August Camp Plus and Minus

Colorado officially begins is first game week preparations under first-year head coach Dan Hawkins on Tuesday. Inside, a look at some surprises, positives and concerns that emerged in August camp.

Biggest Surprises
Surprise No. 1: Coming into August, most everyone outside the Cox household thought the race for the No. 1 quarterback spot was between Bernard Jackson and Brian White. But James Cox, the senior who missed most of spring with a broken hand, had other ideas. By Week 2 of camp, Cox had proved he was in the race because of his leadership and grasp of the offense. On Aug. 20, he was named the starter, but just be a razor's edge.

Head coach Dan Hawkins said Cox has the backing of the staff and team, and told Cox he didn't want him playing as if he would get pulled if he made a mistake. This position, however, remains one to watch once the season begins. It's not like Cox is head and shoulders above White.

Jackson, meanwhile, will likely see the field in certain situations that allow him to take advantage of his running skills.

Surprise No. 2: As the Sept. 2 opener vs. Montana State approaches, it appears incumbent starting tailback Hugh Charles may have lost his starting spot. What's for certain is a group of running backs who were well behind Charles early in camp made up ground and are in line to share the workload.

Currently, the depth chart lists Charles, fellow junior Byron Ellis and senior Mell Holliday as co-No. 1s. Juco transfer Thomas Perez looks like he'll be a player, but he spent the summer in L.A. finishing school at Compton CC, then had his eligibility delayed until the second week of camp. He's still working his way into football shape. Look for the Buffs to use different backs in different situations, depending on their opponent, and which back has the hot hand.

Biggest Concerns
Where's The Control? On paper, the offensive line looks better than it's been in a couple of years. Returning veterans Mark Fenton and Brian Daniels anchor the middle with talented — and healthy — Daniel Sanders. Veteran tackle Tyler Polumbus is at one tackle, while two other veterans, Edwin Harrison and Jack Tipton, are still battling at the other. But the No. 1 unit failed to control the line of scrimmage vs. the No. 1 defense in the team's first two scrimmages. The CU defensive front is better than what the Buffs will face Sept. 2. The offensive line has an opportunity to establish itself in that game. My guess is it will.

Finding the Boot: While it's MUCH improved over the spring — thanks, in part, to snapper Justin Drescher's presence — the punter, whoever he may be, needs to find consistency. Neither Matthew Dilallo or Isaac Garden had won the job gong into the final scrimmage of August. Still, they had been good enough to shelve the dubious idea of Mason Crosby pulling double duty.

Who's Catching the Ball?: Many of CU's veteran wide receivers failed to solidify spots in the most recent two-deep. Will guys like Scott McKnight and Cody Crawford really take playing time away from guys like Blake Mackey and Stephone Robinson? We'll soon see.

Best Reason to Be Positive
Defensive Backs: With a bevy of seniors and a number of talented and hungry underclassmen, the CU secondary has the opportunity to establish itself as one of the best in the conference.

Just Watch Us: Sure, the starting defensive tackles are undersized, but George Hypolite, Brandon Nicolas and Taj Kaynor looked good in camp. Nicolas is a quiet kid with a mean streak when the ball is snapped, and Hypolite is starting to learn how to use his athleticism out of the three-point stance.

Bad Thad and his Boyz: Senior linebacker Thaddaeus Washington quietly had a solid camp, and is primed for a solid season. So are junior Jordon Dizon and sophomore Brad Jones. And behind that group, players like Marcus Burton, R.J. Brown, Brad Jones and Michael Sipili are hungry to step in and make plays, as well.

OK, the Entire Defense: The Buffs will feature a more aggressive, attacking defensive style this fall. While every coach preaches the importance of turnovers, the current staff brought renewed emphasis about scoring points from the defensive side of the ball. The Buffs may need points out of the defense in some games this fall. This should be a fun Colorado defense to watch.

The Leg's Quest: Senior placekicker Mason Crosby downplays it, but Hawkins has said he wants to get Crosby the college field goal distance record, which is currently 67 yards (with a tee).

‘Electric' Special Teams: Hawkins thinks the Buffs' special teams can be "electric" this year. That includes its return games. Stephone Robinson ran two punts back for touchdowns in the team's final scrimmage.