On the field, Gary Bernardi won't have a lot of players to work with this spring, but Colorado's tight ends coach will be a busy man.

While the tight end hasn't been a major part of the CU passing game under head coach Mike MacIntyre, it's a valuable, versatile position and the Buffs have the task of trying to get the players they have up to speed.

When the Buffs open practice on Friday, they will have four scholarship tight ends, but possibly only two will participate in spring.

Sophomore Jared Poplawski will be out as he continues to recover from a torn ACL suffered in November. Senior Eddy Lopez may not practice, either, as he takes care of academic obligations.

That leaves junior Chris Bounds and Darrion Jones, a junior college transfer who has been on campus for about a month. CU will also lean on walk-ons Derek Coleman and Brady Russell to provide depth.

It all starts with Bounds, who last season became a valuable blocker, while also catching seven passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns. While George Frazier, who has graduated, was the top tight end, Bounds became an important complement and the main receiving option at the position.

"Chris Bounds had a really good season last year and steadily improved into a really good player and did a lot of things," Bernardi said. "He did some things that really helped our offense, so hopefully he's going to be in the position to do those same things."


Bounds averaged around 25 snaps a game last year and Bernardi said, "Now he's got to be able to be consistent and do all those good things when he's playing maybe 40-45 plays a game on a consistent basis."

In CU's offense, the tight end lines up in about six different positions at various times, including in the backfield as a fullback. Bounds is well versed in the offense, but the Buffs now need a new complementary option or two.

"That's what people don't realize is (Bounds) gave us tremendous flexibility in being able to do a lot of things — the combination of him and George," Bernardi said. "Between Darrion and Brady and Jared and Derek, somebody else has got to be able to make us flexible in order to do a lot of the things that create problems for the defense."

Jones could emerge as a top option. He is an intriguing addition after he caught 41 passes for 795 yards and five touchdowns last season at Los Angeles Harbor College.

"I think he's athletic and being athletic, I'm hoping he can do the things that Chris Bounds did last year," Bernardi said.

Bernardi also had high praise for Russell, who was named CU's offensive scout team player of the year last season.

"Brady's savvy about knowing the offense," Bernardi said. "He showed some real signs of consistency and the ability to do a lot of things."

Russell and Coleman give the Buffs some much-needed depth in the spring.

Meanwhile, Bernardi said this is also an important spring for Poplawski. Highly regarded when he signed with CU a year ago, Poplawski did not disappoint and his future is bright.

"He's pretty much everything we thought he could be," Bernardi said. "The one thing he lacked last year was strength, particularly lower body strength. That's something he's going to have to work on in paralleling his return to the field."

While Poplawski won't be on the field this spring, he's on target to return in the fall. This spring, Bernardi said, "Jared's got to continue to learn. I see Jared working mentally quite a bit (this spring)."

Although the Buffs will be short-handed at tight end this spring, Bernardi is excited about the group he has to work with.

"We'll get out there and get better," he said.

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33