"We've got to get the passing game going," Hawkins said. "We had very little big-play capability."
Three things should lead to improvement in the passing game this fall. One, the receivers have a year of experience in the "new" CU offense. Two, CU's quarterback play will be better. With better ball distribution, receiver production will be on the rise. And, third, three true freshman with playmaking skills could begin to give the Buffs another dimension at wide out.
As for the veterans, Patrick Williams has always combined the hard work and size/speed/strength combination you like at receiver. He could emerge as a main target in the passing game in his junior season.
Alvin Barnett ended 2006 with 21 catches, most among wide outs, and is back for his senior year. So is Dusty Sprague, who was hampered by some early season injuries last fall, but heads into his final campaign with determination to make an impact. He's CU's most experienced wide receiver.
Walk-on Cody Crawford was perhaps the most reliable route runner last year and will be in the mix. Redshirt-freshman Scotty McKnight was expected to play last year until an injury slowed him late in August camp. Sophomore Jarrell Yates showed flashes. If he can prove consistent, he's a big-play threat.
"Just as a core we are improved," offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said. "And playing better at quarterback will certainly contribute to their developing confidence."
Expectations surrounding three newcomers — Kendrick Celestine, Markques Simas and Josh Smith — are high. Celestine has very good speed and is physically mature. Simas is tough and athletic, while Smith comes with the least football experience, but maybe the most potential of the three. They'll be given long looks in August to see if they fit into the scheme of things in September. But remember, it's one thing to be able to line up and beat everyone down the field on a fly pattern. It's another to come in and grasp the other aspects that go into being a receiver at Colorado.
"To be an every down guy and understand blocking and convertible routes and coverage, that's a process," Helfrich said of the three freshmen's chances of playing this fall. "But that's obviously an area where we need to improve. Those guys are going to increase our competition there. I think all three of those guys have the capability of being able to step in. And if their presence and their competition elevates somebody else, great. That's what we need."
Bernard Jackson will also line up at receiver, as CU coaches try and devise ways to get him the ball. At times in the spring, Jackson looked like the best wide out on the field. That was, of course, when he wasn't lining up at quarterback or tailback.
Leading Returners: Dusty Sprague (76 career receptions), Patrick Williams (47), Alvin Barnett (38)
Alvin Barnett, Sr., WR, 5-11, 190
Kendrick Celestine, Fr., WR, 6-0, 190
Cody Crawford, Jr., WR, 5-11, 175
Cameron Ham, R-Fr., WR, 6-1, 195
Bernard Jackson, Sr., WR/TB/QB, 6-0, 200
Michael Kachmer, So., WR, 6-0, 185
Chase McBride, Sr., WR, 5-7, 160
Scotty McKnight, R-Fr., WR, 5-10, 185
Stephone Robinson, Sr., WR, 5-8, 190
Markques Simas, Fr., WR, 6-2, 195
Josh Smith, Fr., WR, 6-1, 185
Dusty Sprague, Sr., WR, 6-4, 190
Patrick Williams, Jr., WR, 6-2, 200
Jarrell Yates, So., WR, 5-11, 200