A year ago, the Colorado football program was beginning a new era with a rookie head coach and offensive and defensive coordinators who had limited or no experience in those roles.
The rest of the staff took its cue from those three men, and, like most coaching changes, there were some bumps in the road.
Second-year head coach Jon Embree believes his staff and the players they lead will benefit this season from not having to deal with that turmoil and the learning curve that accompanies it. The entire coaching staff is back for Year Two.
“I think when you look at successful programs, they’re able to keep their coaches around and keep them together and they have that kind of chemistry,” Embree said.
Embree recalled a moment during a blowout loss at home to USC last fall when he saw defensive coordinator Greg Brown looking dejected as he tried to come up with any sort of answer to stop the Trojans. Embree encouraged Brown to stay the course.
Now with a slew of new talent and returning players having a clear understanding of schemes and expectations, Brown’s defense seems poised to make a big improvement this season.
“It’s funny, we go out there now and we’re getting two or three interceptions a day,” Embree said. “Last year, that would be a month. He’s got those guys playing. The coaches understand what we want from a scheme standpoint.”
Embree said players weren’t the only ones learning last season. It takes time for coaches to get used to each others’ personalities and preferences. As the Buffs wrap up the first week of practices in Embree’s second fall camp, the familiarity helps with everything from how drills will be conducted on the field, to how meetings are handled and recruiting.
“There is a lot more comfort level really with the whole staff,” Embree said. “We can get on each other. Everyone knows where we’re coming from when we tease each other or say something. That translates down to the players because they feel it. They sense it, too. And then they’re hearing the same message from everyone.”
Video boards debut
CU debuted its new $7 million Folsom Field HD video boards in mid-August with a short ceremony and party on the club level.
When guests arrived at the stadium, the boards were programmed to look like the old boards they replaced. When athletic director Mike Bohn asked chancellor Phil DiStefano to push a button, the old look faded away and the power and clarity of the new boards overwhelmed the stadium with a 5-minute video.
Basketball coach Tad Boyle watched the presentation with his assistants.
“I was really impressed,” Boyle said. “The high definition is the key. The size of them, obviously they’re bigger, which is nice in a stadium this size, but the high-def is pretty special.”
On national signing day in February, offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said he believed Davien Payne, a 5-foot-11, 220-pound tailback from Perris, Calif., was the most ready to play among three freshmen tailbacks.
That didn’t hold up through the first week of fall camp. Embree said that fellow freshmen Donta Abron and Terrence Crowder are ahead of Payne at this point. Embree also raved about the athleticism and ability of freshman fullback Christian Powell, who played on the same high school team as Abron in Upland, Calif.
Embree noted that it is too early in camp to make any definitive judgments about the running backs because they haven’t experienced a lot of full contact.
A name to remember
One name keeps coming up in interviews with Colorado football coaches early in camp and it sounds like fans will be getting to know freshman wide receiver Gerald Thomas pretty well in 2012.
Thomas is competing for the kick and punt return jobs and could be a big play threat in the offense regardless of whether fellow wide receiver Paul Richardson is able to play this year.
“He had a play the other day where he made one guy miss him twice on the same play,” Embree said. “It was funny. He has it. He had a nice touchdown the other day in a situational scrimmage. When he turns up the field, he explodes.”
In the course of discussing the strengths of quarterbacks Connor Wood, Nick Hirschman and Jordan Webb, Embree compared Webb to former Buff Koy Detmer.
“He has unique ways of getting the ball to the right guy,” Embree said. “He doesn’t have the biggest arm, but he gets it there, he generally gets it there on time and it’s a fairly catchable ball.”
“His technique was just all over the place, his footwork, his hands, really understanding stuff. He’s worked so hard with Tui to get things right. Now he is such a good technician,” Embree on senior defensive tackle Will Pericak working with defensive line coach Mike Tuiasosopo.
Follow Kyle on Twitter: @KyleRingo