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By: CUBuffs.com
Redshirt freshman tailback Tony Jones got extra work in Friday's scrimmage.
Brooks: Buffs Need A Post-Scrimmage Identity Check
Release: August 19, 2011
By: B.G. Brooks, Contributing Editor
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BOULDER - One mediocre scrimmage doesn't bring about a full-blown identity crisis, but the Colorado football team could easily have been misidentified Friday. That well-defined, widely publicized plan to stamp the Buffaloes as a crisp and physical running team unraveled.

That was the bad news.

The good news: The Buffs have two weeks to reenergize themselves, restore their overall offensive confidence and reestablish their identity.

First-year Coach Jon Embree's opening summation of the 105-play scrimmage was succinct: "The defense played well, the offense was not good enough. Later, he added, "I was not pleased with the overall intensity on offense."

CU opens at Hawaii on Sept. 3, and on Monday Embree will release a post-camp depth chart that will be instrumental in establishing who gets the most "reps" in the run-up to the opener and setting the travel squad.

It will be the first depth chart since camp opened on Aug. 4, and at some positions - he didn't specify first or second units - Embree promised a shake-up.

"We're going to have changes on the depth chart," he said. "It's the same three or four guys - and that's the thing on offense, all it takes is one guy (misfiring). It's the same three or four guys consistently making mistakes at the critical times.

"From a depth standpoint, we have to stay healthy. There are guys who continually show they can't do it or they won't do it. We're going to have to stay healthy and we're going to have to get creative. If we get some injuries at some positions . . . I'm not going to just put somebody in because they're next on the depth chart."

At afternoon's end Friday, offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy took his unit aside and pointedly spelled out its deficiencies, beginning with, "That's not who we are."

There were several reasons for the identity loss, Embree said, but none of them was strong enough to override the fact that his offense wasn't as efficient as it must be in two weeks - particularly in the ground game.

"There's no excuses," senior quarterback Tyler Hansen said. "We've got to be better than we were (Friday) running the ball."

Embree claimed to be partly to blame, saying "when we don't go live, that means we can't cut. So, there were probably opportunities where we could have had stuff (on the ground) there had it been live. But because they couldn't cut, they couldn't get the block. That's why I'm not overly concerned about it. I'll see if guys were in position to make the cut or at least attempt it. That part of it was my fault."

Also, some of what was done Friday was preparing for game-day communication, which was introduced during a Thursday walk-through. "So it was good we got that on tape," Embree said.   

"We were doing game-day signals . . . that takes a little getting used to," added Hansen. "But we have to get better overall (offensively). There's no other way. We've got to be sharp these next two weeks. We've got Saturday and Sunday off, and Monday's going to be different."

Whether it was widespread flu symptoms or two weeks of camp taking a toll, sophomore left tackle David Bakhtiari said the offense appeared lethargic: "You could just kind of see it as a whole - and I'm not throwing anybody under the bus because all of us were flat for some reason. The twos and threes played pretty well, but we need all 11 players (on the first unit) clicking.

"I think a lot of guys just came out going through the motions. It was pretty disheartening to see, but I'm not too worried about it. I know we'll bounce back these next two weeks. I know 100 percent that's going to happen."

Several top-tier offensive players saw limited or no duty, including right guard Ryan Miller, tailback Rodney Stewart and receiver Paul Richardson. Redshirt freshman Tony Jones filled in for Stewart, getting the bulk of the carries and strict scrutiny from the offensive staff.

"Coach Bieniemy has told me to take advantage of the opportunities and I just have tried to come out and do the best I could do," Jones said. "I just want to perform under pressure like he wants us to do."

Embree indicated he was battling paranoia about getting his front-line players injured two weeks before the opener: "We're at that point where I know what they can do. I want everyone healthy for Hawaii. Maybe it's paranoia or whatever, but I was really conscious about that going into this thing. I didn't want to get anybody hurt. We need to be able to prepare Monday full speed ahead.

"It's been a hard week physically. It seems every day there's a new seven guys coming down with something or being ruled out or fighting their way through it. But it is what it is.

