Note prior to CSU’s fall camp

Colorado State will open fall football camp Saturday with two practices, but coach Jim McElwain isn’t trying to get a jump on the competition. Instead, he is giving the first-year players a chance to acclimate to the program without getting lost in the shuffle.

It’s a bit of a return to the old days when freshmen were able to report for drills before the veterans, a practice the NCAA scraped nearly a decade ago.

“There was a time when you actually brought freshman in for three to five days or whatever, and I thought that was great,” McElwain said. “It gave them an opportunity to not being the back of the line right away. Learn how to do Ram-jacks, learn how to flex, learn the fight song – you know, a lot of important things that help you.

“What we try to accomplish in just that one day is actually, guys, this is how we practice. Boom, this is the drill, you’re going from here. That kind of thing. We’re just doing it for one day, and it gives us an opportunity as well that they are up first in line. That’s really where it’s at and the reason for it.”

McElwain also dismissed the notion in his pre-camp press conference that the new players are his and he’d like them to take over the reigns this season. He said in his first meeting with the roster he inherited that he empowered them to take over and turn things around. By no means will they be left behind, but rather, will be asked to lead the charge.

“They don’t deserve that at all,” McElwain said. “I hope those younger guys, we’re able to season them and that this crew of guys that we have are able to take it and say, this is our team and we’re going to make it something special. I truly believe in that.”

McElwain also touched on the Rams’ rivalry games, starting with the season opener Sept. 1 with Colorado in Denver. He naturally likes the game, but more so, what it can mean to the state.

“I think that it is an outstanding game to have. I believe this, we need both teams to have great years and be successful,” he said. “I mean both teams, because it helps the whole state of Colorado. It helps the high school football in the state for us to be successful. Now, on that given day, I hope they aren’t successful, but I also understand what the strength of programs in a state can do for everybody. It can do for college athletics, it can do for both universities.”

 

 

 

 

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A few notes from media days

Media days are over in Las Vegas, leaving fall camp less than two weeks away. Some quick hitters coming out of the sessions:

  • It was no surprise when Colorado State coach Jim McElwain said Garrett Grayson enters fall camp as the No. 1 quarterback, falling just short of naming him the starter. Over the summer, Grayson has continued to work with the top unit, and he said earlier this month he feels he has a firm grasp of the system.
  • What may be a surprise is that McElwain said he likes the work his defensive line has done. The team has lost both returning starters at end (Nordly Capi and C.J. James) and they aren’t as big as he’d like inside. But he feels John Froland has adapted well to his switch to end and now understands what it takes to be a college athlete. McElwain’s confidence comes from the concepts the defensive coaches have come up with in the new 3-4 alignment. Being undersized, the Rams will move a lot along the front.
  • Lindy’s Sports preseason look at the Mountain West also has the Rams finishing eight in the standings, but it did have some love for center Weston Richburg. The publication picked him as the fourth-best NFL prospect in the conference and named him the best run blocker. Chris Nwoke was was named the toughest to bring down, and tight end Crockett Gillmore was ranked the ninth best NFL prospect heading into his second full season at tight end.

 

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Myers has plenty to offer

I finally hooked up with Dr. Greg Myers today, and as always, he’s humble as ever.

He said he was surprised when Colorado State coach Jim McElwain reached out to him to come talk to the current crop of Rams, saying: “I don’t know what I have to offer them.”

Hmm, let’s see … four-year, first-team All-WAC performer … Jim Thorpe Award winner … College Football Hall of Fame inductee. All those things show what a fabulous career Myers had with the Rams, but the message he can really deliver is how to get things accomplished.

He talked about how he knew nothing but winning at Colorado State, walked into success and made the place even better with the teammates around him. Then there’s the crux of how those teams were able to enjoy so much success, and you can bet that’s the message McElwain wants his team to hear.

“We didn’t think about weight rooms or facilities or any of that stuff,” Myers said. “We just worked hard for the guy next to us.”

Now, as for McElwain’s offer to allow Myers to pick out any place he wanted to display the replica trophy the school has for the Thorpe Award, Myers quipped with a laugh: “I told him he could put it on his desk.”

Can’t imagine it will end up there permanently. It will end up somewhere for all to see, because the message it sends is clear — even at Colorado State, great things can be accomplished.

 

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MW media days

The Mountain West football media days began today with some meetings in Las Vegas, but begin in full force Wednesday for the media. The head coaches and two players from each team will be in attendance to dissect the upcoming season.

Running back Chris Nwoke and linebacker Shaquil Barrett will be there for the Rams with coach Jim McElwain, one of four new coaches. Wednesday will open with the announcement of preseason predictions for conference finish and the preseason All-MW team. The rules were the media couldn’t vote for player who were not nominated by their teams.

For the curious, here are my picks:

1. Boise State; 2. Nevada; 3. Wyoming; 4. Fresno State; 5. Air Force; 6. Colorado State; 7. San Diego State; 8. Hawai’i; 9. UNLV; 10. New Mexico.

