BOULDER - In most ways, the Colorado Buffaloes' first practice in full pads Friday afternoon looked strangely like their practice the previous afternoon in helmets and shoulder pads. Which is to say that a CU defense figuring to be liberally stocked with freshmen - particularly up front - appears to be growing up fast.
At day's end, coach Jon Embree reviewed the Buffs' work and said while the unsettled quarterback situation might be a factor in the offense's lack of cohesion, a bigger factor was the development of a handful of young D-linemen.
"I think we have some guys over there," Embree said, citing freshmen Josh Tupou, Tyler Hennington, Kory Rasmussen, Justin Solis as being "stout in there. They were physical, they were causing some havoc . . . they're big strong guys that play strong. And they're very quick. Good athleticism. Every day when Tupou does something different, I'm like, (rolls his eyes). Every day he surprises me."
"Stout" might be too gentle a term for the young foursome, but for now it will do. That quartet helped the defense leave with an upper hand in the camp's first full-contact nine-on-seven drill, marking the second consecutive day that the defense has impressed with its physicality.
These guys are wide loads, especially Tupou (6-3, 325) and Solis (6-3, 305). And Hennington (6-3, 285) and Rasmussen (6-4, 280) aren't fingerlings.
Senior tight end Nick Kasa called the D-line newcomers "very impressive . . . they're stepping it up a lot. We've just got to step right back as an offensive line and tight ends." Kasa said he and the offense "could have done a lot better in terms of being physical running the ball. It was still good . . . a good day for learning." He believes the physicality will come when the offense is playing instinctively and carrying out assignments without having to think too much about them.
"It's a mind game right now," he said. "I think we can be physical; it's just getting that and identifying defenses, too."
Embree was reulctant to say the 'D' dominated Friday, noting that the offense rallied in succeeding segments of practice. "From a head coaching standpoint," he said, "it was good because it wasn't just dominated by one side."
However, he termed the nine-on-seven work from the 10-yard line (the offense was trying to score) "nice and physical" and left little doubt as to which side controlled the drill. "It was nice to see our defense continuing to do some good things up front . . . they really are," he said. "I had a sense that we were developing a little bit of an identity on that side of the ball and you can see it's starting to come along. So that's encouraging."
Defensive tackle Will Pericak, the lone senior at his position, called the new linemen "definitely a good sight to see. We've been pretty thin depth-wise in the D-line. Getting these new faces . . . they're playing well in there, they're producing. And that's exactly what we need. They're increasing competition, which is always good.
"I saw them on their recruiting trips; I knew how big they were. Josh Tupou didn't look 325 when he was on his trip. But when I saw him on the scale, I was like, 'Dang, that's pretty big.' I knew these guys were big."
Pericak, no fingerling himself at 6-4, 285, contended Friday's nine-on-seven work was another step in building the defense's ID. "Oh, yeah," he said. "We did really well in the nine-on-seven drill. I think every year you kind of establish a new identity and this year we've made good progress toward (that) - hustling, running to the ball, finishing and getting turnovers."
Asked if the Buffs defense can be better than advertised, Pericak grinned and answered, "It's something we're going for. Advertised? I don't know what we're advertised and I don't give a rat's (butt) about it. We're going to go out there every week and compete. It doesn't really matter what people think as long as we're getting our jobs done."
WEBB SETTLING IN: Kansas transfer Jordan Webb admitted he was "swimming" for the first several days of camp, trying to learn a new system from the most difficult postion - quarterback - and also familiarize himself with CU's personnel.
"Those first couple of days I was kind of swimming with all the information," he said. "But these last couple of days, I've been settling in and getting used to everything as far as the offense and also knowing my personnel a little better. Only having a month and not being in pads and not having any real team stuff, that was tough. There are some little subtle things you have to get used to."
Webb, who is competing with sophomores Connor Wood and Nick Hirschman for the starting job, said CU's camp wasn't vastly different from KU's: "As far as the schedule, yeah, that's kind of similar. But there are differences. The biggest for me is the offense. I'm getting used to it and getting my feet under me. I think most teams do (camp) pretty similar."
