Apr 222012
Authors: Cris Tiller

Spring football teases us, going as quickly as it came, just enough to wet our appetite and leave us with questions.

Under new coach Jim McElwain, we’ve only been allowed to see a glimpse of the “Bold New Era” of CSU football, but based on what the Rams showed us the past month, there is room for improvement.

Here are the top-5 areas to improve come the start of fall practice in August.

5. Build depth
McElwain stressed the need for more bodies, especially big bodies, going as far as holding open tryouts for offensive and defensive lineman in the spring. With the addition of incoming freshman, along with walk-ons, it’s critical to solidify the three-deep depth chart.

Football is a tough sport and there will undoubtedly be injuries. The best teams cope with injuries because they can rely on the next man up to perform his job. Depth also helps when it comes to special teams, where backups can most effectively make their mark.

Over the summer McElwain said he wants his players to develop their speed and size and come into fall camp ready to compete at the highest level.

The Rams were hit hard by injuries last season, but they couldn’t recover. Next season must be different.

4. Consistency
Spring ball showed us flashes of talent on both sides of the ball, but they were just that—flashes.

Too often drives were stalled near or in the red zone and dropped passes were a legitimate concern. McElwain’s offense needs rhythm and timing and nothing kills momentum like botching routine plays.

Defensively, CSU has to cut down on giving up big plays and do the little things on a regular basis.

Players like Marquise Law and C.J. James received high praise from the coaching staff similar to years past, but failed to live up to expectations in the past because of consistency issues. The Rams will rely on Law and James to be key contributors in the fall.

Consistent teams win games.

3. Quarterback play
Garrett Grayson entered spring camp in a position he’d never been in before—-the returning starter. Grayson was clearly the best quarterback on the roster this spring, but he’s young and inexperienced.

It’s obvious he has to think about what he’s doing on the field and he continues to hold the ball for too long in the pocket. The good news is all those things are fixable.

Grayson is athletic and possesses a strong arm, but the summer would be best served learning the offense plus throwing, throwing and more throwing.

All the quarterbacks have seen playing time, but don’t expect M.J. McPeek or Connor Smith to seriously challenge Grayson. It’s his job to win or lose.

2. Know the playbook
Learning an entirely new playbook with different schemes and terminology isn’t easy, and it showed this spring.

McElwain and his staff kept play calls extremely simple as the players tried to grasp and fully understand concepts, but that can’t be the case in fall camp. Blitz packages, blocking schemes and route trees will get harder as the season approaches to make CSU more difficult to prepare for, but if the players can’t run them, opponents will notice.

Eventually McElwain needs to implement the finer, more complicated aspects of his playbook and it’s up to the players to catch up.

1. Offensive line
It all starts up front, unfortunately the most glaring weakness in all of spring practice was the play of the offensive line.

In three scrimmages the offensive line gave up a total of 48 sacks. Grayson is a mobile quarterback, but not even Michael Vick could survive an entire season behind a line that porous.

The offense needs to establish the run to set up the play action passing game, but none of this is possible with no blocking. Part of the problem is understanding the blocking schemes and just thinking too much rather than reacting.
Offensive lines also require a bond unique to other positions. They are a cohesive unit, working together and communication is crucial. Give them a summer together and maybe that bond is forged.

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

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