor by himself.


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