It was difficult for the untrained eye to evaluate Colorado's rotating centers during the final scrimmage of fall camp last Friday at Folsom Field.
Jon Embree didn't put much stock into that audition, either.
"We burned that one, so I don't know," Embree said of the sloppy offensive film.
The overall body of work from spring drills through Thursday's practice suggests that either redshirt freshman Daniel Munyer (6-foot-2, 290) or redshirt sophomore Gus Handler will be able to handle the center duties this season.
That's why Embree plans to rotate the two during CU's opener at Hawaii on Sept. 3.
"I have confidence in both of those guys," Embree said.
Mike Iltis was expected to be the man snapping the ball to Tyler Hansen this season, but the senior walked into Embree's office in June and told the new coach he was done playing football. After suffering a serious knee injury against Nebraska in the 2010 season finale, Iltis decided to give his battered body a rest and focus on finishing his degree.
That opened up the door for Shawn Daniels, who has played sparingly over the years due to injuries (a broken back, toe problems), to finally seize an opportunity. The 6-3, 275-pound senior tore a calf muscle early in camp and will probably miss at least the first month of the season.
So how are Munyer and Handler really doing in the role?
Just fine, according the man who engages in a violent dance with them every afternoon.
"Those guys are outstanding," starting nose tackle Conrad Obi, currently listed at 6-3, 290, said of the Buffs' top two healthy centers. "With Shawn going down temporarily, Munyer and Handler are stepping up and doing a great job. They've got strong sets. They get that ball out and come back to block. I don't know how they do it, but they do it."
Physically, both players have held their own against a deeper and more experienced CU defensive front. But centers also have to do a lot of thinking out of the huddle and yelling at the line of scrimmage.
"Everything revolves around the center. Everyone else makes their calls based on my call," Munyer said. "I started off a little slowly. They changed some stuff in protections, but once I picked it up, I progressed better."
Munyer was already listed at the top of the depth chart with Daniels after spring ball. And the offensive line was considered an area of strength with David Bakhtiari (tackle) and Ethan Adkins (guard) on the left and Ryan Miller (guard) and Jack Harris (tackle) on the right.
"The calls and everything are a lot quicker than it has been. We aren't lethargic it all," Miller said. "It's very fast. To be a senior and have that on the offensive line is just a little sigh of relief."
Handler has also proven to veteran offensive line coach Steve Marshall that he can handle the responsibilities at center. That's why he will also make his collegiate debut in Honolulu.
"Gus Handler has had a great summer and he has earned everything that he is getting," Embree said.
As many as eight offensive linemen could see action at Aloha Stadium. The coaching staff will rotate as many players as they feel comfortable with -- at all positions -- to keep the team from wilting in the fourth quarter.
"It definitely keeps us fresh," Munyer said. "Me and Gus are both new. I think (rotating) will help us. It will be the first game for both of us."
Munyer and Handler don't have to be the centers of attention. They just have to do their job well enough so the ESPN2 cameras are focused on Hansen and Rodney Stewart and Paul Richardson.
"For me it's just, 'Let's be decisive with the call. And if we're all wrong, we'll all be wrong together.' I'd rather not have half doing one thing, and half doing the other," Embree said. "Because I think we've got some guys at the play-maker position where it doesn't have to be blocked perfect. If you get them the ball, they can make something happen."