For the Colorado Buffaloes and second-year football coach Jon Embree, Day 1 in Year 2 was almost night-and-day different from Day 1 in Year 1. The change was welcome.
"Oh yeah, oh yeah," Embree said Monday afternoon. "Whether it's effort in finishing, whether it's running to the ball on defense, whether it's staying up off the ground, knowing when it's your opportunity to make the play or not - they understand that now . . . . A lot of little things that we were coaching last year we don't have to coach this year."
The Buffs were on the field twice Monday, the first time for a brief morning walk-through, the second for a fully scripted afternoon practice in shorts and helmets that lasted the better part of two hours.
"I thought it went well - not a lot of mental mistakes, more technical stuff, so that was good," Embree said. "It shows they've been working hard all summer and been in their playbooks . . . that was good to see. We moved faster and that was good to see, too."
Added senior tight end Nick Kasa: "We're just all a bigger family now. We know what to expect. We know they (the coaches) are going to be hard on us but it's not like they're being mean to us; they just expect us to be better."
The Buffs' intense summer work, which included player-run practices in addition to conditioning, was evident on Monday, said senior safety Ray Polk: "We were able to see all the work we put in over the summer pay off. It was a nice platform for all of us to push off of."
Embree's 2012 recruiting class was among CU's largest in recent years, and Kasa immediately noticed the difference at his position. Three freshmen - Vincent Hobbs, Austin Ray and Sean Irwin - have joined the competition and junior DaVaughn Thornton has moved back to the position after a stint at receiver.
Kasa called the influx of newcomers "a little confusing because there's a lot more young guys that aren't really attuned yet to the practice schedule, our plays and things like that. They're still working in but that makes it a lot better for us because we've got seven tight ends now instead of three, like we had in the spring."
After switching to the position last season from defense and spending spring drills trying to hone his receiving skills, Kasa termed the first day of August camp "really good for me . . . there were no dropped balls. I enjoyed it a lot. It was good to just play some football again, but I'd rather put the pads on."
Kasa said he felt "so much more comfortable" at tight end than he did during spring work. "I started feeling a little more comfortable then, but just the whole summer doing all stuff, doing research and studying, I'm really more comfortable with the offense."
QB WATCH: Embree indicated before and at the recent Pac-12 Conference media day that his quarterback duel would involve three players - sophomores Connor Wood and Nick Hirschman and junior transfer Jordan Webb.
He reiterated that on Monday afternoon and said freshman Shane Dillon is a probable redshirt. Dillon underwent right shoulder surgery over the winter and, according to Embree, "is working his way back." Dillon, said Embree, has been cleared to practice, "but being cleared and throwing bombs 30 times is a little different."
Of the three-way, first-day competition at the position, Embree said the QBs "all had their moments, so I guess this competition is going to have to go at least two days now."
The trio will be evaluated on overall command of the offense and the huddle, how efficiently each gets plays in, then sends the offense to the line of scrimmage.
An accurate evaluation, said Embree, must wait until the team gets in pads and the QBs face a genuine pass rush: "It just gives you a sense of what might happen . . . we had a player here - (safety/linebacker) Brian Iwuh - who was awful in shorts. But as soon as those pads got on, the rest is history. You always have to temper your optimism a little bit."
Still, Embree said he expects a heated QB battle: "Oh, yeah . . . there's no doubt. They all flashed and had their moments - good and bad. I'm excited to see it; it's going to be a competitive battle."
When might it be decided?
"It'll probably happen after camp unless it just clearly separates itself," Embree said. "The thing for me is seeing (what happens) once we get going in pads, once we get into two-a-days and get a little tired, seeing how they react and seeing if it gets down to two how quickly that happens and if it does happen . . . I'd like to have it done sooner than later, that's for sure. But I still want it to be done right."
BUFF BITS: At the end of Monday afternoon's practice, Embree called junior fullback Alex Wood (Steamboat Springs), junior tailback Josh Ford (Denver) and junior tight end Scott Fernandez (Broomfield) to come and stand beside him before their huddled teammates. To a rousing ovation, Embree announced that the three walk-ons were being put on scholarship immediately. "They've all been in the program for two years, they've handled their business on and off the field," Embree said. He then added with a laugh, "But you know me; screw up tomorrow and you're back to the end of the line." . . . . If the Buffs need a daily reminder of their 2012 goal to reach the postseason, it comes in this form: Day 1 saw them "breakdown" at the conclusion of practice with their usual "gimme a Black, gimme a Gold . . ." But they capped it with "1-2-3 BOWL GAME." Bet on that happening from now on . . . . The only minor first-day injury Embree reported was suffered by freshman receiver Jeffery Thomas (leg). Embree said senior linebacker Doug Rippy (knee) "didn't do team stuff" while junior receiver Paul Richardson (knee) did little other than light running . . . . Embree's post-practice media conference was interrupted by a campus emergency warning test siren that nearly made a Q&A session impossible. Embree delayed his answers on a couple of occasions while the siren blared . . . . CU's defensive line numbers are significantly up with the addition of nine freshmen. Embree said it was nice to see the new bodies, noting "as long as they're not Kanavis (McGhee) and 'Tui' (Mike Tuiasosopo)." Those two are assistant D-line coaches. Embree said there's now "some stoutness" in the defensive line. "I'm excited to see those (new) guys in pads." . . . . Another freshman who already has Embree's attention is safety Marques Mosley. He's been taken under Polk's wing, or Embree put it, "He's in Polk's hip pocket. That's good, having someone like Ray, with his work habits, showing a young kid how to do it. Marques has been working at safety . . . he's got a good chance. He's got great hips and he's into it, really into it. He's really smart, so I'm excited. I like all those guys; it's a little different from last year, no doubt." . . . The Buffs are on the field Tuesday morning for another brief walk-through before returning for afternoon drills set to begin at 4:45 p.m. The first day in full pads is Friday, with media day set for Saturday. All practices are closed to the media and public.