We keep hearing — from outsiders — that the Colorado football program isn’t getting any better.
No, there’s no defense for the 0-3 start. They should be 2-1 at this point. They should have put up a better fight (or any fight) at Fresno State.
Yet, I don’t get the accusations that CU’s young players aren’t progressing and being developed by the coaching staff.
Honestly, I think it’s the opposite.
First off, we must remember this about CU: Of the 104 players on the roster, 46 are either freshmen or redshirt freshmen. That’s 44 percent of the roster either redshirting or playing its first season of Division I college football. The dramatic difference between high school and Division I college football can’t be ignored.
Second, of the 58 non-freshmen, 29 of those are sophomores. Some of those are true sophomores.
Youth is not an excuse people want to hear, but it’s a REAL factor in CU’s struggles.
As for the claim that CU players are not being developed, I look at a handful of those true sophomores:
1. Linebacker Brady Daigh: The Mullen High School product looks like the real deal. He has yet to get much playing time because he’s got older players ahead of him, but I think he’s going to be a really good player on this defense in the future.
2. Cornerback Greg Henderson: He had a very nice true freshman year in 2011, starting every game and playing nearly every snap. An ankle injury has kept him out of two games, so it’s difficult to judge his 2012. But, he and coaches were thrilled with his growth during camp.
3. Wide receiver Tyler McCulloch: Last year, McCulloch did a nice job in a limited role. This year, it would have been a lot of fun to watch him progress as a complement to Paul Richardson. Unfortunately, with Richardson out, the Buffs are lacking speed at the position (not to mention experience at QB), putting pressure — and better cornerbacks — on McCulloch. Despite that, McCulloch is averaging 18.1 yards per catch (7 catches for 127 yards) and two TDs. He’s a better player now than last year.
4. Punter Darragh O’Neill: OK, so he’s a punter. Still, his numbers through three games (44.3 average, 40.3 net average) are better than his numbers in 2011 (42.6, 38.8) when he was a true freshman. He said he’s so much better this year it’s not even close.
5. Kicker Will Oliver: Yeah, OK, another kicker. And, I know he hasn’t had many opportunities this year (1-1 on FGS, 8-8 on PATs), but he has been perfect. It was evident even last year that Embree had upgraded the kicker position over what it was under the last coach.
Has everyone developed into better players under Embree’s watch? No. But, that’s the case for every coach. Even Urban Meyer and Nick Saban have players who don’t get better from year to year.
With Embree and his staff, I think it’s still way too early to judge them on this basis, yet I see players that have gotten better in the past year.
In addition to the 5 mentioned above, I think redshirt freshman Nelson Spruce is a better receiver than he was a year ago, I think the coaches have done a solid job of transitioning Stephane Nembot from defensive line to offensive line. Junior running back Josh Ford just might be ready for a breakout. Juniors Chidera Uzo-Diribe and Derrick Webb are probably two of the best players on defense. I also think senior defensive lineman Will Pericak is a much better player today than he was when Embree was hired.
I also see a lot of talent in the freshman class. Christian Powell, Marques Mosley, Kenneth Crawley and Yuri Wright are going to be legit Pac-12 players.
There’s no question CU has a long way to go, and there’s no question the Buffs have failed to meet even the low expectations many had for them this year.
I just don’t buy the argument that these players aren’t getting better. The progress may not be as dramatic as people want it to be but it’s there. And, it’ll take time to develop that talent into a winning team. The question is whether the CU administration and boosters will give Embree that time.