BOULDER – Day one of year two under coach Mike MacIntyre might not have been any easier for the University of Colorado football team, but there was more familiarity – and that helped ease CU’s returning players into August camp on Saturday morning.
MacIntyre said he noticed more first-day efficiency on both sides of the ball as well as a group of more fit, well-conditioned Buffaloes.
“I think we’re in better physical shape right now,” he said. “We’ll see when we get out there and put pads on (but) I think we’re deeper and in better shape.”
He added that Saturday morning’s nearly three-hour practice started well, slowed when the teaching accelerated, then picked back up. Nonetheless, “We’re way ahead of where we were last year at this time,” said MacIntyre, whose 2013 CU team finished 4-8 and second CU squad returns 15 starters and 50 lettermen.
“We’re able to get more into the offense, defense and special teams,” MacIntyre continued. “What helps you with that, it’s not necessarily that you put in a ton more offense or defense, it’s that you’ve put it in and now you can be fundamentally sound, which foot to step with, how to do it, where to read the linebacker, how to see different sets.
“They’re not just worried about lining up and the snap count. They’re farther down the road in the ability to functionally do it better and execute it better.”
Part of that is due to MacIntyre and his staff having been on the job through two springs and one full season, thus all of their concepts and introductions have been made. But also boosting the Buffs entering preseason camp were the player-position coach meetings allowed by the NCAA for the first time this summer.
Those, said MacIntyre, “really, really, really helped. We were able to meet with them and install stuff the first, second, third and fourth day a month ago. (Saturday) we kind of reviewed it. It’s a lot easier. You have more time to have them ask questions. So that helped.”
It also the incoming freshmen acclimate faster, “but they’re still maybe a little lost when they first get out here,” MacIntyre said. “But they were able to line up better, execute more stuff.”
As for getting a read on which freshmen might contribute early, one morning on the field won’t come close to providing it. “Half of them are just learning how to line up,” MacIntyre said. “I won’t talk about freshmen for a long, long time.”
Sophomore linebacker Addison Gillam, sporting longer hair and a beard, said he experienced more of a comfort level both personally and on the defense overall.
“Oh, man, it was a huge difference,” said Gillam, whose 119 total tackles (78 unassisted) led the Buffs last season and set a school freshman record. “It was nice coming out knowing we don’t have to learn anything new really. Maybe just a couple of things here and there, but knowing we didn’t have learn a bunch of things and getting yelled at the whole time, that was the best part.”
Added defensive back Terrel Smith: “We’ve got the same playbook; this time it’s not different with different coaches . . . they’re teaching us great and we’re trying to get the mental aspect down so we can play fast.”
Gillam, a freshman All-America selection last season and one of six CU captains for the coming season, said the Buffs defense “already is playing more sound as a team. Everybody is doing their job, not getting on each other. Everybody is kind of encouraging, nobody’s negative.”
Gillam said he embraces his captaincy: “I really like it; it’s good to know the team trusts me and looks up to me and can hold me responsible for what I need to do as a captain.”
He said his 2014 goals include increasing his overall knowledge of the defense: “Knowing every position . . . know where all help is (and) where I need to be. I knew my position pretty well (in 2013), but I still go back and watch games and I’m like, ‘What am I doing?’”
CALLAHAN WATCH: Auburn transfer Shane Callahan, a 6-6, 300-pound offensive lineman from Parker, Colo., practiced Saturday morning but is listed among six inactive roster players.
He is awaiting word on a petition for immediate eligibility made by CU to the NCAA. Transfers usually are required to sit out a season to regain their eligibility.
“We’re going to practice him, let him learn everything like he was getting ready to play,” MacIntyre said. “Right now he’s having to learn everything and is a little bit behind. Hopefully if they clear him he’ll be ready to play. We’ll go forward for the next two or three weeks until we find out.”
Regardless of whether Callahan can play this season, MacIntyre said the sophomore “is going to help a lot. Hopefully he can play this year . . . when we see him in pads we’ll know more, but he’s a good-looking young man and he moved around well.”
T. SMITH COMES BACK: Smith was back on the field Saturday for the first time in almost a year. The senior defensive back from Paterson, N.J., elected to sit out the 2013 season and undergo corrective shoulder surgery.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Smith, who dropped to 180 pounds after his surgery but now is back to 195. “I’ve been working hard and preparing myself this off season and getting my body right so I can go out and perform.
“I’m so excited to be out here. My shoulder feels good, nice and strong, not loose. I’m ready to hit and that’s all that matters.”
Smith is playing safety and nickel back, the latter a position he last played when he was a sophomore. “It’s easy to me,” he said.
J. IRWIN COMES BACK: Also returning from a foot injury that kept him out of most of spring practice was Jeromy Irwin, who is expected to compete with Marc Mustoe for the starting left tackle position.
“He’s good, he’s healthy . . . we’ll be able to use him finally,” said Irwin’s brother Sean, a sophomore tight end. “He hasn’t played in a while; he’s about ready to hit somebody. It’s good.”
MacIntyre said the 6-5, 295-pound Jeromy Irwin “moved around well (Saturday) . . . he looked good to me when I watched him running and moving. I just kind of stood back a few times (and watched) in a drill when he was on his own, so to speak, in the team stuff. I didn’t notice any favor to (his foot) and I was glad.”
DEPTH NEVER A BAD THING: MacIntyre spent some of Saturday’s practice working with the DBs in fundamental and group periods, then roamed the field during team periods.
He believes CU’s secondary will be deeper this season, which he called a necessity in the Pac-12: “I think we’ve got some depth there, which helps in this league. I don’t think you only have to switch out your defensive lines, you have to switch out the secondary some when you play those fast teams and they’re playing 105 plays.”
He said when a receiver runs a deep pattern three or four times, “that corner is getting tired . . . (the offense) does that for a reason sometimes. We have to be able to substitute some.”
Depth, said MacIntyre, enhances competition and “it’s always important to have competition in anything you do in life. If you’ve got somebody breathing down your neck it motivates you. And in football people get injured and the next guy has to step up and be ready. The competition level accelerates everything.”
NOTABLE: The only reported opening day injury was to junior defensive end Tyler Henington, who rolled his ankle in a drill, according to MacIntyre. No date was set for Henington’s return, although MacIntyre said “hopefully it’s only a few days.” . . . . Andy LaRussa, who coached in the secondary last season, has moved to defensive ends – a spot he worked during spring drills . . . . The Buffs were back on the field Saturday afternoon for an hour walk-through. Afternoon walk-throughs are scheduled throughout August camp . . . . Last season’s unofficial Shaggy Buff award went to senior center Gus Handler, who kept long hair and a beard throughout the season. This season’s early contender is Gillam, who said his reddish beard “just kind of happened.” As for the longer hair, “Yeah, I’m trying to grow that out.” He’s succeeding, too.
SUNDAY PRACTICE OPEN DESPITE IRONMAN BOULDER: The Ironman Boulder will take place Sunday in and around the area and football practice (8:50 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.) will remain open, although parking in Lot 169 near the practice fields could be affected, as well as the driving routes of those coming to CU from the north. With it being the first Ironman held in Boulder and the largest Ironman ever with more than 5,000 entries, 70 percent of which are people who traveled in, the City of Boulder is discouraging traffic throughout the day. Action gets underway at 6:30 a.m. at the Boulder Reservoir with a 2.6 mile swim and then competitors hit their bikes for 112 miles heading north to Loveland and east past I-25, before making their way back through Erie and Boulder to Boulder High School, where competitors will transition to the marathon run up and down the Boulder Creek Path. The top competitors will start running near the end of football practice but parking lots near the practice fields could be impacted by spectators.