Backowski Making Most of Opportunity

Redshirt-freshman offensive tackle Paul Backowski went home to Minnesota last week for spring break. Backowski has put on weight since he showed up as a 245-pound offensive lineman last summer. Fortunately, the 40 extra pounds he's added over the past months wasn't enough to break the ice when Backowski caught a bucket of sun fish on an ice fishing excursion back home.

But Paul Backowski has needed the extra weight to battle in the trenches during spring ball. Backowski has spent the entire spring playing right tackle with what's unofficially the first team line. He's gotten the extra reps as junior Tyler Polumbus is being held out of most of practices healing from offseason surgery.

Backowski's coach, Chris Strausser, would rather have Polumbus healthy, but the experience should accelerate Backowski's development.

"Spring ball is about, typically, young guys getting as many reps as possible," Strausser said. "He's a tough kid, he's into it and he's trying to get better. All those things combined for a freshman, if he keeps working hard, he's going to be a good player here."

Backowski's been proving his toughness — and ability to adapt — in recent practices after he broke a bone in his right hand during the first two weeks of spring ball. He practices with a club on the hand that covers the outside edge of the offensive line, and will through the April 15 spring game.

"That's hard as an offensive lineman," Strausser said. "It happens, so he's got to learn to deal with it."

It's been a small blessing in disguise for the 19-year old.

"It makes me work a little bit harder, makes me use my feet," Backowski said. "I can't really hold, so it makes it more difficult."

Backowski redshirted in 2005, and spent much of the season running with the scout team. He's learned that expectations are much higher when you're playing with and against starters.

"The first team is a whole other level," he said. "Practicing with our offense instead of the scout team has been a big step, too. It's pretty exciting."

He said the main areas he's working to improve are his footwork and quickness — getting use to the speed of the game.

He weighs between 280 and 285 pounds these days. Backowski said he wants to get to 300 by September. Strausser wants him to carry 310 pounds by 2007, which shouldn't be a problem on Backowski's 6-foot-6 frame.

Besides getting used to the challenges of running with the first team, Backowski, and his fellow linemen, has had to adjust to Strausser, who took over for former o-line coach Dave Borbely when Dan Hawkins was hired at CU. Strausser brought some different teaching methods, and a subtle difference in technique to the Buffaloes offensive line.

"Coach Borbs taught us a bucket step, where you give ground to gain ground," Backowski said. "Coach Strausser, we just take a horizontal step on our first step (in pass protection)."

Strausser has had fewer healthy bodies to work with (9) than is desirable during spring ball. Along with Polumbus, senior guard Jack Tipton is out of spring, rehabbing from offseason knee surgery. Strausser said Polumbus is a little farther along physically at this point than Tipton, but the tackle will still have to make up ground.

Strausser said his goal is to identify from six to eight players by September that can be counted on. Backowski wants to be one of those players, but knows he'll have stiff competition for a starting spot when Polumbus returns.

"I want to compete for a lot of playing time," Backowski said about his goals for the fall. "But Tyler's a good player. It'll be fun. He has a lot of game experience, so he has a definite advantage there, but I'm learning as much as I can from him. He's a great player.

"Tyler's a great teacher. He's helping me out in practice. The biggest thing in high school is you're just kind of hitting somebody. But now there's a scheme behind it. Tyler has helped me out a lot with stuff."

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