Spring football is about working on technique and fundamentals and installing changes to schemes that coaches believe will lead to greater success in the fall. It's also about identifying players who are candidates for larger roles.
Colorado tight ends combined to catch 19 passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns last season and this spring coaches have seen more than enough from sophomore Sean Irwin to make them believe he can help them expand the role of the tight end in the CU passing game in 2014.
Irwin, a sophomore from Cypress, Texas, who is the middle child of triplets, came to CU two years ago along with his younger brother Jeromy. Sean was known then as a mauler at the line of scrimmage who was eventually going to help former CU coach Jon Embree establish a power running game in the West Coast offense in Boulder.
Irwin is still considered a strong blocker but he has expanded his arsenal and hopes to be a threat defenses have to account for on game days next fall.
"I'm trying to prove that I can catch and run and get up the field," Irwin said. "I'm looking to be a better receiving tight end."
Irwin suffered a broken ankle during his senior season of high school and wasn't needed immediately at CU in 2012. He redshirted that season. When CU changed coaches between the 2012 and 2013 seasons it meant learning a whole new system once again as Irwin gradually began to get healthy.
He played in all 12 games last season but caught just one pass for seven yards. He says he feels like a new man this spring.
"I'm starting to get back into my groove after being off the field for awhile," he said. "I feel good. I'm starting get a little more loose, running better, blocking good.
"...It was pretty strange. I feel like I lost myself. Now I feel like I'm finally starting to get back into football and be with my teammates. I'm starting to feel like I'm with the team. It's nice."
CU tight ends and running backs coach Klayton Adams said he has seen huge steps taken this spring by his tight ends. He said senior Kyle Slavin played as well as he ever has in last week's scrimmage, which is an encouraging sign heading into Saturday's spring game and the summer months.
Adams is excited about what he has seen from Irwin, too. He said he recently watched some film from last spring and Irwin looks like a "totally different guy."
"Sean, every single day he's taking huge steps forward and kind of emerging as a guy who can do a lot of different things," Adams said.
Adams said CU coaches aren't going to force feed the ball to any position if they don't believe it's the best option to move the chain and score points. So they don't necessarily have a target number of catches or receiving yards for tight ends. But during his time as an assistant coach to Mike MacIntyre at San Jose State in the same offense, Adams said he coached a tight end there that caught around 55 passes a year. So there is definitely room for a jump in production in the passing game next fall for CU tight ends.
"There are some concepts that we run that that guy is going to have more opportunities in," Adams said. "I think if you feel like you have a guy you feel is real explosive in the passing game, which we're still kind of searching for that right now, then you start developing things for each of those guys.
"I don't know that right now any of them are doing a good enough job for us to go create anything for them, but they're doing a good job of running the things that we have."
Because of his experience with injury and redshirting, Sean has been able to be there to help Jeromy Irwin through a difficult year. Jeromy, who is a candidate to be the Buffs' starting left tackle lining up next to his brother, suffered a broken bone in his foot last summer using a shovel to do some yard work. He reinjured the bone in the fall and missed the whole season. He is out again this spring recovering from surgery to install a plate in his foot.
Sean said he's looking forward to getting to play alongside his brother when Jeromy is recovered in August when fall camp opens.