One wide receiver on the Colorado football team ranks among national leaders in receptions and receiving yards at this early stage in the season.
While Paul Richardson draws the attention of defenders and defensive coordinators each week, another Buffs receiver is quietly off to a great start and playing the best football of his young career.
Third-year sophomore Nelson Spruce is well on his way to establishing new career highs if he can continue his pace of six catches a game for 80 yards.
"I think it's a mix of things," Spruce said explaining his improved production. "I think having P-Rich back is helping the offense in so many ways and then this new offense I feel really comfortable in. I feel I've built a really good chemistry with Connor (Wood). So I'm a year older. I think it's just a bunch of things coming together really."
Spruce is averaging more than 3 yards a catch more this season than he did last season when he led the team with 44 catches for 446 yards. He had three receptions that covered more than 20 yards all of last season. He already has two catches for more than 20 yards in the first two games this season.
Spruce says the big plays Richardson makes and the attention defenses must pay to him have alleviated some of the pressure on him, freeing him up to run great routes and make plays.
Spruce is making a habit of moving the chains. Two-thirds of his catches so far have gone for first downs.
"I'd say I'm a reliable receiver and I take pride in that," he said Wednesday as the Buffs began preparations for their first road trip of the season to Oregon State on Sept. 28. "I make sure to kind of keep the drive moving and keep our offense in a good rhythm. I think it's a product of our offense and the type of routes we're running are kind of based on those quicker throws just to move the chains."
Spruce was put in a difficult situation last season, asked to be the featured receiver in the Buffs' old West Coast offense after Richardson suffered a season-ending injury in the spring. It was a role he wasn't comfortable in. Spruce did what he could each week but with no consistent speed threat to complement him in the offense, the Buffs struggled.
Spruce said he finally feels like he's able to show what he's truly capable of in this new system with more playmakers around him, especially Richardson.
"I think his route running has improved a lot," quarterback Connor Wood said. "He's done a really good job of cleaning up the top of his routes and coming up quicker and understanding his strengths. He knows what his strengths and weaknesses are and he's been working hard to capitalize and make those strengths better."
Wide receivers coach Troy Walters encouraged all of CU's wideouts to set goals for themselves at the beginning of the season. Spruce said he never has been the type to set specific goals for himself at the beginning of the season, but he set the bar high this season.
"I actually think it is good and week in and week out you want to work harder because you know what you set for yourself," Spruce said. "So that kind of drives me as well now."
He wasn't willing to share those specific goals just yet but says he feels comfortable that they're achievable based on his first two outings and the fact that he's now playing in a system that is tailored to the talent available and allows players to play fast without hesitation.
"I'll tell you at the end of the season if I accomplished them," Spruce said.