Offense

QB, Derek Carr, FSU

RB, Robbie Rouse, FSU

RB, Chris Nwoke, CSU

WR, Billy Ray Stutzman, Hawai’i

WR, Colin Lockett, SDSU

TE, Gavin Escobar, SDSU

OL, Chris Barker, Nevada

OL, Weston Richburg, CSU

OL, Joe Kellogg, BSU

OL, Nik Embernate, SDSU

OL, Austin Wentworth, FSU

DL, Mike Purcell, Wyomiing

DL, Paipai Falemalu, Hawai’i

DL, Mike Atkinson, BSU

DL, Jack Reynoso, Nevada

LB, Alex Means, AFA

LB, Shaquil Barrett, CSU

LB, Travis Brown, FSU

DB, Leon McFadden, SDSU

DB, Duke Williams, Nevada

DB, Jamar Taylor, BSU

DB, Luke Ruff, Wyoming

PK, Parker Herrington, AFA

P, Pete Kontodiakos, CSU

RS, Mike Edwards, Hawai’i

Offensive player of the year — Rouse

Defensive player of the year — McFadden

Special teams player of the year — Edwards

 

 

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McElwain trying to make most of recruiting dollars

In a recent ESPN.com report into the recruiting budgets of football programs, Colorado State ranked fourth in terms of teams currently in the Mountain West or will be soon. The Rams spent $251,383 in 2011 and $239,468 in 2010.
Air Force led the MW, hitting $335,986 in both seasons.
It’s a number Colorado State coach Jim McElwain would like to see grow, but it might not mean an extra check from athletic director Jack Graham.
“I think it will grow,” McElwain said. “It may have to come from somewhere else. In other words, from some other part of our budget. It’s something that we need to make sure when we allocate our resources that we’re given, we can’t shortchange it.”
McElwain and his staff have made a big push to recruit and land the better players inside the state of Colorado. It’s a good first step, but when it comes to recruiting, the Rams need to take longer strides. It’s not secret Colorado is not one of the notorious hotbeds for college football recruiting. Texas, Florida, California and Georgia are, and it takes money to get there.
But to make those trips, McElwain said his staff has to be smart in their planning. Air fare costs less when it’s paid for in advance. And trips need to be made to make sure they’re not only landing talented players, but those with good character. Face it, the Rams have been in the headlines recently for some very wrong reasons.
“Recruiting is your life blood,” McElwain said. “We’ll never be frivolous in what we’re doing recruiting, but if you try to cut and you cut in recruiting, you’re cutting your chances of winning. We’re doing a great job within what we have. Our guys are driving and staying in their car in truck stops and doing whatever we can, because we’ve got to get out and do whatever we need to recruit.”
As for the other MW schools: UNLV ranked second ($292,618 and $286,086), while Utah State showed it is making a push in the area by jumping from $114,898 in 2010 to $256,312 in 2011. Boise State was near the bottom of the list at $129,837 in 2011, up from $71,290 the year before. Fresno State and Nevada were the only two schools that did not top $100,000 in either year.

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Leading the way

Colorado State coach Jim McElwain said after the Green-Gold Game there would be a leadership council established to lead the team forward through the summer months. It turns out to be a list of 16 players, voted on by their teammates.

McElwain said Tuesday during the Mountain West conference call the coaches also voted, and the two lists were different, making them telling.

“Not a lot different, but there were some kind of surprises on both sides,” McElwain said. “I think that’s obviously when you’re starting new, when you have a new family, there were some guys who have actually bought in that haven’t bought in before, and I think that’s a real positive.”

Some of the names won’t surprise anybody — Chris Nwoke, James Skelton, Weston Richburg — while one probably would — Mark Woodbury, a senior running back who hasn’t cracked a depth chart yet.

Also on the list are Shaquil Barrett, Austin Gray, M.J. McPeek, Marquise Law, Kivon Cartwright, Marcus Shaw, Pete Kontodiakos, Austin Gillmore, Garrett Grayson, Brandon Haynes, Joe Caprioglio and Jake Levin. Their task is to carry the Rams through the important summer months of working out and working on their own. Coaches and players agree that what happens next fall will be greatly dependent on what happens this summer. And what happens then will be greatly dependent on the council.

 

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Covering all the bases

Jim McElwain had a quick responses to the questions of if his Colorado State football team has its base formations in and down pat: They were no and no.

Still, the Rams are moving forward in trying to cover everything possible this spring, adding a few more wrinkles to the equation Wednesday.

“This week was good. We actually did some 2-point play work today, and we also did some 2-minute before the half, which we haven’t done yet,” McElwain said. “We were able to get that in, and (Thursday), we’ll get last-play situations, you know, Big Ben and that kind of stuff. The thing we did this week as well was we actually started a little scout work for opponents next year. We were able to kind of get a little of that, and we’ll get some more of that (Thursday).”

The scout work he said was to deal with “unique” situations they’ll face this season. Say, the Air Force offense.

