BOULDER - For those paying attention, this shouldn't come as a surprise: Colorado football coach Dan Hawkins never has been a proponent of any player entering spring drills with a starting position nailed down.
That ground rule applies to CU's quarterback job, where Tyler Hansen supplanted Cody Hawkins as the starter last season in mid-October and remained in that role.
But this might come as a surprise: When CU opens spring practice Saturday, Hansen, a junior, and Hawkins, a senior, will enter on equal terms. Which player emerges as the 2010 starter, said their head coach, depends on which one performs better through spring (and possibly early August) competition.
The hotly debated topic of CU's quarterbacks was among the subjects Dan Hawkins was asked about recently in a lengthy Q&A session with CUBuffs.com.
Other topics included the status of receiver Markques Simas, the Buffs' spring priorities, Eric Kiesau's maturation as offensive coordinator, what's next for CU's offense and Dan Hawkins' role in it now that he's given up coaching a position (receivers).
The Dan Hawkins Q&A:
CUBuffs.com: What's maybe your top priority entering spring ball?
Hawkins: "Getting better . . . and that comes down to cinching up the details and creating a little momentum. That's really the crux of it - just hammering that down."
CUBuffs.com: How do you go about creating momentum in the spring?
Hawkins: "A lot of it is in the preparation. You have to see some results - not us, the kids. They have to see themselves actually have some success and perform a little bit. I think it's the work you put in and the combination of seeing results and getting confidence that way.
"And seeing how all that comes together. They've worked really hard this off-season. I think our results are showing up again in the weight room. They've been throwing the ball and doing stuff more on their own than they've done before. I think we probably have more guys in the spring than we've had in the past.
"It's just nice to see a herd of offensive linemen running from drill to drill rather than the Spartan five or seven . . . and having a bunch of guys who have played and know what's going on. Having that sense of determination there and starting to see good leadership cropping up."
CUBuffs.com: What are maybe two or three, or three or four, areas that you really want to focus on and see details ironed out?
Hawkins: "A lot of football always comes down to run the football and stop the run. That's an eternal axiom there. The turnovers . . . it's always good news/bad news in the spring because the offense does well, it's like the defense isn't. It's hard to win that in the spring. But I think certainly from an emphasis standpoint, getting turnovers and eliminating turnovers is a big part of it.
"Then, for us, in special teams in terms of kicking/punting the ball and being able to be more consistent . . . with accuracy and hang time. To me, those are the three major points.
CUBuffs.com: Who gets the first look as your punter?
Hawkins: "It'll be Zach Grossnickle. It'll be interesting; he's a big, tall guy and he's gotten a lot stronger this off-season. Hopefully, we'll have enough days in the sunshine so that he doesn't have to kick it up on the roof of the bubble."
CUBuffs.com: And at placekicker? Is that situation fluid?
Hawkins: "Yeah . . . it'll be (Aric) Goodman and Zach and (walk-on) Marcus Kirkwood. He's a big, tall kid. He might provide something in the mix as well."
CUBuffs.com: You mentioned this a year ago: You might take a look at Clark Evans at tight end (rather than quarterback). Has that change been made and is it a solid transfer?
Hawkins: "Yeah. When we saw Clark when he was a sophomore, I wasn't saying he wasn't a quarterback, he might be a quarterback. But he's big, strong and he can run. He's athletic. You just knew he was something."
CUBuffs.com: How about Josh Moten (a high school QB who allegedly would get a first look at that position)?
Hawkins: "He's a DB . . . early reports on him and Clark from the players (in winter conditioning), they like him and Clark in those positions. They've done a nice job in conditioning."
CUBuffs.com: The word last fall was that Liloa Nobriga might shift from linebacker to defensive end . . . will that happen?
Hawkins: "We'll see down the road. We still have him at linebacker right now. If were to put on some more weight . . . we'll see where he plays. But now he's at linebacker."
CUBuffs.com: Any other personnel changes going into spring ball?
Hawkins: "No, I don't think so."
CUBuffs.com: Eric Richter, your JUCO offensive lineman, will he get his first look at left guard?
Hawkins: "Yeah, but I'm not saying he's going to be with the first group. He'll start out at left guard. He can really run. He's a big, strong kid, really smart. So I think he could play tackle. He's athletic enough to play on the edge, but he's big and strong enough to play inside, too."
