Receivers 'Figuring It Out'

Last spring, Shawn Watson had the Colorado wide receivers turn their playbooks to Page 1. After a 2004 season with too many missed assignments and dropped passes, the coach wanted to start from the beginning and re-teach the passing game. Five months later, things are finally clicking.

"We went back in spring practice to the very beginning and pretended like they didn't know anything, like they were learning it for the first time," Watson explained this summer. "We taught it as such. I thought by the time we got to the end of spring practice that they had grasped the base concepts of our offense."

Fast forward four months and Watson says the passing game is right on schedule.

"It's night and day better than the spring," Watson said Monday. "I feel like with the things we're doing, the way we're using our personnel, I really like the direction we're going. Midway through our second week here (in August), we really started figuring it out. And we've gotten better and better since then."

There were a few dropped passes in Saturday's scrimmage at Folsom Field, something that plagued the Buffs in 2004. But there were also open receivers – wide outs having their routes down and executing them.

When it comes to executing precise routes, no CU receiver is better than senior Evan Judge, the Buffs' leading pass catcher in 2004 (29).

"Evan is really detailed in his assignments," Watson said. "You just expect Evan to always be at the right place and always do the right thing."

Watson recalls Judge making just one mistake in August so far, when he failed to come back for the ball on a curl route. Close observers may remember Judge putting moves on veteran cornerbacks in practice the past few weeks, sometimes getting them to turn their backs on Judge and sprint downfield as Judge stopped in his tracks to receive the pass. He's schooled his teammates on defense more than once in August.

"I feel like the old man doing tricks right now," he said. "With age and experience, you learn how to set guys up more, and make them bite more. I've gotten to where I know who likes to bite, who likes to do what.

"If I can do that against opposing teams, I think I'll be OK."

When the ball comes Judge's way, he rarely drops it. While Judge runs great routes, gets open and hangs on to the ball, he's not a game-breaker. He's not going to blow past a defender and stretch the field with his speed, or make defenders miss after he hauls in a pass en route to big yards after catch. For that kind of action, the Buffs will rely on some younger players, including sophomore Alvin Barnett and redshirt-freshman Patrick Williams.

Barnett, the 5-8 jitterbug receiver, left fans chattering away after some fancy footwork left four defenders grasping for air on a run-after-catch Saturday. But it's the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Williams who has the best combination of size, strength and speed among the wide outs. He was expected to slowly develop this season, learning in the footsteps of junior speedster Blake Mackey. Mackey's season-ending knee injury put Williams on the fast-track.

Judge said he's given the youngster advice the past few weeks.

"He's just got to step up," Judge said. "I try to be hard on him, but not too hard on him because he's still a freshman. When I was in his shoes, I couldn't even imagine being where he's at (playing second string).

"You've just got to keep giving him positive peer pressure. He's going through some growing pains right now, but he'll be all right."

With less than two weeks before Colorado's opener vs. CSU (Sept. 3, 1:30 p.m.), Williams and Barnett look to get plenty of playing time as they rotate in for starters Judge and Dusty Sprague. Look for sophomore Reggie Joseph to also see time early this fall, while Vance Washington may get snaps in special situations.

While the group lacked consistency in the spring as it went back to the basics, Judge thinks the receivers' development is right on schedule.

"We're getting a lot better," he said. "We're where we need to be right now … I wouldn't want to play a game right now. But we've got two weeks left to work."

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