Evaluation period

The Colorado Buffaloes have completed seven of 15 spring practices and will take the next week off for spring break. It's a good time for us to evaluate what we've seen in the first half of 2010 spring drills.

There is no doubt there is plenty of doubt about who will be the starting quarterback when the season rolls around.

It's pretty clear Tyler Hansen isn't outplaying Cody Hawkins thus far in spring ball. In fact, Hawkins might now hold a slight edge after having a better overall performance in the first scrimmage.

If the competition remains close, the feeling here is that coaches will elect not to name a starter at the end of spring ball. In fact, they will probably say nothing has changed from the end of the season in order to avoid stirring up any controversy that always seems present with the coach's son involved. If they're going to make a change, it will come in August, unless it becomes absolutely clear in the second half of spring that Hawkins is the best option.

Hansen has a few things working in his favor. The fact that he is a more popular pick will carry some weight if the competition is close in coaches' eyes and he is definitely a superior player when it comes to making plays with his feet and buying time when a play breaks down.

The talent pool is deep in the receiving corps with Will Jefferson producing at a high level along side Toney Clemons, Scotty McKnight and Markques Simas. Throw in at least three solid options at tight end and a few running backs who can catch the ball out of the back field and whoever does win the quarterback job could be in for a banner year.

However, the Buffs don't appear to be able to run the ball at all, and if there isn't some improvement there, they could be too easy to defend despite the increased level of talent at the skill positions.

CU is operating its offense out of the shotgun much of the time and is using a short passing game to replace the running game.

It also should be noted that CU has only four running backs on the roster this spring, and only two of them were recruited as scholarship players. Coaches have that lack of depth in mind and are not going to line up in scrimmage situations and attempt to pound the ball, which could lead to injuries.

It's more likely the Buffs will focus on perfecting what they can with the passing game in the spring and work on the running game in August when four new running backs are added to the mix. Still, this roster has a different look this year. The strength of the offense is no longer in the tight ends and fullbacks and tailbacks as it was a year ago. The overall approach will be somewhat different in 2010.

The defense is looking like it will be the strength of the team even though nine starters are returning on offense along with seven other players with starting experience.

Linebacker seemed to be a question on a lot of minds coming into spring, but it's clear coaches have some solid options there. It would be a surprise if Jon Major, Michael Sipili and B.J. Beatty were not the starters this fall, but fans should also plan to see Doug Rippy and Tyler Ahles on the field. Coach Brian Cabral says he is expecting 2010 junior college recruit Evan Harrington to compete for immediate playing time as well.

The defensive line looks pretty solid, but could be vulnerable if it is hit with a rash of injuries. There is not a ton of depth in the group.

It will be interesting to see if coaches can get Eugene Goree and Conrad Obi to emerge and contribute to a core group that includes Marquez Herrod, Will Pericak, J. Forrest West, Nick Kasa, Curtis Cunningham and Nate Bonsu, who is out this spring recovering from knee surgery.

CU is proving thus far in spring it is adept at rushing the quarterback, but it is not being consistently tested against the run by a hardnosed offense determined to pound the ball. CU is going to see a few of those teams next year and will need to be up to that challenge.

Cornerback is a serious strength with this team. Jimmy Smith and Jalil Brown both might play on Sundays, but the depth behind them, while talented, is inexperienced. Ayodeji Olatoye and Paul Vigo have yet to play their first college game. Same with Parker Orms, who could very well serve as the nickelback when the season starts. Josh Moten and Jered Bell will be true freshmen but could be called on if injuries occur.

CU needs to get Steven Hicks and Anthony Wright back in the mix as well. Both players are out this spring either with injuries or academic problems.

One area of concern is safety. The Buffs appear to be solid with Ray Polk and Anthony Perkins as starters, but safety is a hard-hitting position and often comes with injuries. The likely answer if one of the starters went down would be to move Brown over from corner. But Vince Ewing, Travis Sandersfeld and Arthur Jaffee also can play safety.

Another area of concern is the kicking game. Zach Grossnickle had a decent first scrimmage but has looked very average through the first seven practices as a punter and place-kicker. Aric Goodman's history in the program is well documented. He seems to be struggling as much as ever this spring with his accuracy.


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