Spring grades

Now that spring football is over at Colorado, we take a look at how things went at each position over the past month through 15 practices and where each group stands as we wait for Aug. 5 to arrive.

Quarterbacks

Cody Hawkins and Tyler Hansen handled an extra workload this spring after Matt Ballenger decided to quit the team. They also handled the competition for the starting job with maturity and poise that ought to have everyone in the program feeling good about the prospect having to capable quarterbacks in the fall.

Hawkins appears to be the more polished player still. His numbers were better, he is making better decisions and we believe he would be the starter if the season began this week. Hansen has the next 31/2 months before fall camp and probably about half of camp to make up the difference. Both these guys deserve an A this spring.

Offensive line

The big guys get a B this year for what was a pretty solid spring. It took a couple of weeks for this group to get comfortable with some of the footwork and technique differences they were taught this spring by new position coach Denver Johnson. Once they got rolling, they began to look pretty solid in the final week and the spring game, particularly in the running game. New center Mike Iltis claimed the position and performed well throughout. It doesn't appear there is anyone on the roster who will give him a serious push for the starting role at this point, especially if Blake Behrens is focused on winning a starting job at guard in the fall. Tackles Bryce Givens and Nate Solder and guard Ryan Miller are very strong players who could make this a special group next season.

Running backs

The Buffs are four deep with Darrell Scott and Demetrius Sumler capable of banging it between the tackles and two change-of-pace players in Rodney Stewart and Brian Lockridge who will probably be used in a variety of ways next fall. The group earns a B this spring for making some significant improvement in every area. Consistency seems to be the only stumbling block left for these guys. Scott finally looks like the best player here and will probably touch the ball 15-20 times a game next season. The other three backs will probably divide another 15 or 20 carries between them. That ought to be enough to keep everyone happy. All four of these players will be here the next two seasons and three of them should be here for three more years. That's a comforting thought for CU fans.

Wide receivers

There were a lot of inexperienced players getting a lot of practice repetitions this spring because of an overall lack of depth and injuries to Josh Smith and Scotty McKnight. They get an A for their work ethic and effort and a C overall because there were times when there just wasn't enough talent available to really test the defense and help the offense grow. Jason Espinoza and Markques Simas were the bright spots here and could have special 2009 seasons on tap. This team needs an influx of more Big 12 level talent here. If we've learned anything over the past few years in Boulder, it's that you're not going to win a lot of games or scare defenses such as Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Missouri with a bunch of walk-ons and project players at wide receiver.

Tight ends

Another A for this group. This is a real team strength and a versatile collection of six players capable of contributing in the fall. Senior Riar Geer was able to participate in only some drills and noncontact work. When he returns to full participation, things will be even better here. Fifth-year senior Devin Shanahan looks to be ready to contribute, especially as a blocker in the run game. He will make some surprise contributions in the passing game as well. There is still plenty of room for improvement in blocking with aggression from a few of these guys.

Special teams

We're giving a B here because there is still a little too much inconsistency from both kickers and the coverage teams gave up some long returns in the scrimmages. Punter Matt DiLallo had a solid spring and didn't let a subpar 2008 carry over to the start of his final year in the program. Place-kicker Aric Goodman still shows some signs of being more inconsistent than fans and coaches would like, but he was much better and more confident this spring than he was throughout much of his ugly 2008. Changing from the three-step approach to the two step seemed to really work for him. Josh Smith continues to be solid in the return game and this team probably has two other decent options in Rodney Stewart and Jason Espinoza. The team seemed to get its hands on a few more kicks.

Defensive line

There were a few players here who had very solid springs, including Eugene Goree, Tay Kaynor and Marquez Herrod. Will Pericak also seems to be making some solid progress in his transition to the defensive line, which started last fall. Those four players deserve an A for their spring work but we'll give the entire a group a C-plus. There is still a lot of inconsistent play and room for improvement here and we're wondering where the pressure on the quarterback will come from in the fall aside from Herrod.

Linebackers

This is a no-brainer. These guys were fun to watch this spring and get an A for their efforts the past month. This is a very solid group of players that is basically two-deep at all four positions. The interior ought to be strong in the fall with four capable players expected to receive a lot of playing time in Marcus Burton and Michael Sipili at middle linebacker and Jeff Smart and Shaun Mohler at the WILL spot. Toss in playmakers such as Doug Rippy and B.J. Beatty on the outside and you have a nice problem in trying to find playing time for them all.

Secondary

We're ending on a high note. This group gets an A. The secondary performed at a high level, even though a lot of different players missed time because of injuries. Safeties Patrick Mahnke and Anthony Perkins made a seamless transition from backups to starters. They looked every bit as competent much of the time this spring as last year's two seniors. Jimmy Smith is becoming a player quarterbacks don't want to see on Saturdays and getting senior Ben Burney back really gives this group some depth and experience. The guy with the most playing time under his belt, senior Cha'pelle Brown, wasn't involved much this spring because of an illness. Jalil Brown and Travis Sandersfeld are ready to contribute and players such as Anthony Wright, Paul Vigo, Vince Ewing and Steven Hicks are improving. This group is almost embarrassingly deep.


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