It was hardly the start that Steven Montez and the Colorado offense wanted for the annual spring game.
On the first play of the afternoon at Folsom Field, Montez dropped back to pass, threw a deep ball to receiver Devin Ross, only to have it picked off by safety Nick Fisher and returned the other way 39 yards.
"Uhh," Montez sighed. "Obviously you don't want to come out here and throw picks. That's what we don't want to do as quarterbacks."
For Montez and the Buffaloes, however, it was how the rest of the day that went that left them feeling good about their quarterbacks as they put a cap on spring drills.
Playing in front of estimated 6,250 fans, the Buffs went through an hour of drills before closing with an hour of situational scrimmage time.
"I saw a lot of energy," head coach Mike MacIntyre said. "We executed a lot of things. There's good and bad both sides; that's really what you want, to see if people compete and learn from different situations. We got out of here with no injuries, which was good, and I thought we had a competitive day out there."
While the Buffs didn't open up the playbook, and focused a lot of their attention on their younger players, the afternoon gave fans a chance to see the Buffs' new crop of quarterbacks.
Led by Montez, a sophomore who started three games a year ago, the Buffs are as talented at quarterback as they've been in years. Redshirt freshman Sam Noyer, true freshman Tyler Lytle and walk-on redshirt freshman Casey Marksberry have all impressed the staff this spring and had their good moments Saturday.
"There's no question that the quarterback position has been upgraded the last two seasons," co-offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini said. "Bringing in Sam, bringing in Tyler and having Casey here, we're excited about the guys we have and we're going to continue to coach them hard and continue to coach the offense very hard so they can perform on Saturdays."
On this Saturday, Montez brushed off a rough start to put together a solid day that included a 22-yard touchdown strike to Shay Fields on a laser of a throw. Montez also scored on a 1-yard touchdown run and, with the exception of missing some deep throws, was sharp overall. After missing his first three throws, Montez completed seven of his last eight for 55 yards.
"We kind of got rolling and got some momentum and then just finished strong throughout the rest of the scrimmage," Montez said. "That's something I pride myself on is finishing strong. It's a game where you're going to make mistakes, but you just have to come back, bounce back and just play strong and finish the game strong."
Angling for the starting job that Sefo Liufau held for the past four years, Montez came into the spring atop the depth chart and leaves spring with a firm grip on the top spot.
"He's doing some good things," Chiaverini said. "We've seen his progression immensely grow from last year to this year.
"Sometimes he's going to turn it over. That's what guys that are aggressive do. Even today, you saw he turned the ball over early, but he came back and he kept throwing it, and he hit some really nice throws."
In addition to playing well this spring, Montez grew as a leader, as well, and shared the team's John Wooten Award — given to the player with the most outstanding work ethic — with cornerback Isaiah Oliver.
"(The players) are real confident (in Montez)," head coach Mike MacIntyre said. "He's been on the field with them before and won some big games and they know his work ethic and they've seen his talent."
Noyer threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Kabion Ento, led the offense to a field goal and had a solid day all-around. He completed all six of his passes for 51 yards.
Lytle threw a touchdown pass to Johnny Huntley and also led the Buffs to a field goal. Overall, he was 6-for-9 for 70 yards.
Even Marksberry looked good and threw a touchdown pass to walk-on tight end Derek Coleman; he finished 5-for-9 for 65 yards.
"The biggest thing in the spring is obviously improvement," Montez said. "That's the name of the game in the spring, and I think all the quarterbacks nailed that this spring. Everybody learned and everybody just got better as the spring went on and we were peaking right about the spring game, which is what we want to do. We'll take this, we'll carry this into the summer and obviously into the fall, as well."
With the quarterbacks playing well, the Buffs closed the spring feeling good about their offense, which returns nine of 11 starters.
"I think we're a lot farther ahead this year than we were last year at this point," Chiaverini said. "Overall the progression of where we started this thing about a year and a half ago to where we're at now is ten-fold. We're going to keep taking this thing farther and farther and we have a veteran group of guys that understand what we want from them and now it's their job to go out there and work and compete and it's our job as coaches to push them."