Snow is on the ground, a cool breeze in the air and days are longer; it means spring has finally arrived in Fort Collins. It means spring football practice has arrived, yet again, too.
Get out your helmets, your shorts and your pigskins, kids, Mike Bobo is ready to go. As Bobo has said over the years, when he puts the football on the ground, he wants young men who are ready to play, to battle, to compete. And starting today, Bobo’s Colorado State Rams get to show their stuff in a month of practices – 15 in all – which all culminates with the annual Green and Gold Game.
For the first time, CSU Football plays their spring game inside the friendly confines of their new, on-campus stadium, giving fans yet another chance to explore the sensational structure, on April 21.
Before then, though, there are many things to settle.
For the Rams, they’re disproportionately deep. That’s to say, at some positions – like wide receiver and running back – the green and gold is money, being very deep. Other positional groups – like cornerback for instance – are in search of immediate competition.
Here, we take a look at the three biggest positional battles on offense going into the spring practice sessions for your Rams football team.
Let’s address the elephant in the room, off the bat. Collin Hill, a redshirt sophomore, was supposed to be the team’s unquestioned leader from the quarterback position. Back in 2016, in Hill’s freshman year, he became a fan favorite nearly overnight when he took over for Nick Stevens and Faton Bauta, each benched in the first two weeks of that season.
Hill was anything but perfect – the true freshman quarterback held onto the ball too long, taking too many big hits and sacks – but he was also clearly the most athletically gifted gun-slinger on the team. Not only did he possess a bigger arm than did Stevens, he was more mobile, too.
But that mobility hurt Hill; on a 3rd-and-19 scramble against Utah State, Hill came up one yard short and tore his ACL, too. Hill was done for the rest of 2016, and then he sat all of 2017 while Stevens started.
Everything was in line for Hill, until he re-tore that ACL, it was announced last week, playing a game of pickup basketball.
That leaves Colorado State between a rock and a hard place when it comes to the most important position on the team.
Yes, they have three other quarterbacks on the roster in J.C. Robles, Justice McCoy and Colorado native Judd Erickson, but, it seems doubtful any will be ready to start this fall. Robles is a scramble specialist; whenever he’s inserted into games, he runs with the football. McCoy and Erickson each redshirted last year as freshmen.
The Rams are expected to go out and sign a graduate transfer quarterback and hope they can play immediately in the fall. Possibilities include Wilton Speight, formerly of Michigan, Quinten Dormady of Tennessee and many more.
Until the team signs a graduate transfer, McCoy, Robles and Erickson have the opportunity to prove to coaches they can carry the responsibility of being the quarterback. Now’s the time to step up for those three.
Where Hill’s injury hurts the most is the passing game, obviously, and that’s compounded with so many play-making receivers on the Rams this year. It still leaves hope that if CSU lands a graduate transfer, he’ll find he’s in good hands with the talented pass-catchers on the team.
Bisi Johnson is going to start, no question about that. “The Standard,” as Bobo calls him, sets the example in every practice, in film study, the weight room; basically, everywhere he goes. The question is; will Bisi be the No. 1 or the No. 2 wideout?
If Preston Williams continues to put in the work needed to take the field this August – which Bobo said he is on his way to doing back on National Signing Day – then Williams would be the logical No. 1 wideout. He’s 6’4” and was a five-star prospect coming out of high school, going to Tennessee for one year before transferring to CSU.
Williams is the fastest player on the team – at least, according to the video of him beating Marvin Kinsey in a race last year – and maybe the most athletic, too. While he had to wait a year to play for the football team, he was named All-Mountain West for his indoor triple jump last year. After watching Williams tear up CSU’s defense in last year’s Green and Gold Game, No. 11 will be a marquee player to keep an eye on in this year’s spring game.
Then, there’s Warren Jackson, the 6’5” athletic freak who broke out last year as a freshman. His two touchdowns on the season came against Alabama and everyone’s excited to see how high his ceiling is. With those two giants, could the Rams move Bisi into the slot? It’s possible.
And those are just the top three threats. There are 17 total receivers on the team, and while Bisi, Williams and Jackson are almost certainly the starters, look for guys like E.J. Scott, Marcus Wilson and Connor Drachslin to compete for playing time.
Like at wide receiver, running back is packed with could-be starters.
When Bobo decides to run the ball, the first choice will likely be senior Izzy Matthews. But, it’s important to remember that during the Bobo Era, true competition has ruled the day at every position.
Matthews could be the starter because he is a battering ram with a nose for the goal line. Over the last two years, Izzy’s run for 1,300-plus yards and 21 touchdowns, and it would have been a higher number of scores in all likelihood if he didn’t break his collarbone against Wyoming on Nov. 4. He proved his toughness by getting back to the gridiron in the Rams’ Dec. 16 New Mexico Bowl loss.
Izzy has mostly been the “thunder” to Dalyn Dawkins’ “lightning,” though, so who could compliment him in the speed department?
Marvin Kinsey Jr. could be that guy, and he’s got a lot to prove after tearing his ACL in 2016 while practicing for the bowl game. Kinsey did play last year, but in a very limited capacity, getting only 26 carries for 124 yards.
Darius May brings a ton of speed as well, and the redshirt sophomore looked solid in the regular season finale of 2017, rushing six times for 48 yards. For Kinsey and May – who are seemingly in direct competition with one another for that speed back spot – this spring will be essential in earning them playing time in August.
Then, there’s Rashaad Boddie, the huge body who running backs coach Brian Applewhite said is bigger and “probably faster” than Izzy. His 5.8 yards per carry average last year were second-best to Dawkins and his 84 yards and two scores versus Boise made up for his best game. But, his fumble in overtime of that game sank the Rams chances of winning, and the redshirt sophomore will look to prove to everyone he’s forgotten that major mistake.
Note: Mullen star Marcus McElroy will not practice this spring as he’s injured.