CU special teams coach Kent Riddle during practice Aug. 11, 2010.
CU special teams coach Kent Riddle during practice Aug. 11, 2010. ( CLIFF GRASSMICK )
In the words of Colorado special teams coach Kent Riddle, some of his units last year were "terrible" and "really bad."

Riddle isn`t going to get much of an argument from Buffs fans or reporters who witnessed the carnage during a 3-9 season. But there is also sometimes a tendency to highlight the negative during a disappointing season such as 2009 in Boulder, and the fact is, the Buffs were pretty darn good on several special teams units.

Riddle`s challenge this season is to fix what`s obviously broken while improving what his players did well.

"I think on the stuff where the bulk of the team could control the outcome, I think we did pretty well," Riddle said. "I think on some of the things where one individual has a huge impact and really that is going to be your result, we didn`t do so well."

Colorado was among the nation`s best at returning and covering kickoffs. CU ranked 21st in the nation in kickoff returns with former running back Darrel Scott and current running back Brian Lockridge handling much of the workload. The Buffs allowed just 20 yards per kickoff return.

Those are the units that worked together and flourished and coaches believe those teams have a chance to be even better this fall because of an overall increase in talent, experience and depth across the roster.

"We`ve got guys playing in the twos who have played before, who have started on those groups," said coach Dan Hawkins, who spends a lot of time working with special teams units alongside Riddle in practices.


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"So you know they`re going to know what to do."

Place-kicking, punting and punt return units all struggled because of inconsistency from the primary players involved. Aric Goodman and former punter Matt DiLallo didn`t kick well and no one was particularly effective returning punts.

"That has been our primary focus in those areas is to create competition in those areas and have options and drastically improve," Riddle said.

Kickers remain a bit of awild card three weeks from the start of the season. No one knows yet who will be handling the place-kicking duties and how that player will handle the pressure. Redshirt freshman Zach Grossnickle will do the punting, but he is a mystery as well because he hasn`t performed in a college game yet and certainly hasn`t done anything under the pressure he will face on Saturdays.

The one area where improvement should come is at punt return where it appears Travon Patterson, a wide receiver transfer from USC, has the job all but sewn up.

"I would say this, just watching Travon, he would have been the guy forever because he`s so natural at catching the punt and he`s so explosive," Riddle said.

Ohio State game

spurs excitement

Colorado running back Rodney Stewart was held out of the game during last season`s trip to Toledo in his home state of Ohio because of an injury and didn`t get to play in front of dozens of family members and friends.

Stewart, the Buffs starting tailback, was one of the most excited players in the CU locker room over the weekend when he heard the news the team will likely make a return trip to Ohio next year during his senior season, only this time to play against Ohio State.

"I think it`s a blessing," Stewart said. "I always dreamed about playing for them when I was little. So to actually have a chance to play against them would be great. I want to do something amazing in that game."

Stewart came to Boulder two years ago from Westerville, Ohio, and is one of three players on the roster from the Buckeye state. Linebacker Doug Rippy and cornerback Deji Olatoye also were recruited from Ohio.

Stewart said all three of the Buffs were happy to hear the news and received plenty of texts and phone calls about it over the weekend. Colorado and Ohio State are negotiating the details of the contest, but whether it actually happens depends on a variety of other factors that also have to be resolved.

Colorado is hoping to begin play in the Pac-12 Conference next year and will have to juggle its non-conference schedule because the current version includes a game against Cal, which will be a conference foe at that point. CU also plays Colorado State in Denver and Fresno State at home and would likely need to have five Pac-10 home games to fulfill its promise to fans to have six true home games every year.

However, Colorado will open next season at Hawaii, and doing so allows the Buffs to play 13 regular season games if they choose to do so.

Notable

Riddle confirmed tight end Clark Evans has left the program. Riddle said he doesn`t believe Evans left the program solely because of his position change from quarterback to tight end. "I certainly think that had something to do with it, but I don`t think that was the majority factor," he said. ... Hawkins said he believes the Buffs are further along at this point in fall camp than they have been at the same point in previous camps in his tenure. "I think we`re quite a ways further than before," he said. ... Hawkins said he expects sixth year tight end Luke Walters to have a role in the offense. Hawkins said he has been worried about Walters` health and durability in the past after the tight end underwent two major lower leg surgeries, but he is no longer worried those issues.