BOULDER - If it's early August, it's early in football camp. Which means another Media Day and another volley of questions tossed at a normally well-prepared Colorado head coach.
I've listened to answers from five of them - Bill McCartney, Rick Neuheisel, Gary Barnett, Dan Hawkins and Jon Embree. (Yes, I'm that, ah, seasoned . . . or experienced . . . or tested. Shame on you for substituting any other adjective.)
Embree, CU's 24th head coach, was Saturday's man of the half hour at a gathering of reporters, play-by-play announcers, color commentators, telecasters, bloggers, tweeters, sports information types, athletic department types, etc.
Lights, cameras, non-action . . . that's the way these things have evolved over the years. But they're mostly functional and provide nice sound bites, features and most recently tweets for a football-hungry audience as summer is winding down. In short, they're necessary.
It was Embree's second Media Day in this job, and if I remember correctly, his first a year ago featured a lot of questions about the Buffs' brutal 13-game, straight-through, can't-say-bye, schedule. That, and competing in the Pac-12 Conference for the first time. And opening against an opponent other than Colorado State.
There were no "who's your quarterback" questions in August, 2011. Senior Tyler Hansen had been named the starter shortly after spring drills ended. So the Buffs didn't have a QB cloud hanging over them as the opener in Hawai'i approached.
Not so this season, so Embree knew at least one, probably more, of Saturday's queries would delve into the how's, why's and when's of naming a starter. The who's - sophomores Connor Wood and Nick Hirschman, junior transfer Jordan Webb - have been established.
Embree's answers were interesting. Yes, he'd rather name a starter sooner than later, but he won't rush it. No, he doesn't believe anyone currently has a leg (or arm) up - unless Webb's experience (19 games at Kansas) comes into play. And truthfully, that's probably Webb's ace while he learns the offense and his personnel.
Summer classes ended last Friday, so the trio of competitors should be all-in mentally over the next couple of weeks. A scrimmage is scheduled next Saturday (Aug. 18) and if the field can be trimmed to two by then or shortly thereafter, all the better.
Starting QBs need an "it" factor, a swagger that is apparent in the huddle when things aren't running so smoothly or to keep them humming when the afternoon is all on key. Embree said all three of his contenders have "it," but added a qualifier: "At times . . . I want to see who has it all the time."
To reach that conclusion, there will be more situational work aimed at putting the trio in uncomfortable spots and seeing how each copes. The guy who is noticeably nervous or is "whispering plays in the huddle," said Embree, most likely won't be taking the first snap against CSU on Sept. 1.
Asked to rate the strength of CU's QB 3, this is how Embree responded:
- Wood: "Big arm...can make all the throws...good grasp of the offense...needs to be more consistent in his decision making...needs to continue to work on his accuracy."
- Hirschman: "His teammates really like him, gravitate to him...also has a big arm, but sometimes believes he can throw through his mistakes...needs a better grasp of the offense."
- Webb: "A big attribute is his 19 games at this level... does a good job of working the pocket...reminds me of Koy (Detmer) in getting the ball out in unique ways."
One of the chief difficulties in going deep into camp with three QBs is dividing "reps" among them. Three's a crowd. The starter and his backup need extensive work with the first and second offenses. Embree's timetable for naming his No. 1 - even paring the list to a pair - would be "tomorrow" if possible "so I could sleep. But we have to let it play out."
He added: "Whether it's a battle for the backup position or whether it's our backup, we have to get the reps going for that guy. Right now, we're splitting the reps equally. As soon as we know, we've got to give that guy a good dose of reps. Right now, whether it's the guys that haven't played, they still need the reps. If it's Jordan, he needs the reps because he's new on the offense. There's a reason that we have to get it done sooner than later if we can, so we can get those guys going on the offense."
Predictably, the QB issue - Embree almost slipped and called it a controversy rather than a competition, then laughed about it later - was Saturday's hot topic. Others were pretty warm, including:
- The status of receiver Paul Richardson. Embree said "P-Rich" is "running on the side" and mentoring the Buffs' young receivers. No word was given on what the next step might be in Richardson's rehab from knee surgery in April. "I know those injuries are typically nine months, so whether he's a six-month or a seven-month guy, I don't know what the timetable will be," Embree said.
- How his 2012 recruiting class compares with others when he was a CU assistant. Pay attention to this answer: Embree said from a defensive line standpoint, "I feel like this class is up there with the class when we had (Justin) Bannan and (Tyler) Brayton. On the back end (secondary), I don't know if we've ever recruited that many guys in one class like we have that have the talent that those (2012) guys have . . . the depth of this class at those two positions, I don't recall us ever having the depth that we've got in this class."
- Once again having CSU as the opener, unlike last season when the Rocky Mountain Showdown was Game 3. Embree said it doesn't matter to him, then immediately offered his own rebuttal: "I think it depends on your team. When you have a veteran team (which he doesn't), you don't care who you play. When you have a young team (which he does), I'd like to call (Dave) Logan and get Creek (Cherry Creek HS) on the schedule."
- Where the leadership will come from on a team that features eight seniors and 75 sophomores/redshirt freshmen/freshmen. Embree said "a lot of guys" have stepped up and taken on leadership responsibilities. His 14-man leadership council covers the waterfront - freshmen to seniors. And that, he said, "shows me this summer that we did things as a team. It also lets me know that we know each other." He offered this aside: Asking a 2011 senior what he knew about freshman Tony Jones, the senior told his head coach that Jones was a running back from the eastern U.S. Not the answer Embree wanted. "As I tell our players, we're not going to have the best players, but that doesn't mean we can't be the best team," he said. "We can't be the best team if we don't know each other."
BUFF BITS: Training camp's first season-ending injury was suffered by freshman defensive back John Walker, who will have surgery to repair torn finger ligaments. Walker, of Washington, D.C., caught a finger in a teammate's jersey earlier this week. After Walker's injury, defensive coordinator/secondary coach Greg Brown told his players to be mindful of "horse-collaring" ball carriers, not only for the injuries possible to the offensive player, but getting their hands/fingers tangled in jerseys or pads...Senior Eric Richter, recognized as the Buffs' strongest player, has returned from defensive line to offensive line. The 6-3, 310-pound Richter moved from offensive guard to defensive tackle last spring. According to D-line coach Mike Tuiasosopo, Richter went back to offense after August camp's second day...Embree said junior kicker Justin Castor's consistency has improved and he could be the team's long-distance field goal specialist. Castor also could be the kickoff specialist. Junior punter Zach Grossnickle also has improved, said Embree, and is pushing sophomore Darragh O'Neill...Freshman to watch: fullback Christian Powell. He was about 250 pounds on signing day in February, but now is a muscular 6-0, 235. Of all the backs involved in a pass protection drill on Friday against defensive ends and linebackers, Powell stood out. Offensive coordinator/running backs coach Eric Bieniemy also likes Powell's running and receiving abilities.