Players do their best to impress ‘The Hawk’
Convinced they are in better position as a football team this spring, the CU Buffs had one final chance to persuade spectators of the same thing with their annual spring game on Saturday at Folsom Field.
The team worked to shake off the stigma of its 2-10 season from a year ago. The Buffs gave fans in attendance a brief preview of what shake-ups could be coming next season.
In what wasn’t a surprise, but certainly a different look for Buffs fans, Bernard Jackson, the team’s starting quarterback for most of last season, lined up at multiple positions besides quarterback. While Nick Nelson and Cody Hawkins shared most of the time behind center. In order to keep the roster’s seven healthy offensive linemen rested throughout the day, both quarterbacks rotated between 7-on-7 and full squad drills.
Hawkins had a little bit of a better performance than his counterpart. Sticking out was a nice drive at the end of the first half where Hawkins connected on all six of his pass attempts before finding wide receiver Dusty Sprague for a 9-yard touchdown strike. The only blemish for the young signal caller was an errant toss in the fourth quarter that got deflected and intercepted by backup linebacker Jake Duren. Hawkins finished the day 12-20 for 119 yards with one touchdown and one interception in 11-on-11 situations.
Nelson had more trouble in the 11-on-11 situations as he went just 3-10 for 30 yards and an interception. The transfer from Saddleback Community College showed proficiency in spots, but displayed his best stuff in the 7-on-7 action where he threw for over 250 yards and two touchdowns.
“I think I did alright for my first real game situation. There’s definitely a lot of room for improvement but I’ll be studying all summer, so I think I’ll improve,” Nelson said.
Despite displaying much better offensive efficiency at the position than a year ago, Coach Hawkins said things will continue to get better.
“They both had some moments on both ends of the spectrum, but they’re learning and I think they showed some signs of being able to run a club,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins added that he was a little disappointed that the team’s running game didn’t do more to help the offense. The Buffs leading rusher for the game was none other than Jackson who had 82 yards on 9 carries including the long run of the day of 37 yards. It has become clear that Jackson will take on a “slasher” role for the Buffs this fall, as evidenced by being all over the field on Saturday. Coach Hawkins said his staff has to make an effort to getting him the ball.
“(Bernard) will continue to be all over the place. As you see, that guy’s so darn electric with the ball in his hands,” Hawkins said.
Another Buff who made a position change this spring is tight end Joe Sanders. Sanders spent his first three seasons on campus as a special teams player and back-up linebacker. This spring Sanders made the conversion to the tight end, the position he played in high school, and has escalated himself to second on the depth chart behind sophomore Riar Geer. Sanders turned in a fine performance Saturday by hauling in 7 catches for 106 yards and a touchdown.
“It felt great to be back in my element,” said Sanders of the tight end position. Sanders added even though spring practice is now over, he still has a lot of room for improvement. “(I can get) tons better. The sky is the limit. I’m just scratching the surface right now.”
Sanders wasn’t the only receiver or tight end who appeared improved since last fall. Junior wideout Patrick Williams, who had his fair share of struggles last season, had a fine day by grabbing the most passes, four, in the 11-on-11 situations. Altogether Williams had six catches for 82 yards and a score. Also, chipping in from the receiving core was Stephone Robinson who had three catches for 36 yards.
Coach Hawkins said he believes an increased comfort and knowledge with the routes his receivers are running has made a big difference this spring as opposed to last year when the playbook was largely unfamiliar to his team.
“I think what happens a little bit sometimes as a receiver is that when you work to get open and you run the right route and you know you’re going to have the opportunity to get that ball, your acuity sharpens up a little bit and you start going, ‘Hey I need to have my ‘A’ game on’ knowing that the ball will be delivered to you,” Hawkins said.
The improved effort by the Buffs’ receiving core was also matched by a couple of nice defensive plays. Defensive tackle George Hypolite recorded a sack in the game and free safety Ryan Walters made a nice interception of Nick Nelson around the goal line.
Coach Hawkins summed up the past five weeks of spring practice by saying his team is continuing to understand what’s expected.
“I like our guys’ attitude. I see an upward trend in their whole perspective,” Hawkins said.
Contact Campus Press staff writer Stirling Wade at firstname.lastname@example.org.