“That might be it,” he said with a grin. “That might be one. I think San Diego State’s stuff that (head coach Rocky) Long does, with the 3-3 stuff (on defense), you kind of have your own set of rules, and we’ll work on first opponents (Thursday).”

That first opponent is Colorado in Denver on Sept. 2.

The Rams have also worked in a wildcat package, and while he has run his team through just about every situation, he said he really didn’t anticipate putting in a whole lot this spring, adding the team is on schedule for what he wanted implemented. Once that base is set, the real work will begin, he said.

“What you’ve got to understand is once your base concepts are in, now, what personnel groups are you going to do it out of, what shifts, what formations, all that kind of stuff is the next part of it and trying to figure out still who are play makers are and who needs to touch it and that kind of thing,” he said.

 

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Laughter is the best medicine

The one thing that can almost be counted on daily from a Jim McElwain post-practice interview is a joke or two. Sometimes it’s to avoid giving a straight answer, but either way, the man does have a sense of humor.

On Wednesday, Colorado State had a group of kicking and punting hopefuls take to the field to try and find a walk-on or two to provide depth and competition in the fall.  Asked how they looked, McElwain offered up this: “We’ve got a punt, pass and kick competition out here going on.” Asked later if any of them might be back in the fall, his reply was: “I don’t know, but I have the punt, pass and kick trophy. I have one at my house if you want to see it.”

After giving up a ton of sacks in the two scrimmages, protection has become a familiar topic for him. McElwain pointed out that some of the issues can be found in communication, or a lack thereof. But he thinks the players are getting better at it, and this was his explanation for how he could tell:

“Yeah, because they’ll turn their heads and go, ‘boy, that was my guy.’ Where before they turned their head and said, ‘boy, I wonder whose that was?’”

Former players Caleb Hanie and Tim Walters were two of the latest Rams to come back and visit practice and see how the team looks under the new regime. Told they often come out to meet him, McElwain joked: “It must be a slow day for them if that’s all they wanted.”

Actually, he’s happy when former players come out to visit, and he’ll welcome all to come say hi. And maybe share a laugh or two.

 

 

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Finding teachable moments

Sunday’s weather didn’t change a thing. Neither did the pressure from the defense. Or the fact the walking wounded accounted for a pretty impressive group of personnel.

Colorado State coach Jim McElwain has had no interest all spring in making things easier for the Rams, he’s  just trying to make them better.

By all accounts, he has the players falling in line. He said last week the tempo at practice is getting better all the time and that players know where to go and when. Now he wants to see them move themselves into the next phase.

“The team that’s here right now, these guys, I like their demeanor,” he said after Sunday’s scrimmage. “I’d like to see a little more leadership on offense, to be honest. I’m not sure we’ve found that yet. But, with that being said, I really like their thought process, I like the way they’re approaching the game a little bit. They need to understand the importance of studying the game outside of just the 20-hour rule we have with them.

“Great teams, great players take it upon themselves to study when we can’t be with them, and that’s really the next step now with this team. They’ve got to understand to come up, put the extra time in. It’s like being a great student, you’ve got to put extra time in. You don’t just get it in the classroom. You’ve got to go home and do your due diligence in your studies. (It’s) no different in this.”

When the offense gave up 27 sacks in the first scrimmage — and another 15 on Sunday — McElwain let the defense keep blitzing and continue with line twists. That’s a change from the past. McElwain has said multiple times nothing will be gained from making things easier, nothing learned if mistakes are not made. Mistakes go on tape, where they can be seen. And corrected.

As for his main trio of quarterbacks competing for the starting spot, he said Sunday he’s not interested in building their confidence.

“I’ve never been big on that, and I’ve been pretty successful with (quarterbacks),” McElwain said. “Look, we’re not (scrimmaging) to win the game, we’re here to make corrections, get better and fundamentally learn how to play the game. I’m not one of those guys.”

As for the weather that went from sun to rain to sleet to driving snow and back around the block again, McElwain felt it was a bonus to get to work in those conditions. Chances are, they’ll see it again. And it wasn’t just for the players, either, he said.

“I think it’s good for our coaching staffs on both sides, because your mindset as a play-caller on both sides of the ball are different,” McElwain said. “I think those are all things that will help us as we move towards the next season.”

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Maybe he has a point

Colorado State coach Jim McElwain has said all spring that the Rams aren’t running anything fancy on offense or defense, especially at times when people can actually come and watch.

“We’re pretty vanilla. I’m not going to show our hand, because you know as well as I do there had to be probably somebody from a couple of squads that want to know what we’re doing up there,” McElwain said after Sunday’s scrimmage. “You can always tell, because they’re the ones with the brand new CSU hats. So obviously we’re not going to show anything in these other than like I said, to find out how guys compete, block, tackle, catch the ball. All those fundamental things.”

Paranoid? Well, maybe not. Spotted in the parking lot at the stadium Sunday was a silver car with a “Go Buffs” personalized license plate. And not a far parking lot, either, but the one connected to the south entrance of the stadium that leads to the tunnel where the team enters.

 

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