As a true freshman, Ryan Severson found himself filling a key role on special teams for the Colorado football team.
Now, the sophomore from San Jose, California, is hoping to make an impact on defense. With the season opener around the corner, Severson remains second on the depth chart at "Will" linebacker.
"I've progressed a lot since last year (at linebacker)," the 5-foot-10, 200-pounder said. "Spring ball was big; I learned a lot. This fall camp, I think I took a huge step forward. I'm really happy with where I'm at right now."
Severson became CU's primary kick returner last season, notching 795 yards on returns (a 22.1 average), but didn't play any snaps on defense. This year, he's sure to get some playing time on defense.
"I'm not afraid to play him," CU defensive coordinator Kent Baer said. "I think he's learning a lot and he's getting better every day. He can really run; that's the thing he does best. For a guy that's not real big, he plays pretty physical. He's just got to continue to learn."
Severson will continue being a factor in the kicking game, too. He may not get as many touches (he had 36 of the Buffs' 48 returns last year), but will return the ball on occasion.
"Ryan will be back there and he'll still get some touches," special teams coordinator Toby Neinas said. "Will he get as many touches as last year? Right now, I don't foresee that, but you can't ever tell."
Severson is one of several players in the mix for the starting kick return positions, but the primary job could go to redshirt freshman Phillip Lindsay.
"Phil looks like he's probably going to be returning kicks this year," Severson said.
Neinas wouldn't confirm that, but said that the Buffs are looking at several running backs to fill those roles. In addition to Lindsay, Christian Powell and Tony Jones have returned kicks in practices.
Regardless of who returns kicks, Neinas said, "We have to better for us to be a better football team."
The Buffs ranked 73rd nationally in kickoff return average in 2012, but improved to 43rd last year. They were 25th during the final nine weeks of the 2013 season.
Neinas said he was pleased with how hard the returners ran last year, but said improvement needs to come from the front end of the return team.
"I think we've made some strides there," Neinas said. "We're still trying to find the exact right formula of people. A lot of it is us just being able to sustain our blocks and being able to push people where we want them to go, and not allowing them to go where they want to go."
Receiver Nelson Spruce, who had all nine of the Buffs' punt returns last year, is expected to fill that role again. However, Neinas said he was encouraged by the performances of Shay Fields and Greg Henderson during Saturday's scrimmage.
Neinas said he likes to go into a season with five game-ready kick returners and at least a couple of punt returners.
Hall's status unclear
On Monday, former CU defensive back Jeffrey Hall accepted a plea deal in an assault case and will spend 180 days in jail.
The junior has been listed on CU's roster as an inactive player, but CU athletics spokesman Dave Plati said on Monday that Hall is no longer enrolled at CU.
Hall has two years of eligibility remaining, but MacIntyre said he couldn't comment on Hall's future at this time.
"I don't know anything about that right now," MacIntyre said. "It's the first time I've heard of (the plea deal). I'll get in and figure out what the situation is through the university. They haven't let me know. It's all in their hands."
A year ago, the Buffs were minus-3 on turnover margin — much better than the minus-19 of 2012, but MacIntyre hopes CU can get on the positive side this year.
"That's an area that we need an increase in," he said. "It's something we work on every day and I feel like we're better at trying to cause turnovers and I think that we're better at taking care of the ball."