"I know it's ugly and it's frustrating. I know the offensive coaches wanted to do some things and do more . . . I probably handicapped them some, but I just want to evaluate guys. I want to see how guys play, how when things aren't going good who can pull themselves out of it. (Friday) confirmed what I thought about some of the guys."

But that went two ways. While some of that confirmation might show up Monday in depth chart drops, some will appear in players solidifying their spots or ascending. Embree singled out receivers Kyle Cefalo, Logan Gray and Tyler McCulloch for their work.

He also said he retains confidence in his offensive line's ability to generate the power running game that's been discussed since he was hired in early December: "I'm still confident we have that personnel (for a power running game). I feel really good about our first six, maybe seven linemen. It's the other ones that have to grow up and get going. They have to have more of a sense of urgency about them. I have confidence in coach (Steve) Marshall that he'll get that . . .

"Obviously we need continuity. But I feel good when we have the 11 (players) that we need to have; I like it. Problem is we're going to need more than 11 . . . . It's not all as much gloom and doom as I'm sitting here talking about, but I just want to emphasize - because I know guys will read this and parents will read this - everybody had their chance. Now it's Hawaii and we're going to move forward with the guys accordingly."

PUNTING UPDATE: The punting duel between incumbent sophomore Zach Grossnickle and walk-on Darragh O'Neill appears thisclose. Each punted seven times Friday, with one yard separating their gross yardage. Said Embree: "One was ahead on yardage, the other a little ahead on hang time. I have to see all the numbers added up."

Embree ended the scrimmage by telling each punter he had a final kick before the depth chart was set. "I told them this was their last kick - make it count," Embree said. "Grossnickle had the better last kick, so we'll see if that's enough."

CORNER SHOTS: Defensive coordinator/secondary coach Greg Brown entered camp looking for a few good cornerbacks - and lost two (Jered Bell, Sherrard Harrington) right away to injuries. Senior Travis Sandersfeld and freshman Greg Henderson appear to have won the two corner spots, but Brown is still trying to find an extra cover man to line up against pass-happy Hawaii and its four- and five-receiver sets.

Sandersfeld was pulled early Friday to allow evaluation of several players at corner, among them Parker Orms, Josh Moten and Jonathan Hawkins. Ayodeji Olatoye and Paul Vigo sat out the scrimmage, with linebackers Patrick Mahnke, Jon Major and Doug Rippy and safeties Anthony Perkins and Ray Polk exiting early to allow more personnel evaluation.

 Brown said Henderson, a 5-11, 185-pounder from Corona, Calif., has acclimated extremely well for a first-year player: "He's very intelligent and physical. He's really picked it up fast."

"I came into camp just wanting to prove myself and try to get in position to start," Henderson said. "I felt like I was a good cover guy and good in bump-and-run and being aggressive - that's what the coaches like."

Henderson said he expects to be targeted by Hawaii and every other opponent: "I think a lot of people are going to try and come at me because I'm a true freshman. I've just got to hold my ground and show them I'm tough."

BUFF BITS: Freshman safety Will Harlos (concussion) was Friday's only reported injury . . . . Freshman offensive lineman Paulay Asiata has moved inside to guard. "He's still learning," Embree said. "We're telling him plays in the huddle. But he's going to be terrific for us." . . . . Embree expects "nine or ten" freshmen to play immediately, including 6-8, 280-pound defensive end Stephane Nembot, who also is being used on the field goal kicking team. Embree said because of Nembot's size, "He can stay in his stance and block two people . . . it's a long way to go around him." Nembot also will see duty on defense, but Embree wants all of his freshmen who play right away to contribute on special teams . . . . Redshirt freshman Daniel Munyer opened at center with the No. 1 offense Saturday, with sophomore Gus Handler operating on the second unit. "To tell you the truth, I can't even tell when they switch out," Bakhtiari said. "They've both been handling the (blocking) calls really well for being such young players." . . . . Fall semester classes begin Monday, with practices moving to 4-6 p.m. All practices now are closed.

Contact: BG.Brooks@Colorado.EDU

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