When should the Colorado quarterback candidates throw into tight coverage?
When they see Tyler McCulloch matched up one-on-one with a smaller defensive back.
Jon Embree wants his 6-foot-5, 210-pound sophomore wide receiver to "play big" for the Buffs this season. McCulloch says he's ready to rise to the head coach's challenge.
"It's just using all of my 6-5 frame, going up and getting the 50-50 balls," McCulloch said. "(Embree) said for receivers those have to be 90-10 balls, especially for me where I can use my body to my advantage and go up and get the ball."
McCulloch was receiving rave reviews last summer from Embree, who issued the lanky freshman jersey No. 87 because he reminded him of Ed McCaffrey.
But at about the midpoint of the seemingly endless 2011 campaign, the McCulloch bandwagon ran out of gas.
"He hit the wall last year," Embree said. "It's hard to go 13 weeks in a row, but I can't imagine as a freshman having to do that and what was put on him. He's stronger, he's quicker, his footwork is better. I'm anxious to get him back because he was making some strides and doing some good things."
McCulloch was held out of Tuesday's practices with a hip pointer sustained while making a diving catch in the end zone.
The injury is considered to be minor. McCulloch said he is "extremely sore" but hopes to return to action today.
"We've just got to continue his progress. He's by no means a finished product," wide receivers coach Bobby Kennedy said. "He's a big target that runs better than most people think. He's just got to continue to catch the ball away from his body. He tends to cradle things when it's close.
"The thing that I'm emphasizing to him is to use your body and reach for things. He's got a long wing span, so he's got to go and get the ball."
McCulloch played basketball growing up. His uncle, Tommy Sheppard, works in the front office for the Washington Wizards.
Now it's time for McCulloch to summon his inner Antonio Gates or Tony Gonzalez when the CU quarterbacks throw the ball up for him to make a play on.
"I think that helps having the mindset of going to get the rebound and staying big in the paint," McCulloch said.
McCulloch played in all 13 games as a freshman but only finished the season with 10 catches for 96 yards and one touchdown. Right now he is listed as the starter at the "X" wide receiver position, but freshmen are not included on the depth chart.
"Last season was a grind. When you look at it with camp, that's about four weeks right there. Halfway through a season is the length of a high school season," McCulloch said. "The difference now is unbelievable. Everything last year was moving so fast for me. I was able to learn the plays and stuff, but it was tough balancing the schedule with school and everything.
"Now I know everything and it's just going out there and performing every day, rather than being broken down mentally and physically."
'He's not Tupou'
Embree has been bragging on his defensive line a lot this camp.
The coaching staff seems to be excited about the mix of veteran players (Will Pericak, Chidera Uzo-Diribe, Nate Bonsu) and true freshmen (Tyler Henington, Josh Tupou, Justin Solis, Samson Kafovalu) up front.
"They don't always do things right, but they are passionate about how they play," Embree said. "I'm always telling those guys that we're not tackling, to stay away from the quarterback. I'm always telling them to not grab them, to just let them go. They know one way. We have a lot of depth there. I don't recall us ever having a (recruiting) class like that."
So where does Kirk Poston fit in? The 6-2, 250-pound redshirt sophomore is listed as the starter at one defensive tackle spot next to Pericak, but his name hasn't been mentioned voluntarily by the head coach.
"Kirk is a utility guy for us, he's playing inside and outside," Embree said. "I just keep mentioning those other guys because they're making plays. He's flashed and done some stuff, but he's not Tupou. He's not him."
Poston only saw action on six plays last season and did not register a tackle. Now he's trying to crack a rotation that is deeper and more talented.
"I'm strong enough to play inside and big enough to play outside. That helps me. I'm versatile," Poston said. "I can play the run pretty good, I can play the pass pretty good, I can do everything pretty good."
And on the 10th day, the Buffs will rest. Or at least take a break from knocking each other on the ground.
The coaching staff wants to save some of the physical contact for Colorado State after opening training camp with five practices in pads and four more practices in shells.
"We'll temper some of the stuff we do over the next couple days," Embree said. "We'll still practice and get after it, but not as much banging so we can protect those big guys up front a little bit."
The team conducted a situational scrimmage on Tuesday morning that included 4-minute drill, 2-minute drill and red zone offense.
Heading into Saturday's scrimmage, Embree said he already has a pretty good feel for which players are ready for the spotlight on Sept. 1 at Sports Authority Field.
"The guys are separating themselves," Embree said. "You're starting to see that the same guys are making plays and gaining confidence."
"Whoever helps us win," Poston said when asked which candidate for the starting quarterback job the defensive players are pulling for.
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