CUBuffs.com: What are you going to do different offensively? How much are you tweaking things?
Hawkins: "We always tweak stuff . . . it hasn't been our scheme. I think having more receivers knowing what they're doing, and having the ability to do it is going to help us a bunch on the edge.
"Having more guys in the offensive line . . . you've got a couple of quarterbacks that have played, a couple of tailbacks that have played, a bunch more receivers. Ryan Deehan has had some experience at tight end . . . really, it's just a case of executing better and that comes down to running the football, being solid there and not turning the ball over and getting continuity there.
"It's interesting . . . I hate using this term, but it's popular. People talk about the spread and I don't know what that is . . . we're a multiple offense. A lot of teams that were conventional or multiple - if that's the term you want to use - said we're going to scrap that and go to the spread. That didn't solve it for them.
"Virginia did that. Auburn did that with (Tommy) Tuberville. I mean, that doesn't solve it. You have to get better at what you do. That's the crux of it - getting better at what you do . . . I hate using that term (spread) because you've got a lot of teams in our league that play three or four wides and they're all extremely different in how they do it.
"But it's about getting good at what you do. It's not about, 'Let's run their offense.'"
CUBuffs.com: Are you paring things down a little bit on offense?
Hawkins: "Well, yeah . . . I think we're trying to get really good at less concepts. I think there's always a correlation there. The other side of that is we're probably reaching a point where we more experience than we've ever had before, so the amount of paring you have to do is probably less proportionately because you've got more experienced guys."
CUBuffs.com: With you not coaching a position and having more time, does that necessarily mean you'll be devoting more of yourself to what's going on offensively or will you back off a bit?
Hawkins: "Primarily, my thing in spring ball . . . I'm going to be on all the little details. I can kind of go back to being the quality control guy. Again, I'm going to harp a lot on the turnovers. I'm going to harp a lot on the penalties . . . harp a lot on all the little things that just make a good football team."
CUBuffs.com: Will that carry through into August and beyond?
Hawkins: "Yep . . . yep."
CUBuffs.com: How do you view (offensive coordinator) Eric Kiesau's maturation in the role he's in?
Hawkins: "It's not even close . . . You play the hand you're dealt. But for him going through a year and being able to have a spring ball . . . he's so much more comfortable and aware and then you think about it too, we had Denver (Johnson, O-line coach). We went into (2009) with two pretty important positions being new and one of them (Kiesau) didn't even go through spring ball at his position.
"So, I think that's great. And having 'RP' (new receivers coach Robert Prince) has been great. He's stepped right in and fits like a glove. He brings all his expertise and knowledge and also, he's a great bridge. He knows what we did before (at Boise State) and he sees from other stuff he's done (in the NFL) . . . he's really been awesome. He's a guy who could be a coordinator too, just based on his knowledge and intelligence."
CUBuffs.com: Does the fact that Kiesau has a season under his belt and will get a spring under his belt, does that mean more responsibility for him next fall?
Hawkins: "It stays the same, but the same becomes bigger and better because he's so much more knowledgeable and experienced about it. And 'RP' (Prince also is the passing game coordinator) is such a good fit . . . I can still throw my two cents in there about things, so I think all that makes it better for (Kiesau)."
CUBuffs.com: Would you be more apt to - talking about throwing in your two cents - sit back and maybe make it one cent instead of two cents?
Hawkins: "No. There's a fine line . . . I have a very clear vision about what we want and what it needs to look like, the basic elements of that. Sometimes when it gets down to certain plays or schemes . . . I'm not going to over micromanage that. But in terms of how we do things, why we do things and when we do things . . . I've always said this to my staff, 'When we win, it's your fault, when we lose, it's my fault.' You want to keep me from bugging you, then go out and put 500 yards and 50 points up and you won't hear from me too much."
CUBuffs.com: Quarterbacks . . . does anybody go in (to spring drills) as the leader?
Hawkins: "No. We'll just see how it shakes out. And to some degree we do that everywhere. I mean there's a few spots where you've got guys who obviously - guys like Jalil (Brown) and Jimmy (Smith, both cornerbacks) - certainly have an edge.
"But I've never liked it in the spring when you go, 'Oh, yeah, he's the starting (whatever).' And obviously in the O-line you've got some guys who are more experienced. I expect (Mike) Iltis to get back in there and battle and see where he shakes out - whether that's a center/guard. There's going to be tremendous competition in that whole front line.
