2014 Colorado spring game
Where: Folsom Field
Radio: KKZN (760 AM)
Notable: Healthy Kids Day follows the spring game with student-athletes representing all 17 sports programs at CU interacting with children who choose to participate in a variety of activities.
Defensive tackle Josh Tupou said he was shocked Thursday when his roommate K.T. Tu'umalo texted him to tell him he was the No. 1 overall selection in Colorado's spring game draft.
The junior from Buena Park, Calif., apparently has impressed members of the CU offensive line as much as he has impressed head coach Mike MacIntyre, who has praised Tupou in interviews numerous times over the past five weeks.
MacIntyre got together with members of the senior class to select the rosters for the annual spring game Saturday (12:07 p.m., Pac-12 Network). Offensive linemen Daniel Munyer and Kaiwi Crabb represented the black and gold teams. MacIntyre said Crabb made Tupou the first pick because he didn't want to have to block him in the scrimmage, which is expected to last approximately two hours with 12-minute quarters and a running clock, except in the final 2 minutes of each half.
"It just shows that they have seen my improvements throughout this spring," Tupou said, acknowledging he felt like being picked first was a compliment.
There is no doubt Tupou has been one of the standouts this spring for a program targeting its first winning season since 2005, and it's no surprise. MacIntyre believed Tupou was starting to make all-conference type plays at the end of last season and he's played a lot of football in his first two years in Boulder.
Tupou said he thought quarterback Sefo Liufau would be the first player taken, but Liufau went fourth after Tupou, wide receiver Nelson Spruce and defensive back Chidobe Awuzie. Backup quarterback Jordan Gehrke was taken ninth, which probably wasn't a smart move simply because coaches would have forced him to be on the opposite team from Liufau anyway.
"I want to see effort and intensity and then we want to see some of the kids who haven't really played on a stage, so to speak, to see how they handle that," MacIntyre said.
MacIntyre said he will be hoping to see several young wide receivers who have had strong springs continue to do well along with several young defensive ends. Offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren and defensive coordinator Kent Baer will serve as coaches for the respective teams. MacIntyre will stand out on the field during the game and remain more neutral.
For the second year in a row, the spring game won't be the final practice of spring drills. MacIntyre likes to devote the final practice of spring (slated for Monday) to showing the team what he and his assistants would like them to focus on during summer workouts on the field.
This is the first summer football coaches will be allowed to work with players because of an NCAA rule change, but that work will be limited to workouts and the film room and won't include being on the field conducting drills or any use of a football.
With most of the Buffs' spring work behind them, it's an appropriate time to look at some of the standouts this spring and the team's strengths and concerns going into fall camp in August.
Linebackers — Sophomore Kenneth Olugbode has been a nice surprise this spring and significantly improves the speed of the group taking over at Will linebacker where Derrick Webb played. Add Olugbode to fellow starters Addison Gillam and Woodson Greer and coaches have a nice core. Senior Brady Daigh along with backups like Deaysean Rippy, Ryan Severson and K.T. Tu'umalo give coaches some flexibility but this group can't afford many injuries.
Running backs — Phillip Lindsay has shown he's ready to contribute and is putting himself in position to take opportunities away from players like Tony Jones, Donta Abron, Malcolm Creer and Terrence Crowder. It would be a surprise if anyone other than Michael Adkins or Christian Powell earned the starting job. Coaches are also excited to have the option of a big backfield in the fall with Powell sometimes running behind fullback George Frazier.
Secondary — The competition has been as good here as anywhere on the roster even though 2013 starter Kenneth Crawley missed a sizeable portion of spring with a hand injury. Newcomer Ahkello Witherspoon has proven he is capable of contributing immediately if not earning a starting spot. The strengths here are cornerbacks Greg Henderson and Chidobe Awuzie along with safeties Jered Bell and Tedric Thompson. But there is plenty of depth with players such as John Walker, Yuri Wright, Marques Mosley, Richard Yates, Ryan Moeller and Terrell Smith.
Wide receiver — No, CU coaches didn't find the next Paul Richardson this spring, but they did learn they probably won't miss Richardson as much as initially feared. Nelson Spruce is the best player at the position. Redshirt freshman Bryce Bobo has looked solid, though he's not a burner. D.D. Goodson can still make plays in the slot and coaches have a collection of players who will help stretch defenses with speed. It depends on who earns playing time. Lee Walker, Devin Ross, Elijah Dunston, Wesley Christensen are all candidates. Coaches will add a healthy Tyler McCulloch to the group along with freshmen Shay Fields and Donovan Lee in the fall.
Specialists — There aren't many Pac-12 teams with a better combination of punter and place-kicker than CU has in Darragh O'Neill and Will Oliver. Diego Gonzalez will likely handle kickoffs and the longer field goal attempts and could develop into a real weapon. As long as coaches find a reliable longsnapper to replace Ryan Iverson, it should be smooth sailing here.
Depth at quarterback — The reality is CU is going to go into the 2014 season with one proven quarterback in Sefo Liufau with uncertainty backing him up. Fellow sophomore Jordan Gehrke played well at a junior college for one season as a true freshman in 2012 but has been inconsistent in his time with the Buffs, though he is steadily improving. If MacIntyre needs a backup next fall to go into a game, it will be that player's first action at the major college level barring some unforeseen development.
Offensive line — Coaches need some of the younger players on the depth chart to continue to improve so this unit has some real depth in the fall. Adding a healthy Jeromy Irwin at left tackle and junior college transfer Sully Wiefels should improve things. Alex Kelley looks like he's heading toward a starting job at center and surrounding him with seniors like Daniel Munyer and Kaiwi Crabb will help. Maybe Crabb moves back to center in the fall and Wiefels starts at guard forcing Kelley to wait another year. Stephane Nembot is making progress at right tackle but it's coming slowly. There is still a lot to be determined here in August.
Defensive line — Tupou had a very good spring and it came without the other three starters from the season finale last fall at Utah being on the field with him at any point. Obviously, Chidera Uzo-Diribe moved on to the NFL, but Justin Solis and Samson Kafovalu didn't participate at all this spring because of academics. If they're back in the fall, they will have some catching up to do to get on the same page with Tupou. Sophomore defensive end Jimmie Gilbert also was out this spring recovering from shoulder surgery. That allowed Derek McCartney to make a big impression as one of the spring standouts. Juda Parker moved from end to tackle and Tyler Henington moved from tackle to end. Both seem suited to their new roles but time will tell how good they can be there. Just like the opposite side of the ball in the trenches, there is much to be learned here in August.
Tight end — It's probably unfair to lump the tight ends into the list of concerns because the concerns here are somewhat minor. Coaches feel like they have two solid options in Kyle Slavin and Sean Irwin, but there isn't much depth here and the team still lacks that big body with speed and athleticism that you see in other Pac-12 rosters. A guy who can cause defenses fits and is a matchup nightmare. Perhaps freshman Dylan Keeney, a 6-foot-6 product of Granite Bay, Calif., will prove to be that guy when he arrives this summer. Redshirt freshman Connor Center and several walk-ons must continue to develop.