The Bruins will head to Boulder this fall and will get to see the coolest mascot in all the land. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
As the start of preseason camps nears, BN is visiting with our Pac-12 Conference mates to get some preseason thoughts on their teams and what 2012 holds. Ryan got us started last week with our UC brothers at Cal. Today, we are fortunate to be joined by our friends Jon and David from the excellent SBN site The Ralphie Report. We pitched them pretty much the same questions, and are grateful for their responses. Also, all Bruins who are headed to Boulder this September should definitely check out their Best of Boulder Guide. Huge thanks to them for their time and thoughts...
1. What were the core questions that you had hoped would be answered by Spring Practice? Were conclusions reached?
There were a bunch, so I'll try to limit this to just a few:
Who will take the reigns of the starting QB spot?
So far, Connor Wood has gotten most of the reps as the starting QB, but that's mostly because Nick Hirschman has been injured on and off since the end of last season. Hirschman has more experience (though only slightly) and has been in this offense longer, but he didn't look great in his few chances last season. Wood has a lot of potential, but we don't know if anything will come of that. We still need to see both of them healthy before we know who really has an advantage. Plus, the coaching staff is really excited about Shane Dillon, who will be joining the team as a true freshman in August and Jordan Webb, former starter at Kansas, has joined the team in July.
Final answer: No conclusions here...yet
Will Nick Kasa be able to make the transition to TE successfully?
No idea. He seems like he's progressing, and that's good because we really need him to, but he still only has a few games-worth of time at tight end in his career. Eric Bieniemy would really like to be able to roll out two-TE sets a lot, so the development of Kasa will be key for the Buffs on offense in 2012.
Are guys going to step up at positions that look thin?
Not yet. As of now, it looks like we'll be relying on multiple true freshmen at (count it up) WR, TE, CB, DT, and possibly also at DE and RB. The coaching staff expects 75% of our incoming freshmen (a full class of 25 kids) to play, and they may be key contributors. That's not a recipe for success, though in many cases they will provide upgrades over what we've had. Our recruiting had been down for so long that it may not actually be a bad thing for us to have so many new kids getting playing time. But still, relying on true freshmen is a nerve-wracking prospect.
2. Any major style changes coming our way in the fall? New offense or defense installed?
Short answer: No. Though that's not entirely true. The coaching staff spent much of their first off-season working on getting the guys to practice the way they wanted, to work on improving technique and getting into better shape. This off-season, they plan on finishing the install of the offense and defense and really focus on concepts at each position. So it won't be different on either side of the ball, just better and more complicated. And that is a very, very good thing.
much more, after the jump...
3. What players emerged on offense? On defense?
On offense, the two names that weren't completely expected to be mentioned were WR Nelson Spruce and LG Alex Lewis. Spruce's development is huge because we're very thin at wideout. He redshirted last year, but he looked very smooth in high school and has good size w/ solid speed and agility. But he's going to be counted on a lot since Paul Richardson tore his ACL. Alex Lewis lined up for us more at TE last season as the blocking, on-the-line Y for us. He's transitioning to blocking fulltime now and he looks like he could be a star there on the left side of our Line. Despite losing two very experienced guards, I think our line should actually be improved this season, and that left side, with Lewis and David Bakhtiari are a big reason for it.
On defense, it feels weird to say Greg Henderson, considering he emerged last season, but it sounds like he's been improving and may end up being a leader for us. He's only a true sophomore, but after leading the defense in snaps in 2011, his improvement would be big for us. He showed a lot of maturity last year and was pretty darn good at times, but he was also a rookie and was made to look like it for stretches. His improvement will go a long ways towards shoring up what is still a pretty thin secondary. Chidera Uzo-Diribe is the other guy that was mentioned, which is a good thing. He's a pretty special athlete at DE/OLB, and he's gotten up to about 255 lbs. He was one of the team leaders in sacks last season and he's poised to join the top pass-rushers in the conference in 2012.
