There was plenty of uncertainty about Colorado left guard Kaiwi Crabb at the start of the season.
Crabb was slated for the first major playing time of his career after missing an entire season with a back injury. It hasn't been perfect by any means, but through the first two games of 2013, Crabb has become one of the feel-good stories on the CU roster.
Crabb played a total of 77 plays from scrimmage as a redshirt freshman in 2011 and was part of the field goal team that season, but he suffered a lower back injury in winter workouts in February 2012 that kept him out of action for most of the year. Crabb said he never worried that the injury could be career threatening, but it's safe to say no one else in the program was betting on him being a big contributor until they saw him return to practices and stay in practices for an extended period of time.
"It was real frustrating at first, but I was working a lot with the trainers and talking a lot with the old coaching staff," Crabb said of his unexpected second redshirt year. "They kept me positive. They kept my head in it. I did everything I could. They put me in a bit of coaching roll helping out some of the younger guys. So that kept my mind off some things and helped me do something during practice, which helped out a lot."
Crabb can play both guard and center and through his first two games as a starter, he is third among the five starting linemen with eight knockdown blocks. He dealt with a little flare up in his back just before fall camp started, but so far this season, he has managed to stay healthy and play every snap.
He graded out at 72.9 percent for the Central Arkansas game. It was the same grade his much more experienced line mates Gus Handler and Daniel Munyer received.
"He's a versatile guy," offensive line coach Gary Bernardi said. "I've even worked him at tackle a few days. So he's very versatile. I think there is a lot of room to get better though, too. And for us to be better, he's got to be better. As does everybody."
But Crabb seems to be thriving again. He stayed after Tuesday's practice to work on shotgun snaps with Bernardi and fellow lineman Alex Kelley. Bernardi, who has had two surgeries on his back, can relate to what Crabb experiences when his back flares up.
"Totally, I mean, I wouldn't have him doing certain extension drills or something like that," Bernardi said.
Crabb said his biggest concern entering the season was catching up to the speed of the game after a year off. It's one thing to practice hard and scrimmage well againt your teammates, but an entirely different level of play is required to have consistent success in games.
The three-week layoff from playing caused by a postponed game and a regularly scheduled bye week might actually work against a guy like Crabb and other Buffs who are playing for the first time because they must adapt to game speed once again.
"I think just playing full speed all the time is something I really need to get better at," Crabb said. "Good footwork, playing full speed with good technique, using all the right steps and hand placement but at full speed.
"Sometimes when I think about things too much, I slow down a little bit. It kind of jeopardizes my play and the play itself."