As for the full contact going on around them on Friday, the first day in full pads was pretty much business as usual for the QBs. Said Webb: "Everybody comes out fired up and ready to hit each other. Fortunately for us (QBs) we're in green jerseys (non-contact) so we didn't get to take any hits. But there were some good hits, some pops I could hear."
DILLON SEES SILVER LINING IN REDSHIRT: He was lukewarm to the idea initially, but freshman quarterback Shane Dillon now believes redshirting this season will be best for him over his college career.
"I came in wanting to play," Dillon said. "But the way this is going to work out will be good for me."
A 6-6, 190-pounder from El Cajon, Calif., Dillon underwent off-season surgery on his right (throwing) shoulder but believed he would be ready to compete by the time CU opened camp on Monday.
It quickly became apparent that wouldn't be the case, prompting Embree to verify that the 2012 QB competition would be a three-man battle involving sophomores Connor Wood and Nick Hirschman and junior transfer Jordan Webb.
After the Buffs' first practice, Embree announced that Dillon was a redshirt candidate, saying the player had been cleared to be on the field, "but being cleared and throwing bombs 30 times (a practice) is a little different."
Said Dillon, who completed 59.2 percent of his passes as a senior for 3,301 yards and 22 touchdowns: "I thought I could throw as much as I needed to, but it turns out I wasn't ready yet. I know it's going to be hard sitting out a season, but it'll be good for me . . . I can work on gaining weight, getting stronger and focus on school."
Dillon said conversations with CU QB coach Rip Scherer, who spent six seasons coaching in the NFL before joining Embree's staff, helped allay his fears about sitting out a season as well as coming back from the shoulder surgery.
"He told me about several guys who are now in the NFL who were in the same situation," Dillon noted. "I'll make the best of it and be better off."
ADJUSTING ON THE FLY: Defensive coordinator Greg Brown likes his guys to be prepared to make adjustments. He and his staff have had to do the same thing this week.
A broken pipe in the Dal Ward Athletic Center created an inconvenience - OK, a stinkin' mess - in portions of the building's lower floors. Apparently one of the worst spots was Brown's defensive meeting room; sewage spewed into that area, forcing his unit upstairs into the second-floor Varsity Room for its daily pre-practice meeting.
And when that meeting ended, Brown - also the Buffs' secondary coach - held his guys over in the same room for their position meeting. Brown shrugged off the abrupt change of venue with a grin and said, "You gotta go on . . . we've got a game to get ready for."
Brown wasn't sure when normalcy would be restored: "I'm up here until they tell me different."
HANDLING THE CHANGEUP: Saturday marks CU's annual Media Day as well as the first day of two-a-day drills. The Buffs have been on the field twice-a-day for the first five days of camp, but the morning session has been a brief walk-through.
Not so for Saturday, when a two-a-day practice schedule kicks in. Embree and his staff have randomly divided the squad (three tailbacks in one group, three in another; four tight ends in one, three in another, etc.) into Black and Gold groups that will work at separate times (7:30-9:15 a.m.; 8:45-10:35 a.m.) Saturday morning. Special teams practice is set for 8:45-9:15 a.m.
Then, the entire squad is on the field at the same time for Saturday's afternoon practice (4:15-5:45 p.m.). The Buffs have five days of two-a-day drills planned and will observe Saturday's schedule for all five.
BUFF BITS: If there was an offensive highlight Friday, freshman receiver Gerald Thomas (5-11, 175) provided it with his speed and elusiveness after catching short passes. Embree said Thomas "had a really good day. He made some mistakes now, but . . . he gets that ball in his hands and he can do some things." . . . . How's this for equal opportunity among newcomers in early camp: In his pre-practice secondary meeting, Brown set his No. 1 left corner for Friday afternoon's practice with a rock-paper-scissors exercise involving freshmen Kenneth Crawley and Yuri Wright. Crawley's rock smashed Wright's scissors, meaning he got the opening chance on Friday. So Wright's turn with the first unit will come Saturday . . . . Sophomore linebacker Kyle Washington continues to sit out after suffering a concussion - the second of his career - earlier in camp. He will continue to be monitored, and Embree said if Washington suffered a third "then you start worrying about that . . . we'll keep an eye on that. I think everyone knows how I feel about that."