Throughout a 2012 season that saw Nelson Spruce and Tyler McCulloch lead the Colorado football team in receiving, the Buffaloes were criticized for their lack of excitement at the receiver position.
Then this week, McCulloch showed up to the start of fall camp sporting a haircut in honor of Ricky "Wild Thing" Vaughn from the 1989 movie "Major League."
Who says these guys don't have some flash?
OK, so a creative haircut won't make McCulloch a dynamic playmaker. But, with several speedsters now in the fold at receiver, McCulloch and Spruce might actually be more important to CU than they were a year ago.
"We're going to need Tyler and Nelson to really step up and be even better than they were last year," Buffs receivers coach Troy Walters said. "The way they've gone in the spring and the way they practiced this summer, CU fans can count on them having a big year."
There were many problems with the 2012 Buffs, one of those being the fact that they didn't have any receivers capable of stretching a defense. Paul Richardson went down with season-ending knee injury in April of 2012 and the Buffs had a severe lack of speed at receiver all year.
Spruce (team-high 44 catches for 446 yards and three touchdowns) and McCulloch (34 catches for 436 yards and two scores) did their best, but they certainly didn't strike fear in the opposition.
This year could be different. Richardson, now a junior, is healthy and looking fantastic early in camp. Speedy Jeff Thomas is now on board, while juniors D.D. Goodson and Keenan Canty, and a talented group of true freshmen give CU a receiving corps that looks worthy of the Pac-12.
All that added speed and talent has some fans excited about the receivers, but don't forget about McCulloch and Spruce.
"Having a guy like P-Rich out there, the defense has got to account for him and that's only going to free us up more and allow us to catch more passes," McCulloch said.
A healthy Richardson figures to lead the team in receiving, but Spruce said he doesn't see any reason why he and McCulloch can't be just as productive -- if not more so -- than they were a year ago.
"With the offense we have, our numbers might not even fall off at all with P-Rich back," Spruce said. "I think he might help us. We'll be effective in different situations."
Already, the two of them are being used in a variety of ways. McCulloch, who lined up almost exclusively on the outside last year under former coach Jon Embree, has been playing inside and outside during practices with new coach Mike MacIntyre. Spruce can play any of the receiver positions.
McCulloch, a junior, has added about five pounds of muscle, which doesn't sound like much, but he said, "I feel better about my body" at 215 pounds. He's also healthy and feels like he's in the best shape of his life. With a better body and a year of experience under his belt, the 6-foot-5 McCulloch thinks he could be a major asset to the Buffs.
"Being an upperclassmen now I expect a lot more out of myself," he said. "As a big body, I need to be able to be the guy who catches the 50-50 ball when the quarterback takes a chance out there. I've just developed a hunger and a mindset that when the ball is in the air, it's my ball and I need to go get it. There shouldn't be anyone who can stop me from getting it at my height."
At 6-2, 200 pounds, Spruce is smaller, but does have some good speed. The redshirt sophomore is looking forward to showing off how much he's improved, too.
"From an ability standpoint, I'm trying to get my quickness and burst," he said. "I feel really comfortable with my size and strength."
So does Walters, who believes McCulloch and Spruce will be featured receivers in CU's aerial attack.
"Those are two young men that are reliable and dependable," he said. "Coming out of spring, those were guys that I felt comfortable putting in any situation. They are guys you want on your team because they are consistent day in and day out.
"I expect Nelson to catch a lot more (passes) and I expect Tyler to catch more, because they are going to be an integral part of the offense."
What a difference a year makes. At this time in 2012, CU's receiving corps was one of the least experienced groups on the team. Now, it's possibly the most experienced. Richardson, McCulloch, Spruce and Canty have a combined 177 career catches for 2,224 yards and 17 touchdowns.
"I think we'll be a stronger attack this year," Spruce said.
It should be a more entertaining group, too.
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