"I just don't like coming into the spring and saying, 'He's the starting whatever,' because to me, you've just got to start over and say let's see who's going to play and do the things it takes to be successful.
"Both of those guys (Hansen and Cody Hawkins) will play with the 'ones' and the 'twos' and we'll evaluate them every day and see what happens in the scrimmages. And then see where we're at."
CUBuffs.com: Would you think that by the spring game (April 10) you would have one of those guys named your starter?
Hawkins: "I think after the spring game you'd like to, but you just have to wait and see where you're at. If there's a clear emergence or a strong feeling one way or another amongst the guys on the staff, you do it. If there's not, there's not."
CUBuffs.com: What did Hansen show you and the staff during his time last fall as the starter that . . . (question unfinished).
Hawkins: "Well, his athleticism always helps - being able to run always helps you. But they're both very similar kids; they're very smart and good leaders and they're what you want in terms of toughness, work ethic and leadership.
"I've always said Tyler is more athletic and has a stronger arm. Cody probably has a little edge in understanding what's going on, and his accuracy. Where Tyler's arm is probably a little stronger, I think Cody is probably a little more accurate, and where Tyler can run around a little bit more, I think Cody . . . but again, I think there's just a sliver (of difference) when it comes down to it."
CUBuffs.com: Does their going into spring ball even . . . what kind of message does that send to Tyler?
Hawkins: "Well, they've all got to compete. It's the same thing when Cody was the starter when he was a freshman. You gotta compete. You've gotta want to compete, you gotta like to compete. I think that's for the rest of the team as well. We haven't treated that situation any differently any year, or any position for that matter."
CUBuffs.com: But with that position being under the microscope that it always is, with that position getting the attention it did last fall, does this figure to be an unpopular decision out there, in your mind?
Hawkins: "Don't know . . . don't know. But I think the other thing you have to consider is, if you have a guy who was your starter and really, you look at Cody's situation when he was a freshman, he did win six games and go to a bowl game, and then we said, 'You gotta compete' (in spring ball).
"So it's one thing if you go out and win seven, eight, nine games and we say, 'You're going to compete.' But when you go 3-9 and we're not going to open it up to competition? You're going to say somebody's an incumbent? I have a hard time with that when you win 10, let alone when you win three."
CUBuffs.com: In terms of the importance of this spring, is it any more so than any of the others since you've been here?
Hawkins: "No . . . they're all different in a lot of ways. They all have an importance, but in different ingredients. The amount of guys we have, the amount of experience we have, being able to get down the nitty-gritty and really hone in on that without going, 'This guy doesn't know where to line up,' or not having enough linemen to do a running game . . . So, you kind of transition a little bit. I think you're always trying to crank it up a notch from where you were."
CUBuffs.com: What's Markques Simas' status for the spring? Is he still suspended indefinitely?
Hawkins: "We'll see . . . our biggest concern for him right now is growing up. It's not about punishment for him right now, it's about growth, it's about what kind of person he's going to be when he leaves here."
CU SPRING SCHEDULE
(Practices open to the public)
MARCH 6 - 10 a.m.-noon, shorts/helmets
MARCH 9 - 4-6 p.m., shorts/helmets
MARCH 11 - 4-6 p.m., pads
MARCH 12 - 4-6 p.m., pads
MARCH 15 - 4-6 p.m., pads
MARCH 16 - 4-6 p.m., pads
MARCH 18 - 4 p.m., scrimmage
Spring break, March 20-28
MARCH 29 - 4-6 p.m., pads
MARCH 30 - 4-6 p.m., pads
APRIL 1 - 4-6 p.m., pads
APRIL 2 - 4 p.m., scrimmage
APRIL 5 - 4-6 p.m., pads
APRIL 6 - 4-6 p.m., pads
APRIL 8 - 4-6 p.m., shorts/helmets
APRIL 10 - Spring game, 1:30 p.m., Folsom Field
Spring Policies: All practices are open to the media and public; All media members must wear their CU season credential (anyone
taking notes or photos must be credentialed media). No cell phones, pets or video cameras permitted. Other
restrictions may take effect for safety concerns if the team is forced inside the practice bubble due to weather.