Working Overtime

Bernard Jackson, Alvin Barnett and other wide receivers are working overtime to try and find the offense's vertical passing game. Also inside, notes from following Wednesday's practice.

Colorado's first play on offense in 2006 was what coaches call an "explosion play." It went for more than 20 yards. In fact, when sophomore wideout Patrick Williams got behind a defender and hauled in a pass vs. Montana State, it went for 42 yards. Turns out, it was a teaser play, too.

One of the things the new coaching staff said would be different about this year's offense from last year's offense is the addition of a vertical passing attack. In 2006, the Buffs would throw the ball deep.

But except for that completion to Williams on the first play of the first game, the vertical game hasn't materialized.

"We've still got a lot of work to do, getting the ball out there," junior wideout Alvin Barnett said Wednesday.

A big reason the Buffs have left the vertical passing game on the shelf has been that it's not quarterback Bernard Jackson's strength. Since he was handed the quarterback job just prior to the CSU game, Jackson's talents have begun to emerge on game day. The obvious ones include making plays with his feet, and finding receivers while he's on the move.

However, Jackson and a handful of the receivers are putting in extra time these days, in an effort to include the vertical game to CU's arsenal. While reporters are not allowed to report on what they see at practice since the beginning of September, I can report something that's been taking place after practice.

Both Tuesday and Wednesday, Jackson, Barnett, Patrick Williams, Dusty Sprague, Cody Crawford and a number of other wide receivers stayed after most of their teammates headed up the hill to Dal Ward and kept working. Barnett said that's going to be a key in getting the vertical game up to speed.

"It's got to be us staying after practice every day and working on the routes that we're going to use in the game," Barnett said, "making (Jackson) get comfortable with us and us getting comfortable with him. Developing that timing and chemistry with him."

In the three games Jackson has started, defenses have stuffed lots of defenders "in the box," trying to take away the run while daring him to beat them with the pass. If the CU offense can add even a wrinkle of a deep threat, it would take pressure off other aspects of the offense, as well.

Against Georgia, Jackson had, by far, his best passing game when he connected on 14-of-26 passes for 140 yards. One of those was a key 14-yard strike to Barnett that kept a drive alive. But there've been no 40-yarders since Game 1.

Barnett thinks it will just take one or two successful long passes for the vertical game to click.

"Once you get that one good pass, that'll build your confidence," he said.

• As he can be, Dan Hawkins was impassioned following Wednesday's practice. Asked about sophomore tailback Thomas Perez, who looked good in practice on a few runs, Hawkins went into an aspect of team building he hasn't touched on with the media prior to this week. Namely, not allowing too many years of eligibility between players on the depth chart. The topic came up when a reporter asked Hawkins about Thomas Perez, who had looked good on a couple of runs in practice. The question was if it was getting difficult to keep the redshirt on the junior tailback, who currently has three years of eligibility to play two seasons.

Hawkins responded: "One of the things you've got to understand in this whole thing is about building things. There's no quick fix to anything. There really isn't. Whether it's Cody Hawkins or Thomas Perez or Demetrius Sumler, you've got to remember that.

"Do I want to win right now? Yeah, I do. Are we trying to win right now? Yeah, we are.

"OK, Thomas Perez is pretty good. Well, you know, this guy named Hugh Charles, he ain't bad either. And Mell Holliday is running the ball pretty good too.

"One of the things I'm trying to get to in this thing is we have gaps in our depth chart (where there) are two and three classes gone. I'm not talking about guys that are walk-ons, I mean gone. Gaps. Two to three classes.

"Normally, in a good program, you don't want anything more than a one-class gap. We've got some spots that are three-class gaps. We can't do that. We've got to cinch that up and fill that in. I'm happy that (Perez) is doing well. He's going to come out next year and be a good player for us. He's learning a lot now. But, (if he plays now) where does he get his carries? Who loses their playing time?"

• Senior quarterback James Cox was back at practice Wednesday, his first participation since the middle of last week when he went home to California. Cox's father, Terry, passed away a week ago today. Asked how Cox was doing, Hawkins said, "If you guys have experienced that, you kind of go through mixed emotions. This poor guy had to make basically all the (funeral) arrangements himself. He relied on his uncle a little bit, but…It'll be up and down for him for a little bit."

• Hawkins also spoke after Wednesday's practice about the need for his team to develop the knockout punch. "We had to chance when Alvin went up and made a great catch. You look for those kinds of things, for a guy to step up and make a play. It gives everybody else confidence. We had a couple of those. But not enough.

"The other side of it too is we need some urgency. (We can't just save it) for late in the game. When you're kicking a field goal with 13-whatever left in the first quarter, that's big. And when we got the turnover in the second half – you've got to turn around and you've got to score. You've got to feel that, you've got to sense that. It's not like, ‘Hey, good play.' It's like, ‘LET'S GO!'"

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