Rocky Mountain Showdown
What: Colorado vs. Colorado State
When: 6 p.m. Friday
Where: Sports Authority Filed at Mile High, Denver
TV/Radio: ESPN / 850 AM
Throughout his long career in coaching, Gary Bernardi has spent a lot of time coaching tight ends.
Returning to that position this year, however, has presented Bernardi with a new challenge.
"Fifteen, sixteen years ago when I coached the tight ends, you coached the tight ends and tackles and you worked on things that were more of a Pro-I, or some would say a conservative offense in this day," said Bernardi, who is in his first year as Colorado's tight ends coach after coaching the Buffaloes' offensive line the past three years.
"Football has changed so much over the years. It makes you a little bit broader and makes you expand some things I've been away from for a long time."
The change has been embraced by Bernardi, in large part because he enjoys the group he works with, but also because he simply enjoys coaching.
"When you get out there, if you really enjoy coaching, I could be coaching the defensive line and having a good time," he said. "You enjoy coaching and that's what it's about."
So far, the man the players call, "Chief," has enjoyed his new role, and the players have enjoyed having him as a mentor.
"Especially in this offense, it's changed," senior tight end Sean Irwin said. "There's a lot of versatility. Those swing screens out wide that we have to block, we have to come inside, we have to tackle-over, all this other stuff. The game has changed a lot since the last time he was (coaching tight ends), but he's done really great and he's really football smart, so that's helped a lot."
Together, Bernardi and the players are doing their best to give CU some dangerous weapons at tight end this season.
CU's offense, which will aim to play at a lightning pace, is loaded with talented receivers and running backs, as well as a four-year starter at quarterback in Sefo Liufau.
During head coach Mike MacIntyre's first three years in Boulder, the tight ends have mainly been blockers. Last year, tight ends caught just 27 passes.
CU has re-tooled its offense a bit this year, with co-coordinator Darrin Chiaverini joining the staff. Chiaverini spent two seasons at Texas Tech, and has brought some of the Red Raiders' air-raid concepts to Boulder. With that, the tight ends — mainly Irwin, junior George Frazier and sophomore Dylan Keeney — could have opportunities to catch passes not only in traditional tight sets, but as split receivers.
"I really feel like there are a lot of opportunities for them out there," Bernardi said.
As a group, the tight ends have become close. Frazier and Irwin are two of the top leaders on the entire team. Frazier has been named a captain, while Irwin has made it a priority to build a bond within the group. Being closer off the field has paid off, Irwin said.
"This summer, I took them camping and I tried to get some camaraderie in there and get them to know each other, and this (August) camp was really smooth for us," Irwin said. We didn't really have anybody messing anything up a lot.
"Over the years me and (Frazier) have really grown close together. It's been good. It's been really beneficial for us to get together."
Irwin's presence has been valuable to Bernardi as he has transitioned to his new role.
"We have a good group of seniors, and (Irwin) is one of them that is strong willed, a tough kid and football is important to him," Bernardi said. "That's such a big deal when football is truly important to you and not just on Saturdays or not just in the fall. I think he's that type of guy."
With the amount of veterans on the entire team, Irwin said he's looking forward to not only a good season from the tight ends, but from everybody.
"I'm really excited, because this year it's my last year," he said. "It just feels special. If we just turn a couple more things around this year, we'll be really successful. I have a lot of hope and faith in this team."
Brian Howell: firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.