BOULDER – It’s not entirely accurate to say this is Connor Wood’s offense. But then if Wood doesn’t have a fairly firm grip on Colorado’s pistol entering August camp, the Buffaloes might be in more of a bind than the national forecasters are predicting – if that’s possible.
Circumstances, most noticeably the surprising post-spring transfer of Nick Hirschman and Jordan Webb’s knee injury, have made Wood CU’s only returning quarterback with a semblance of experience. And granted, that’s only a sliver.
But Wood submitted a productive spring and likely was poised to be atop the depth chart when camp opened. However, had Hirschman stayed, coach Mike MacIntyre and offensive coordinator/QB coach Brian Lindgren undoubtedly would have let that competition continue while introducing Sefo Liufau into the August mix and charting his progress before naming a starter.
As July looms and the players’ unsupervised, voluntary work continues, Liufau’s portion of the equation is unchanged. Junior college transfer Jordan Gehrke (Scottsdale Community College) has taken Hirschman’s place on the roster and hopefully in the camp competition.
Let’s be honest: if Wood isn’t a couple of legs up on the new guys and ready to take command, his future (as well as that of MacIntyre’s pistol) is cloudy. That’s no knock on the abilities of Liufau or Gehrke, but this should be Wood’s time. Moreover, if he’s not running out of time he might be running short on chances.
But the Texas transfer, among the nation’s most prominently pursued high school QBs three seasons ago, is riding a substantial wave of confidence generated last fall and during spring drills. He doesn’t see the ride ending anytime soon, and furthermore he believes he’s “further along” now at his position than at any time in his career.
There are a couple of reasons, in truth maybe double that, why. Even though Wood didn’t play that much last fall, he did play. “Spring ball helped, too,” he said – and it also helped that he helped himself in the spring.
Confidence begets confidence, or as former QB coach Rip Scherer told Wood and all of CU’s QBs: “Confidence happens from repeated performance and success.” Wood latched onto that. “It really stuck with me – and it’s true. The way I performed this spring, I think I did well in the scrimmages and that gives you confidence going into the summer and fall. I came out thinking, ‘I can perform; I can do this on a consistent basis.’ I think I’m further along in that aspect.”
Lindgren’s approach also has been of great benefit. Wood is well into learning his fourth offense, counting his time at Texas and his two seasons at CU. He says MacIntyre’s and Lindgren’s offense – the pistol – is the most accommodating of the four because it is “much simpler. I’ve been in the West Coast offense, the Texas/Boise State offense . . . I think this is the most simple and streamlined.
“The way they call plays and the verbiage used, it flows well with the run game and pass game. I like it; it’s less thinking for me. When a quarterback can think less, he can concentrate on the coverage instead of the wording of the play and what to call.”
Don’t think MacIntyre’s offense has been “dumbed down” since he and Lindgren arrived last winter from San Jose State. It might have been that Wood, Hirschman, Webb and CU’s other 2012 quarterbacks were inundated by verbiage. Achieving success by keeping it simple has worked for other coaches with more glamorous resumes than MacIntyre’s, which MacIntyre will readily admit.
Wood is a ravenous tape watcher, but oft times the concepts seen when the film room lights are dimmed are misplaced when the stadium lights are switched on. I asked Wood if he felt more comfortable now in making that transformation work.
“I think so,” he said. “Coach Lindgren has done a really good job of coaching us up as quarterbacks. He makes things simple for us and doesn’t want us to overthink things. Quarterback is a position where you can really overthink things quickly. He tells us you’ve got to feel it, trust it and make a play. He doesn’t want us looking left and right, checking things . . . it’s like here’s your play, do it and make it happen. It’s been a weight lifted off our shoulders as quarterbacks.”
It’s only been seven months – including only one set of spring drills – but Wood said his comfort level with Lindgren already has exceeded what he’s experienced with any previous position coach.
“His approach to coaching us is much more . . . I don’t want to say relaxed because he’s a detail guy and he wants things done a certain way,” Wood said. “But the way he approaches us, it’s the relationship – not just with me, but the other quarterbacks. We don’t feel pressure to perform from him. He just says go out and play. He instills a belief in us.
“And that’s what coach MacIntyre does with the team. Coach Lindgren has done a good job of showing us that he believes in us. It makes things more fun that way. It’s a game. You work so hard in the summer, so hard in the weight room during the early spring, you spend so much watching film. If you’re on the field and not having fun, then what are you doing? You’ve wasted a ton of time.”
Wood undoubtedly had fun in football at Second Baptist School in Houston. Most recruiting services pegged him as an All-American and ranked him among the nation’s top QBs in 2009. He signed with Texas, redshirting in 2010 before transferring the following season.
Although Second Baptist was a private school not competing in Houston’s highest classification, Wood said he “didn’t feel like I came in behind (at Texas) in any aspect. My competition was Case McCoy and he came from a 3A school. But I think for any player the speed of the game is going to be different.
“Even if you’re from 5A Texas high school football like Katy, it’s still going to be faster in Division I. That’s why I got redshirted, to get used to the speed of the game coming from a private school . . . it’s way different, way different.”
The Buffs are allowed their summer conditioning work overseen by Dave Forman, then unsupervised team work directed by the players. In those 50 minutes to an hour, individual and team drills as prescribed in the spring are run. The only newcomers involved are the two new QBs; per MacIntyre’s plan, the rest of the incoming freshmen arrive on June 23.
In a word, Wood’s first impressions of Liufau and Gehrke have been good. “For as young as Sefo is, he’s really picking up the offense, and so is Jordan,” Wood said. “They’ve just kind of been thrown into it, but it does help them how the offense is structured. With this staff it’s much more shortened and condensed; it’s not very wordy. It’s easier for a guy like Jordan who’s been in junior college and out of high school for a while to pick up something like that. And for Sefo, too. There’s simplicity within complexity in it.”
Wood has been one of the team leaders for MacIntyre’s summer regimen, whose foundation was laid by the coaching staff during the last week of spring work. The leadership role, said Wood, “is earned every day by the way you work. I’ve always taken my work ethic seriously and taken pride in working really hard. I think my leadership has grown because of the way I’ve performed. When I say things now to the team, I think they listen more just because of how I’ve played recently.
“I’m not saying I’m there yet, but I have the confidence to call guys out. At the same time you’ve got to know that you have to talk to certain guys certain ways . . . people are different. Some guys you can get into, some guys need more encouragement. More and more I’m knowing each guy and what makes them tick.”
In Wood’s opinion, the 2012 Buffs (1-11 overall, 1-8 Pac-12) “played as individuals last year; we didn’t play as a unified team. Culture change takes time. Coach MacIntyre has a different idea about culture than the last staff. To have the team come together and not have individuals – that takes a while. Slowly but surely the guys are understanding it’s not about them. If the whole team succeeds, they’re going to succeed.”