The youth movement is serving the Buffs well on special teams.
Colorado's infusion of fast freshmen should translate into better coverage of kicks and greater potential for explosive kick returns.
Special teams coach J.D. Brookhart said the top four candidates to return kickoffs are freshmen Gerald Thomas, Kenneth Crawley, Jeffrey Hall and Marques Mosley.
Thomas and Crawley are also in the mix for the punt return man job, along with sophomore D.D. Goodson and redshirt freshman Nelson Spruce.
Last Saturday at Folsom Field, the coaching staff was able to get a look at the special teams units in "live" action.
Mosley created the highlight of the 96-play scrimmage by returning a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. That was good news and bad news from Brookhart's vantage point.
"We didn't block it that well, we had a missed block," Brookhart said. "The kid made a kid miss and went 100 yards with it. It's exciting to have those guys."
In 2011, CU ranked last in the Pac-12 in kickoff returns (18.6 yards per return). That problem should be fixed this fall, but how many chances will players like Mosley get to show off the Buffs' improved talent and depth?
The NCAA, in an effort to reduce collisions and concussions, has moved the kickoff up 5 yards to the 35-yard line. Offenses will get the ball at the 25-yard line on touchbacks.
Most place-kickers will be able to sail the ball out of the back of the end zone if instructed to do so.
"It changes things," Brookhart said. "You've got two ways to look at it. You get a chance to have a better run up if you can hang it and try to pin them up inside the 20. Or you can take an approach that we've got a guy to kick it out and I've got 10 minutes I can spend on something else."
The CU coaching staff plans to make a decision each week on which strategy works best for the upcoming opponent. Whether the Buffs are in the thin air at Folsom Field or on the road at sea level are among the factors that will be considered.
"We keep going back and forth whether to just kick it out or hang it up and get down there and cover it," CU head coach Jon Embree said. "I've got to get a better feel for what our kicker does best."
Justin Castor had 24 of 35 kickoffs returned last year, which gave opposing offenses an average starting position of the 31-yard line. Will Oliver had 12 of 16 kickoffs returned with an average starting position at the 32-yard line.
CU was 11th in the Pac-12 in kickoff coverage (40.2 net average), 10th in punt return average (4.3 yards per return), and 8th in punting average (37.3 net average).
"It has given us some depth and right now we're able to use some guys that we wouldn't have been able to use before," Brookhart said of the impact of the large 2012 recruiting on special teams. "We've built that into the four different phases, you've got a broad spectrum of players that are giving you a chance to be successful. Lot of patchwork last year."
A tired herd
There is a light at the end of the tunnel. But the Buffs are too exhausted to see it.
Embree is pleased with the way CU's young team is fighting through this fall camp, despite Tuesday's "ragged" practice session.
"We had not as much balance as you normally would like. In other words, one side would win an entire period every drill instead of a little bit of give and take," Embree said. "But they worked. It's just learning how to work when we get tired. We'll be better (today)."
The good news for the players is that today is the final two-a-day session on the schedule with an off day coming on Sunday.
"Every team goes through this in camp. I'm not overly concerned," Embree said. "But we hit the wall today a little bit."
Installing a game plan next week for the Sept. 1 opener against Colorado State should wake them up.
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