BOULDER - At the end of Saturday's 96-play scrimmage at Folsom Field - the first major scrimmage of training camp - Colorado coach Jon Embree huddled his players around him and invited them to peer two weekends into the future.
"Right about now in two weeks," he said, "we're going to be warming up . . . right about now."
Those warm-ups will be in Denver's Sports Authority Field at Mile High in preparation for CU's 2012 season-opener against Colorado State.
The meter already is running on the fastest four months of the calendar year. Game week is closing in. Are the Buffs ready to greet it? Not quite, but by all accounts they're getting there.
In Embree's estimation, his second CU team is "about halfway there . . . the way they came out (Saturday) and got after it, it was good."
Much, much better, he said, than what occurred in last season's first scrimmage: "I remember after last year's scrimmage . . . it wasn't acceptable and we came out and played that way (in the opener at Hawai'i). Truth be told, it carried over. The guys knew how to practice (in this camp) and they came out and did it. So I'm pleased with that."
With two weeks of training camp in the books, Embree's key observation of the Buffs is this: "They want it . . . they don't say it, but their actions - how they come out and work - it got better every practice. They want it. They really do want to win. That's refreshing to be around . . . they really care and respect each other. There's a lot of camaraderie there. It's been a good camp . . .
"I feel good about what this team has done and how hard they've worked. It goes back to the Utah game (a 17-14 CU win). That momentum has given them a little taste of winning big games and what it means. We'll see how that translates pretty soon."
Embree said he used the "halfway there" description for Saturday's work because several key defensive players - linebackers Jon Major and Doug Rippy, safety Ray Polk - didn't participate. All are expected to be ready for CSU.
"We've got to get work in with all our guys, so we can get a good feel for that," Embree said. "There were some mistakes on one side of the ball or the other, and generally it was a guy playing who maybe wouldn't be in that situation."
The absences of Major, Rippy and Polk created opportunities for younger players such as Brady Daigh and Kyle Washington at linebacker and Marques Mosley at safety, and each made big plays that Embree recognized. He also singled out corner Greg Henderson, ends Chidera Uzo-Diribe and Juda Parker and freshmen defensive linemen Tyler Hennington, Justin Solis and Josh Tupou.
Mosley also was a standout on special teams, returning a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. "He's a smart player; he's got good football instincts and can run and likes to hit," Embree said. "I'm excited with his progress."
On Mosley's long kickoff return, Embree said he was "holding my breath because of (Mosley's) tweaked hammy . . . but he didn't have to hit fourth gear - he was able to score in third. I'm really pleased for him."
WEBB WATCH, QB BACKUP STATUS: New starting quarterback Jordan Webb worked exclusively with the No. 1 offense and said those reps were beneficial for his timing with some of the veteran offensive players. "We're going to keep getting better," Webb said, adding, "If we had to step on the field next weekend, I think we'd be ready. We have leadership. The offensive line is working hard, they really set the tempo (Saturday). If they're playing good it's going to bode well for us."
Webb said he felt "definitely more comfortable" directing the offense since he was named the starter last Wednesday. "But I'm working even harder now. Being named the guy is a big responsibility. It's time to take leadership of this offense and make it my own. I'm really trying to do that. I think the guys are rallying around me well. I think we're really excited for a couple of weeks from now."
Embree said all three QBs - Webb, Connor Wood, Nick Hirschman - "played well" and no separation occurred between Wood and Hirschman in their duel to be Webb's backup. "Both threw a couple of TD passes . . . both have kind of gotten over the fact that they're not the guy and they're competing again," Embree said. "I expected it to be like that."
One of the afternoon's two interceptions resulted from a route error by a freshman receiver. "Other than that," Embree said, "I thought our ball placement and decisions were pretty dang good at the quarterback position and allowed us to have some good plays."
No official scrimmage statistics were released.
GROUND GAME ID DEVELOPING: The Buffs weren't the hard-running, hardnosed ground team last season that Embree and offensive coordinator/running backs coach Eric Bieniemy wanted.
That seems to be changing. Embree cited sophomore tailback Tony Jones and the O-line for their work Saturday, noting that a physical identity in that phase of the offense seems to be developing.
"We're really close to having an identity in the running game," Embree said. "We really are. I feel it's so much better, it's night-and-day from where we were last year to now. But we've got to continue to get better.
"We're still in a 'camp' mode. We have to continue to grind a little bit. I know they're tired, I know we've got a little bit of legs. But we'll continue to keep working and we'll get freshened up when we need to."
Jones said the Buffs "got better . . . we got after each other" on Saturday. "I had a couple of small runs . . . I was just looking to get 41/2 (yards) like coach Bieniemy always talks to us about. He says to not expect a big run on every play; I always want to be patient."
Asked if he saw a personality developing on the offense, Jones answered, "I think we always had a personality, but I guess a lot of people didn't think it was a strong personality . . . it's definitely toughness."
He said he believed from a toughness standpoint, the Buffs are game-ready "right now, but we still have a lot of things to clean up. We have to get back to the drawing board, see what we're going to do come our first game. We're ready; coach Black (Malcolm Blacken) got us conditioned and coach Embree has definitely been hard on us."
TAKING IT UP A NOTCH: Embree applauded his assistant coaches for their development of older players on the roster, citing defensive line coach Mike Tuiasosopo and senior tackle Will Pericak as his Exhibit A.
"The first day I saw (Pericak), I said, 'You gotta be kidding me,'" Embree recalled. "He didn't know how to use hands right, his footwork was awful . . . now when I watch him I say here's a guy who has a chance to be an all-conference player.
"He was willing to work and Tuiasosopo has done a great job of grinding him and staying on him and holding him to that standard . . . making him do things the right way every time."
Pericak was a playmaker Saturday, batting a pass that was intercepted by Daigh. Pericak cited the influx of newcomers to the D-line and said that group was "executing well, but everybody has room to improve . . . we've got to get a little better in our pass rush and get our game mentality down - running on and off the field, speaking up and seeing the pre-snap reads."
CAN CANTY BE 'SPECIAL K'? Receiver Keenan Canty, a sophomore from New Orleans, had several nice catches Saturday and could be working his way toward more playing time. In 12 games last season, he made 14 receptions for 161 yards.
Canty's take on the offense Saturday: "We came out pretty good, came out pretty fast. We had a few mental errors, but overall it was pretty good."
Canty's take on his performance: "I just came out trying to be assignment sound in my play and keep going as fast as I can for as long as I can."
He said he has benefitted from the competition provided by freshmen receivers Jeffery Thomas and Gerald Thomas, as well as that from returnees Tyler McCulloch, Nelson Spruce, Jarrod Darden and Dustin Ebner.
"Coach (Bobby) Kennedy says he's bringing in guys who can compete with us and take our spots," Canty said. "There's always competition going on."
BUFF BITS: Embree reported no new injuries in Saturday's work . . . . Attending the scrimmage were a pair of McCartneys - grayshirt candidate Derek, a freshman defensive end who will enroll in January, and former coach Bill, who watched from the press box and took notes for an upcoming weekly radio gig. Derek McCartney is up 20 pounds (to 235) from his signing day weight . . . . The final week of camp brings the final pair of two-a-days. The first is Monday, the last is Wednesday . . . . The beginning of fall semester classes is just over a week away (Monday, Aug. 27).