Tyler Hansen said he has big plans for this spring. If all goes according to plan during spring practice, which begins Saturday, the Buff’s quarterback will be very pleased with himself.
“My goal is to not throw any interceptions the whole spring,” Hansen said, before a slight smile appeared on his face. “Out of all the 15 practices and scrimmages, I don’t want to throw one pick.”
Hansen, who threw seven of them last season, is entering his first spring practice as starter. And it comes at a time when there are some intriguing storylines looming over Boulder.
The most obvious and most public of those issues is the question of head coach Dan Hawkins’ job security. Hansen bluntly summed up how the manifestation of that topic rests in the hands of the players.
“We control [what goes on] on the field,” Hansen said. “So if we do our job, he’ll keep his job.”
By fall, the new big-man-on-campus expects to be at 215 lbs on the field (about 15 lbs more than his playing weight last season) and expects to be a better passer overall.
“I want to get the ball out quicker and work on my footwork so I can get the ball to receivers faster,” he added.
That is a must, considering that CU gave up 44 sacks last year. That number ranked 117th out of 120 D-I teams, making even Western Kentucky’s offensive line– which ranked 114– look like a steel wall.
One man whox has the job of securing Hansen and protecting the QB’s physical and mental well being: offensive guard Ryan Miller.
Next fall, Miller will be a junior in his fourth year at CU (due to a medical redshirt in 2008). He is one of the five returning starters on the offensive line from last season. And to Miller, spring ball is seminal for him and his big brothers on the line.
“There’s a lot of competition battles,” the 6-foot, 8-inch Miller said. “And the big thing is finding out who wants to play and compete for that top spot.”
As a whole, the O-line has 16 scholarship players going into the spring, a necessary depth at such a crucial position.
“I believe we can be the strength of the team,” Miller said. “We’ve finally got some depth and some health that we haven’t had in a while.”
Position coach Denver Johnson was in his first season with CU last fall and the spring will give the trench-laden behemoths more time to learn his schemes.
A position group with a polarized perspective heading into spring is the one that the offensive line will be making holes for. After the departure of running backs Darrell Scott and Demetrius Sumler at the end of last season, the tailback spot is a barren land.
The only two returning dwellers of this deserted position with meaningful playing time are Rodney Stewart and Brian Lockridge. Among the two, they return 210 carries, 857 yards and 10 touchdowns.
A concern leading into spring is whether these deflections will affect the offense’s production. Lockridge, who is one of only three scholarship tailbacks on CU’s roster this spring, said he isn’t worried.
“It’s football and that happens more than most people think,” Lockridge said. “People quit and go all the time. That’s the one thing that’s not going to effect this team.”
Of all the running backs, Lockridge may benefit most from these losses in terms of playing time. Fortunately, freshmen reinforcements will be arriving in the summer as the Buffs signed four running backs in the class of 2010.
But for the meantime, Stewart and Lockridge said they hope to create a two-headed monster at the position.
“We’re both fast, speedy guys,” Lockridge said. “[Rodney] is a shifty guy and I’m more of the cut guy.”
Lockridge, who will be a junior next fall, acknowledged CU’s problem with turnovers last year and insisted that protecting the ball will be stressed in the spring.
That problem on offense contributed to the Buffs 3-9 record, but even more disconcerting was the defense. The Buffs finished a woeful 80th in rush defense and 57th in total defense among FBS schools.
Their lone bright spot on that side was the secondary. But former defensive backs coach Greg Brown left in the winter to become Arizona’s defensive coordinator. So for spring, not only is stopping the run a concern, but so is the oft-reliable secondary.
Though CU only loses two starters (Cha’pelle Brown and Benjamin Burney) from last year’s group, the defensive backfield will be under the magnifying glass from March 6 to April 10, when spring practice concludes with the annual black versus gold spring game.
Ashley Ambrose, who played under Brown in the NFL and will be in his third year on the CU staff, has filled Brown’s old job. Ambrose inherits six interceptions and 28 pass break ups with the return of DBs Jalil Brown, Jimmy Smith, and Anthony Perkins.
Right in front of the secondary on the field, the linebacker spot will see some new jersey numbers this spring, but the same old coach is still entrenched in his familiar spot on the sidelines.
Associate head coach and linebackers’ coach Brian Cabral is in his 21st season at Boulder. He is the only current member of the coaching staff present during CU’s only National Championship in 1990.
When Cabral first came to CU in 1989, many of his current players weren’t even born. The group is young and returns only one starter in B.J. Beatty. The Buffs are losing over 200 tackles at linebacker with the graduations of Jeff Smart, Shaun Mohler and Marcus Burton.
In what will probably be the most interesting position battle to watch this spring, the vacancies left at linebacker will be up for grabs. And besides Beatty, CU does not return much experience there as returnees Tyler Ahles, John Major and Bryan Stengel combined for all of 48 tackles last season.
When it comes to defending the run, they are not alone in their mission. The Buffs may not have been able to stop a blind man on a wooden peg leg from going over a hundred yards on them last year, but they do find relief among their defensive line.
Just like the line on the opposite side of the ball, every starter from 2009 returns. Defensive ends Marquez Herrod, Forrest West, Josh Hartigan and Nick Kasa are back. Lining up inside of them during spring will be Curtis Cunningham, Will Pericak, Conrad Obi and Nate Bonsu.
Retaining eight players who saw a legitimate amount of playing time will make it easier on the young linebackers to get a push. The defensive backs and their new supervisor will also benefit from the skilled pass rushers.
Herrod, who tallied a team-high of six sacks and ten tackles for loss in ’09, is the best of the bunch. The modest defensive standout admits that even he has much to improve on this spring.
“Really I just want to work on my first step,” Herrod said. “I want to work on getting after guys and perfecting my pass rush.”
Herrod mentioned fellow defensive end Forrest West as a player that could turn some heads when spring comes. He, and the rest of the defense, will need all the help they can get if they expect to get to a bowl game.
“I’m a senior so this is my last time around,” Herrod said. “I want to go out on top, leaving some kinds of mark on the university.”
Going by that logic, last year’s 3-9, (2-6) campaign would be considered a skid mark. Herrod went on to explain how so far this off-season he hasn’t given up on his reps or quit on his run.
Herrod’s attitude will have to become contagious throughout the spring if the Buffs hope for an improved season record.
Unlike his quarterback, who said it was his goal to not throw any interceptions this spring, the slightly superstitious Herrod said he didn’t want to think that far in the future.
“I ain’t going to make any predictions,” said Herrod, as a grin grew across his face. “I don’t want to jinx myself.”
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Michael Krumholtz at Michael.email@example.com.