4. What are your biggest worries coming out of spring ball for the fall?
That we don't get the kind of contributions from the incoming freshmen that we need. It's not quite as dire as I'm probably making it sound, but to have success (for us that's having a winning record in 2012), we're going to need more than just snaps from the new guys; we're going to need quality play from them. Especially at DT and CB. We are going to need starts and positive impacts from them, otherwise we're going to have trouble breaking out of the bottom third of the conference.
5. Project your season. Contender? Pretender? Middle of the pack?
I say middle of the pack. Right now we're all potential, but there are some things to get excited about. I'm about 85% certain that our offensive line will be improved, which will help a lot. And while we're replacing a lot of skill players on offense, most of them had hit their ceilings. Not to diminish their contributions, but Jon Embree and the new coaching staff are bringing in guys with more potential than the recruits of the last regime, and that is good news for fans of the Buffaloes. We get Ray Polk and Douglass Rippy back from injury, which is good, plus more experience for guys like Uzo-Diribe, Henderson and Juda Parker. Add in some of the talented and exciting freshmen that should join the team in August and I think our defense should be a couple of notches better in all areas by the time the conference sked rolls around. I think .500 or better is attainable in 2012, and we always seem to have one surprise game in us. Last year we didn't have one, but I like our chances for one upset this season, plus more victories in those close games.
6. Any frosh you can't wait to get on campus?
Can I just say all of them? Specifically, I'm excited for Josh Tupou and Justin Solis at DT. I think they both have the potential to impact our defense right away in a very positive way. Plus Kenneth Crawley at CB, De'Jon Wilson and (hopefully!) Kisima Jagne at DE, Christian Powell at FB, Tyler Hennington at DT, Donta Abron and Davien Payne at RB, Austin Ray and Vincent Hobbs at TE, Jeffrey and Gerald Thomas at WR, and the rest of them.
Seriously, I just want to say all of them.
7. Who will you miss the most from last season? Who will be stepping up to fill those shoes?
You always miss a starting QB, so in addition to Curtis Cunningham, Anthony Perkins and Speedy Stewart, you've got to say Tyler Hansen. He faced a lot of adversity at CU, as did Stewart, and he overcame it. Also, Toney Clemons, who was a force for us at WR down the stretch.
8. What's the current opinion of Coach Embree with the fanbase? How much space does he get in this, his second year?
I think for the most part fans are still optimistic on Embree. We certainly saw an improvement towards the end of the season (outside of that horrific effort at UCLA of course) and it was nice that he was able to get the road monkey off the team's back and keep Utah out of the Pac-12 Championship at the same time (you're welcome).
He gets all the space in the world this year, at least from an informed fan. He's starting the year with the youngest team in college football and it's only going to get younger as the season goes on and more freshmen see the field. This year will be about laying a foundation for a team that brings back nearly everyone next year.
9. What are the specific injury concerns coming out of this spring?
We're thin at a number of positions, so any injuries at places like WR, TE, DT, DE, CB and elsewhere could really hamper CU's development.
10. Based on what you've seen, who is ready to take a major leap this fall?
Junior defensive end Chidera Uzo-Diribe will be counted on to lead the pass rush for the Buffaloes and help open things up for what could turn out to be a very strong linebacker unit. Behind Uzo-Diribe there is a lack of experience and his strong play could make a big difference for this defense. He lead the team in sacks for most of the season and finished with a team-high three forced fumbles.
11. Who do you want to punch in the face?
Everyone pundit who picks the Buffs to finish as the worst team in the Pac-12 this season. Doesn't mean that I don't think it will end up true, but I still reserve the right to want to punch them.
12. Who's got the best nickname on the team?
Not really any that I can think of on this team. Nothing will ever top "The Rabid Goldfish".
13. Is there any cooler mascot than Ralphie? Ok, I know there isn't. What else can Bruin fans look forward to this fall in Boulder?
Yep, Ralphie is definitely the best. No question there. Boulder in September is absolutely beautiful and there is a ton to do in town and in the mountains and foothills. Since the game is early in the season and the Buffs have such a manageable non-conference schedule there could be a good amount of excitement around the match-up as well. It should be fun.
Bruin fans heading to Colorado should make sure and check out our Best of Boulder Guide that we put together last year.
Again, huge thanks to Jon and Bob from the Ralphie Report. Stop by their blog and say hello!