CU football: Buffs will be work in progress on offense

Colorado senior Jordan Gehrke is one of three quarterbacks that will see the field during spring football.
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado senior Jordan Gehrke is one of three quarterbacks that will see the field during spring football.

CU spring football

Tentative schedule: March 2, 4, 7, 9, 11, 14, 16, 28 and 30; April 1, 4, 6, 8, 9 and 11; all practices slated for mornings

Sessions open to the public: To be announced

Spring game: April 9, Noon, at Folsom Field

Key questions

Five key questions the Colorado football team faces during spring football:

1. How will the coaches work together on offense?

After a very disappointing season on offense, head coach Mike MacIntyre completely revamped his offensive staff. Of the five offensive assistants, two are new to the coaching staff and the other three are in new roles. How co-coordinators Darrin Chiaverini and Brian Lindgren work together, and how Klayton Adams (offensive line), Gary Bernardi (tight ends) and Darian Hagan (running backs) adjust to new roles will go a long way to determining how much the Buffs get done this spring.

2. Can they find five starting offensive linemen?

This was, without question, the Achilles’ heel of the Buffs last season. Projected starting left tackle Jeromy Irwin won’t play in spring as he continues recovery from a torn ACL. Still, the Buffs need to find a legitimate backup left tackle and solidify the other four starting spots. In the mix, there are seven returnees who played significant snaps last year and four talented redshirt freshmen. The Buffs need to define a top group.

3. Will a clear clubhouse leader emerge at quarterback?

Seniors Sefo Liufau (foot injury) and Davis Webb (not yet on campus) will not participate, and it’s highly likely one of them will be the starter in the fall. However, it’s imperative for the quarterbacks that are here — senior Jordan Gehrke, sophomore Cade Apsay and freshman Steven Montez — to take advantage of the situation. The Buffs will be much more productive in spring if one of them can emerge as a lead dog and, perhaps, as a legitimate contender for the starting job in fall.

4. Can they seal the edges on defense?

CU has good, young talent at defensive end/outside linebacker, but it has to get better. A key for CU this next season will be pressuring the quarterback with its front six/seven. Senior Jimmie Gilbert (six sacks in 2015) and junior Derek McCartney (five sacks) had their moments, but the group needs to get more consistent with its pass rush. Several others, including sophomore N.J. Falo, will need to step up their game this spring, too.

5. Which playmakers will establish themselves at receiver?

CU has some big-time talent arriving this summer. That should motivate a group of receivers with much to prove. Junior Shay Fields had a great first two seasons and figures to be the top target this spring. However, this is a great opportunity for juniors Bryce Bobo and Devin Ross, and others, to gain trust of the quarterbacks and coaches.

Eventually, the Colorado football team would like its offense to move at a blazing pace.

The Buffaloes aren’t going to be setting any speed records this spring, though.

On Wednesday, the Buffs open spring football and it figures to be a learning experience for everyone involved with the offense.

“You’re not trying to win a game right now,” said co-offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini, who is entering his first spring with the Buffs. “You’re trying to evaluate your roster and you’re trying to implement your base offense. To me, spring football is going to be about our players learning the offense.”

Coaches will be learning, too. All five offensive assistants are in new roles, including Chiaverini and running backs coach Darian Hagan, who are new to the coaching staff.

Chiaverini, who also coaches receivers, was hired to work alongside former sole coordinator Brian Lindgren. The two have spent countless hours the past few weeks putting together a plan.

Their mission is to spark a CU offense that averaged just 24.6 points per game — down 3.9 from 2014 — and managed only 19.7 points per game in Pac-12 play.

“I think you’re going to really see a different look from us, as far as our tempo, what we’re doing scheme-wise and what we’re doing as far as how fast we’re playing,” said Chiaverini, who will also coach receivers. “I think people will be excited about what they see because it’s a lot different from what they did in the past.”

In 2014, the Buffs were one of the more up-tempo teams in the country, but Chiaverini comes from a Texas Tech system that takes up-tempo to a new level.

Chiaverini said the new offense will be “a good mesh” between what he did at Texas Tech and what Lindgren has done at CU, but also said the offense has changed, “probably about 65 percent.”

The Buffs would like to play in a lot of open sets, where they’ll spread their tight ends out to the slot. They’ll also, at times, use tight ends in more traditional formations.

CU will also look for ways to take pressure off an offensive line that struggled during the 2015 season, and they’ll aim to take advantage of the strengths their players possess.

Whatever the Buffs do, it will be designed to be done quickly.

“We’ll do a lot of stuff where we call no subs and we’re going fast and we’re not substituting from the sideline,” he said. “It allows us to play faster, it allows us to play within our scheme, but also be very effective.”

Exactly how effective the Buffs can be this spring remains to be seen, especially because they won’t have all of their weapons available.

For various reasons, the Buffs won’t have senior quarterbacks Sefo Liufau and Davis Webb, left tackle Jeromy Irwin, receiver Juwann Winfree and running back Beau Bisharat. Any of those five could play significant roles in the fall.

“We have some major pieces coming in that are going to be big-time contributors, and we need to find out what we have (available) right now,” Chiaverini said.

Finding out what the Buffs have to work with now is going to be one of the top priorities this spring.

Chiaverini likes a lot of the players CU will have available this spring, including quarterback Steven Montez, receivers Shay Fields, Bryce Bobo and Devin Ross, and a stable of running backs that includes Michael Adkins II and Phillip Lindsay. Yet, for all of them, the offense will be new.

“Everybody has to prove themselves and earn a starting spot,” Chiaverini said. “Nothing is going to be given to them, because they haven’t earned that right.

“I have to get an evaluation of what we have on this roster and that will be done though spring football. I know what I want to do, I know what coach Lindgren wants to do, but we have to find out what we do best as a team and then kind of structure it around that. It’s going to be exciting.”

The real excitement may not come until the fall, though, after Chiaverini, Lindgren and the rest of the staff and players work out the kinks.

“I know we’re going to bring a different style of offensive play to Colorado and I think the fans will be excited to see what we do,” Chiaverini said.

Brian Howell:, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.