Saturday, August 18, 2007

One things for sure: 2007 is not 2006

And it begins…

With the second major scrimmage of the summer now over, the persona of this year's Colorado Buffaloes continues to take form. One thing is for certain: this is not the same team. Especially on the offensive side of the ball.

Here are a few observations from the scrimmage:

The offense is much better than last year. Take that with a grain of salt since the offense was pathetic last year. But as any witness of the scrimmage could tell you, we are talking about proverbial “night and day” differences. There really is no comparison. It's not about pumping sunshine or being unrealistic. It's just a fact: you can't predict the Buff's success for 2007 based on 2006. The offense is a different animal. Whether it will produce when it counts on Saturday's has to be seen, but the Buffs showed more in one scrimmage than at any point last season. That's a fact.

Cody Hawkins looks to be the guy at quarterback. Fortunately, both quarterbacks played well. However, there are a few discernable differences between the Hawkins and Nick Nelson.

Most notably, Hawkins is more consistent. He is accurate, and despite questions about his arm, he completes more passes downfield. Hawkins was very succesful with his long ball, and if Dan Hawkins has his way, Buffs fans will see plenty of deep passes this fall. While Nelson appears to have enough arm to go vertical, he still struggles with overthrowing his deep passes, just like he did during the spring game. With that said, Nelson still was successful with the short and intermediate routes. For the scrimmage, Hawkins only threw one interception to Nelson’s two.

Also worth noting, Matt Ballenger looks like he could make some noise in future years. He has all the assets to be a viable quarterback in the Hawkins/Helfrich system without any question about his measurables or ability to see over the offensive line.

The offense itself looks different. Expect lots of motion and more variety in the offensive sets. Dan Hawkins and Mark Helfrich both admitted last year that the offense was very limited and that fans only saw bits and pieces of the plan. That was fine and dandy while the team rung up a mere two wins. But the proof is in the pudding. The Buffs came out with multiple formations, multiple sets and lots of motion in the wideouts, tight ends, running backs and fullback. Not only are there new formations, but there is little predictability. Oftentimes the Buffs would run the same formation but with a different “read” from the quarterback. This is where Hawkins or Nelson’s grasp of the offense will clearly shine. Little predictability leads to long days at the office for opposing defenses.

Our running backs and offensive line look solid. Granted, the defense went very vanilla in the first half (more on this in a moment). The offensive line will really be a mystery until it proves itself on Saturdays against muliple looks, stunts and blitzes. But for one day, the O-line was opening holes and providing protection. Hugh Charles looked good, but Demetrius Sumler is going to be tough to keep off the field. The redshirt freshman was arguably the most impressive runner of the bunch, not only running with aggression, but also catching the ball out of the backfield.

As for the wideouts, the young guns continue to impressive. Smith, Celestine and Simas all contributed to the offense, with Smith continuing to shine. The veterans—such as Williams and Sprague—were solid, but they also experienced some 2006 déjà vu. The receivers had several drops, including a “would-have-been” touchdown pass from Hawkins to Stephone Robinson. One things is for sure, the Buffs would be better with anyone at quarterback this season because the young receivers just make plays.

The defense…
This still seems to be somewhat of a mystery, and some of that can be contributed to the defensive schemes. The defense again went very vanilla in the first half without any blitzing. And as has been a concern, there was very little pressure on the quarterback. The defense increased the pressure in the second half with a variety of blitzes. Nevertheless, the absence of a vicious pass rusher like Abe Wright is clearly missing at this point. The line has talent, but there has been little visual proof that they will step up in games. Pressure could be a problem in the fall, thus putting more pressure on a secondary that struggled in 2006.

As for the coverage, despite the offenses ability to move the ball, the coverage was good. Rather than blaming the Db’s, more credit should go to the wide receivers. The receivers—especially the freshman—make excellent adjustments to make plays on the ball. The coverage is there, but the athletes are showing why they are garnering all the hype. Two defensive breakdowns led to wide open scores. Both times, the tight end came open off of a crossing pattern for an easy touchdown in the corner of the endzone. Nate Solder was particularly impressive at tight end. The young man might be huge, but he possess a soft set of hands.

Still, the defense did produce three interceptions, and a fourth was called back because of penalty. Defensive backs coach Greg Brown was hard at work all day. Taking notes and trying to find the best combination for the defensive background. People might be hard on Brown, but he knows what he is doing and once his players learn their assignments there should be improvement. All of the coaches were very active, and hopefully that attention to detail will pay off when the season begins.

There was not too much to report from special teams…which is a good thing. Kevin Eberhart was perfect and did not miss one single kick—field goal or extra point attempt.

Other notes…
Bernard Jackson did not participate in the scrimmage…the scrimmage was well attended by fans, better than anything seen in recent memory…Markques Simas appeared to be a little gimpy on his ankle during parts of the scrimmage.

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