Hawkins Looks Sharp in Scrum

The Colorado Buffaloes went through a semblance of a scrimmage Saturday up the hill at Folsom Field. Inside, notes from the scrimmage, including an update on the quarterback race.

It's five-and-a-half months until Colorado kicks off its 2007 season, but if Saturday's practice is an indication, the Buffs will most likely have a different starting quarterback this fall than they did in 2006. Incumbent Bernard Jackson, heading into his senior season, will have a role in the offense. Coaches are still determining what that will be, however.

But if the CU offense needs a confident ball distrubutor behind center to be effective, expect redshirt-freshman Cody Hawkins or junior Nick Nelson to be the starting quarterback when the Buffs open against Colorado State Sept. 1.

On Saturday, Hawkins was the most effective moving the offense in the minimal number of plays the Buffs ran in 11 vs. 11 situations. Whether throwing the quick passes to a cutting receiver underneath the defense, or a floater down the sideline to a wide out, Hawkins looked sharp, at least in comparison to what the offense was able to muster all of last spring. He was 5 of 7 for 105 yards on the day.

Both Hawkins and Nelson had a similar amount of reps, and Nelson, too, had moments of efficiency. Jackson took fewer snaps than the other two, and was 1 of 1 passing. Dan Hawkins indicated after the practice the reason Jackson saw the least amount of reps was because he missed Thursday's practice to work on a school paper.

Nelson had the day's only scoring strike, a 30-yard pass play to tailback Demetrius Sumler, who took the ball over the middle and outraced defenders to the end zone. Nelson through for 51 yards on 3-of-7 passing, and was sacked twice. No interceptions were thrown by the three quarterbacks.

Offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich seemed genuinely encouraged after the practice. Asked what he saw from his quarterbacks, Helfrich said, "A little bit of production. We actually completed some passes when we had 11 guys on 11 guys. Ragged, but we probably made a lot of progression a lot of ways."

Helfrich pointed to some improved play at wide receiver, for the improved quarterback play, too.

"We have a lot of guys stepping up outside as well. I think those guys' improvement has made our quarterbacks better," he said. "They know when and if they're going to get the ball, so they have to play a little harder and build up that timing a little more."

Offensive lineman Daniel Sanders did not participate in the practice. He has a partially torn ligament in his knee. A CU staffer said they think Sanders will be able to practice again on Monday. His absence, though, meant CU went with five offensive linemen. (A sixth, Erick Faatagi, participated in drills, but not scrimmage situations).

With just five linemen, the team practiced through position unit drills, then would scrimmage for seven to 10 plays, then go back to position work, then back again to scrimmaging.

"It's hard in the way we have to practice right now (with low OL numbers) to do to much in sequence, but we're making progress and that's very encouraging," Helfrich said.

Helfrich said he didn't think he would name a starting quarterback this spring. He said "B-Jack is going to fit into the offense. He's gonna play doing something."

But it's clear that in Hawkins and Nelson, they have a couple of quarterbacks they think can read defenses and make adjustments, then make throws, in a way the offense needs in order to click. Still, Helfrich wants to let the competition between Hawkins and Nelson play out over the spring and into August. One reason is that Hawkins is currently ahead of Nelson in his grasp of the offense, since he's been exposed to it for a semester more. Helfrich wants to see what Nelson can do once he's not thinking through the plays, he's just reacting and making things happen.

"He's doing a nice job though," Helfrich said of Nelson.

• One of the best offensive plays of the scrimmage was made by new receiver Chapelle Brown. The 5-7, 175-pound sophomore was moved from cornerback to wide out following last season because coaches thought he could be more effective there (though Dan Hawkins said secondary coach Greg Brown keeps lobbying to have Brown back).

Cody Hawkins hit Brown with a pass over the middle about midway through the scrimmage. Brown had beaten cornerback Jimmy Smith, then shook off a Smith tackle and ran another 25 yards, finally coming down inside the 5 yard line.

"Chapelle's doing a great job from just an assignment standpoint for a guy that's switched over," Helfrich said. "Chapelle's a great kid to be around; very coachable. He's making other wide outs better. That's just a product of competition. We've got to keep harnessing that and putting him in position to be successful."

Dusty Sprague also was on the receiving end of a team-high three passes Saturday. It was good to see the senior get his hands on the ball after a disappointing 2006. Dan Hawkins said Sprague has been much more confident so far this spring. (From the looks of things, you could put Stephone Robinson into that category, too). It's not like this group of wide outs is ready to become world beaters, but their making strides from where they were last fall.

"He had Joel (Klatt) here for three years and those guys really got in a rhythm," Hawkins said of Sprague. "All those guys, receivers and quarterbacks, are getting back on the same page."

• Daniel Dykes, the transfer from Idaho, appears to be making a case for one of the starting safety spots. He's a heady player who's not afraid to be physical.

• Safety Ryan Walters left the field early with some type of injury, it appeared. Same for defensive end Drew Hudgins.

• Redshirt-freshman defensive Marquez Herrod and sophomore linebacker Michael Sipili led with three tackles apiece. Two of Sipili's stops were behind the line of scrimmage.

• Matt DiLallo had a good day punting the ball in drills. Backups Tom Suazo and Kevin Eberhart were solid, as well.

• There's a whole stable of players taking turns in kickoff return drills. They include (in no particular order) Hugh Charles, Byron Ellis, Patrick Williams, Chapelle Brown, Kevin Moyd, Stephone Robinson and Gardner McKay.

• Redshirt-freshman Eric Lawson was getting some work at defensive end. Maurice Lucas and Alonzo Barrett were running with the first team defense, but Hudgins will figure into that equation. Terrence Wheatley was in a blue (no contact) uniform, so he wasn't in the scrimmage situations. McKay was playing opposite Jalil Brown, Jimmy Smith and Ben Burney at corner, with Dykes and Lionel Harris at safety.

• Saturday is CU's Junior Day and there were several football prospects at the game. The only one I recognized was Bryce Givens, of Mullen.

Scrimmage Statistics

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