Apr 082012
Authors: Cris Tiller

Change is rarely easy, and CSU football is learning this quickly.

The Rams took to the field at Hughes Stadium for the first time in the Jim McElwain era for the team’s initial scrimmage during spring camp and stunk up the joint offensively or played out of their minds defensively, depending on how you look at it.

I’m choosing to settle somewhere in the middle and say this is just a team struggling to grasp a completely new system, under new leadership and “bold” new expectations. But don’t worry about the offensive line giving up 27 sacks, the quarterbacks throwing under 50 percent combined and scoring just one (offensive) touchdown –– it’s only April.

It’s completely unreasonable to judge the success or failure of this team four months before any real games start. It’s insane to start predicting wins and losses based on the very limited view we get of this football team. This will take time.

McElwain takes a different approach to practice, a style the players have admitted to being drastically different from what they grew accustomed to under Steve Fairchild. They’re not even a month into spring practice, so both players and coaches are getting used to one another, learning how to push each other’s buttons and come together as a unit.

He’s installing a totally new offense from the previous regime and asking his student-athletes to learn a whole new playbook. These guys are not professionals; they don’t have 24/7 to dedicate to better understand the new system, and as a result things, will look ugly at times.

McElwain referred to his offense Friday as “vanilla” on several occasions, which was by design. At this point he is still learning the strengths and weaknesses of his players. It’s a trial period for him and his staff to find the men who can execute.

In fact, McElwain didn’t seem irritated in the slightest about what he saw Friday, even joking about not jumping into Horsetooth Reservoir any time soon.

“I was really kind of happy just about the way the pace of the scrimmage went,” McElwain said. “I thought the guys handled substitutions pretty decently for the first time, and I’m kind of, I hate to say it, maybe a little optimistic.”

It’s all a part of the plan. Do the little things right early on and work your way up to the big picture. Not everything that came out of Friday’s scrimmage was terrible.

Junior running back Chris Nwoke ran hard and seems poised to follow up his breakout season with another strong campaign, likely as the leader of the offense.

On the defensive side of the ball, ends Nordly Capi and C.J. James took advantage of a struggling offensive line for nine combined “sacks” (players weren’t allowed to hit the quarterbacks).

I don’t want to completely disregard everything we saw on Friday. The offensive line must improve dramatically if the Rams have any hope of breaking the three-win barrier. Sophomore quarterback Garrett Grayson needs to command the playbook come fall and work on decision making within the pocket, and the wide receivers have to contribute more to the offense.

But like McElwain said, there’s no game next weekend, so let’s all take a deep breath and remain patient. Instead of panicking (and maybe cursing), let’s look at Friday’s scrimmage for what it was: a warm up.

If this kind of performance pops up in fall camp, then we have a problem.

Sports Editor Cris Tiller can be reached at sports@collegian.com.

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