April 22, 2011

What to Watch: 2011 Spring Game

Saturday will serve as the fourth spring football game for Steve Fairchild as head coach of the Colorado State Rams, and while he admits to having more fun this offseason than in years prior, there is still a lot of work to be done should his team avoid a third consecutive 3-9 season.

Below I breakdown the top story lines to pay attention to heading into Saturday's spring game at Hughes Stadium. The scheduled start is 11 a.m. and is open to the public.

Follow this link for the spring game roster: 2011 Colorado State Spring Game Roster (via CSURams.com)

The evolution of Pete Thomas

One thing everyone should keep an eye on is how quarterback Pete Thomas is going to look heading into his sophomore season, and his second as a starter. With a year of experience under his belt, Thomas should be primed to have a big year in 2011, but throughout spring football we've still seen quite a few "freshman mistakes" when it comes to making reads. Thomas also needs to work on his deep ball.

Can McPeek peak?

Walk-on M.J. McPeek, a transfer from Kansas State, has been listed as No. 2 on the depth chart throughout the spring, but most have hopes that grayshirt freshman Garrett Grayson can make his way up the ladder, along with incoming recruit Conner Smith. However, McPeek and Thomas will be on opposite teams for Saturday's scrimmage, and an impressive outing by the walk-on could turn him into a real contender for second string.

Speed kills

All the talk this spring has been about the raw speed the CSU defense has on roster with multiple players running sub-4.4 40 yard dashes. It's time that the Rams utilize this unteachable element that they haven't had in years past and adjust their defense accordingly. So far, we've seen lots of 4-3 and nickel sets from the CSU defense, but not much of the 3-4 we were promised. Playing in a conference that has so many teams running a spread offense, the Rams need to adjust their game plan.

Running backs

Both Raymond Carter and will be on opposite teams for Saturday's scrimmage at Hughes Stadium and both have something to prove as there is no clear-cut starter at this time. We've seen the glimpses of greatness from Carter, but those came with a lack of consistency. For Nwoke, he's adapted to the college game quicker than most expected, but still struggles with fumbling the football. The Green and Gold teams each have balanced defenses, which should allow coaches to gauge each back fairly well.

Sisson's new role

Outside linebacker [db]Mychal Sisson will be entering his fourth year as a starter for the Rams when CSU takes the field in Albuquerque on Sept. 3, but it will be his first without the well-respected Ricky Brewer by his side (even in 2009, Brewer still practiced with the team). So far, Sisson has taken over the job of "player coach" in stride, helping get his teammates fired up and correcting any mistakes that are made with constructive criticism. He's now the face of the CSU defense, which comes with plenty of pressure.

Will Sisson rise to the occasion come crunch time, or will this defense, once again, be the laughing stock of the Mountain West Conference?

Adapting to coaching changes

This one can be hard to gauge so early, but with all of the shifting Fairchild did with his staff in the offseason, including bringing in Bernard Clark from Pittsburgh, it shouldn't take long this fall to see if the moves paid off. Look for subtle differences in the individual units on Saturday that hadn't been there in the previous three seasons.

Any receivers making the highlight reel?

Last season, sophomore Lou Greenwood solidified himself as a go-to target at the slot wide receiver position, moving over from running back. He led the team in receiving yards at 474 and had more touchdowns than anyone else at his position with 2.

But outside of Greenwood, who which receiver will become a go-to target Thomas, giving the Rams a deep threat at wide out versus the underneath look?

The first half of the 2010 season, Byron Steele appeared to be the man, but his playing time got cut short by the coaching staff and Marquise Law started to emerge. If there's one wide out to become a home run threat, it's likely Law or Steele, but don't sleep on T.J. Borcky, and watch for Thomas Coffmann to play a supporting role at the slot.

The kicking game

Despite having two career game-winning field goals (2008 vs. Sacramento State and 2010 vs. Idaho) that had him carried off the field on the shoulders of his teammates, it's always a roll of the dice with Ben DeLine lines up to send on through the uprights. Now a senior, CSU is going to need more consistency from the Steamboat Springs native if the Rams want to have success down the stretch of the 2011 season. Keep an eye on how both DeLine and backup Chad Vandermolen perform on Saturday.

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