BOULDER - Whether it was simply the law of averages catching up with the Colorado offense or that unit finally finding and hitting the "ON" button, Jon Embree left the practice field Monday morning feeling a bit better about his 'O.'
Of course in reality that makes for mixed feelings; head coaches also have the 'D' to consider. But the Buffaloes' first day in full pads clearly belonged to the offense - and Embree said it was about time.
"The offense won it today . . . it was a good thing (because) the defense won the last three days," he said after the nearly 31/2-hour session. "You've got to win one of these days, or we're going to have to play the defense on offense. So yeah, it is good.
"I think sometimes you start feeling good about yourself because you've been handling them, then the offense comes back and hits you right back in the mouth and you realize you don't take it for granted."
But overall, noted Embree, the Buffs' intensity level remained at the high level that was achieved during the camp's first four days of work in shorts and/or shells. "It was great," he said.
Especially gratifying for the offense (and perplexing for the defense) was a segment of the practice devoted to the 'O' being "backed up" - trying to work its way downfield from its own 2- or 3-yard line. It did, and on one of the possessions senior tailback Rodney "Speedy" Stewart burst up field for a 97-yard touchdown run.
Here come those mixed feelings for Embree. He applauded his offense, but chased off the entire defense, sending players to an adjacent field to do "up-downs."
Embree said the offensive line did a good job of asserting itself and is beginning "to start taking on the identity we need . . . the offense ran the ball." Senior guard Ryan Miller agreed: "I thought we did a great job today in the run game. The pass (game) could have been a little better, just speaking for myself. But especially when we were backed up, it's a good feeling to go 97 (yards) . . . that's a huge momentum change."
Miller said Monday's lengthy, ultra-physical practice wasn't about the coaching staff wanting to make a first-day-in-pads statement: "No, I think it's what they intend to do for the rest of the season. I know we're so set on defining who we are and what we are . . . that practice today, that's what we're about. It was a good practice; we got after each other . . . I'm really glad we don't have another practice this afternoon."
He equated the morning's work to "kind of like being in high school . . . having your hands in the dirt every single play. We're going forward and that's it - no ifs, ands and buts about it."
Embree's objective for the day wasn't to push the Buffs to near-exhaustion. Asked what he hoped to get out of the first day in full pads, he said, "Finally getting to tackle, mixing some live stuff in . . . getting in that situation where we were backed up and being able to cut block, do things we needed to do from an offensive line and a tight end standpoint in the run game. We need to get that stuff done."
Senior quarterback Tyler Hansen said he felt "more comfortable" in almost everything he attempted Monday than in the first four days of preseason camp.
"This was a real good day for me," Hansen said. "I thought the first couple of days I was kind of getting used to things, getting back the feel. Today I felt really comfortable and made good decisions."
The offensive efficiency, he said, resulted partly from full pads being worn for the first time: "You can do all your stuff when you're in full pads. But we're also trying to stay on our toes to get the defense on their heels - so they have to think when they're tired. That's our goal. But we do get tired and we do mess up, so we have to get better."
At the end of Monday's practice, Embree emphasized to all of his players that they must "think when we're tired." Earlier in the practice, he said, "We had some penalties we just can't have - we roughed the kicker on a tight punt (at the back of the end zone). We can't do that because we give (the offense) life."
Continuing to think through fatigue, said Miller, applies to everyone: "Both sides of the ball have to do it. As many plays as there are on offense, there are that many coverages and reads on defense. I mean, they've got to get in the right defense, they've got to fill the right gaps. Same thing on offense; if one guy doesn't do his job, we get sacked. If one guy doesn't do his job on defense, we score seven."
Of the "backed-up" drill, Hansen said, "That's how you do it; 'EB' (offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy) called good plays and we did a good job of executing. We had three drives that went right down the field. "
Hansen said Bieniemy's play-calling overall will be different from what he and the offense are accustomed to because the offensive emphasis is different.
"Obviously we've got a different offense with a fullback and tight ends, we're in a lot more heavy sets and trying to run downhill a lot more," Hansen said. "It's a lot better complement to our play-action stuff. We haven't had that before. Last year we had a couple (of play-action calls) but now I can take time on a play fake - and that brings a safety up and we can throw over the top. We really didn't have that (capability) before because we didn't have this type of running game."
DOUBLE DUTY: The Buffs have three days of two-a-day drills scheduled, with two of the "double days" scheduled this week (Tuesday, Thursday). Consecutive two-a-day drills aren't permitted, and Embree noted that one afternoon of the scheduled two-a-days will be a "young guy practice," or a teaching session for newcomers.
The NFL is trending away from two-a-days and Embree said he understands the reasoning. Two-a-days "came about to get guys in shape, but players at all levels - for the most part - are working out all summer, if not year round," he said. "So they're in shape; it is a violent game if you play it the right way. There's only so much you have in you; there's a fine line between practicing and learning how to do it and embracing it, as opposed to not doing anything and then thinking you're automatically going to do it when you get on the field."
BACK TO THE FUTURE: The fullback will play a more prominent role in CU's offense, and converted linebacker Evan Harrington is taking well to his new role. Embree said Harrington, a 5-11, 230-pound senior, and fellow senior and former linebacker Tyler Ahles (6-2, 235) "are both physical, it's just that Evan's a little further along in the playbook in understanding what we want, who to block and how we want it done." Harrington, a transfer from College of the Canyons in 2010, played in all 12 games last season on special teams but only saw duty on six snaps on defense.
WATCHING, WAITING: Defensive back Parker Orms watched most of Monday's practice from a golf cart, elevating a strained calf. Embree said he hoped Orms, a safety who is being given a look at cornerback, can return by Thursday and participate in Saturday's scrimmage (noon-3 p.m.). "But that's me," Embree added. "The trainers might have a different deal. I don't ask so much when, but just how he's doing."