The Rams had a spring game this year.
Kind of a big deal -- because Colorado State hadn't had one before in each of coach Steve Fairchild's previous two seasons.
CSU simply had too much to do during the first two spring sessions Fairchild directed to waste a day on a glorified scrimmage, he said. But just as he's trying to coax his young team to do, Fairchild is growing - growing into his role as coach.
"That was the first time in my third spring where we tried to simulate a spring game, so to speak, and I think we probably got 50 some odd plays in the last 45 minutes," Fairchild said. "I could tell they enjoyed that final part there. I thought we underestimated, in my first two years here, how important that is to end the spring like that."
Fairchild's demeanor should be a great indicator for Colorado State fans on the growth of the program. Despite a huge fall-off from 2008 to 2009, the latter including a nine-game losing streak that remains intact, the coach is not panicking about the state of his program.
CSU's hope for optimism hinges on the play of its front-runners to assume the starting quarterback position next season -- true freshman Pete Thomas and redshirt freshman Nico Ranieri. One of the two almost certainly will take the reins in the fall and become the third different starter in Fairchild's three years.
The new signal-caller, almost as certainly, will have a shelf-life longer than one season.
"I thought considering all the situations that we tried to practice over the last 15 practices, with all the live stuff we have done and the volume of offense we have tried to put in for two kids who were in high school last year, and a young offensive line, I expected them to be a little more in disarray at times, but I thought we got some good work done," Fairchild said. "There is still some time and we are going to have to develop in a hurry in some spots; there is no question about our inexperience in some spots, but I like our talent level and I think we have some good young kids and we will just keep working and get ready."
The Rams still are a work in progress on the offensive line, but it's defense that needs significant improvement for the team to resume its chase to get back among the Mountain West Conference's elite programs.
The return of outside linebacker Ricky Brewer from a year-long suspension for an undisclosed violation of team rules not only adds talent to the defense but also gives it a leader that can make it more cohesive.NOTES, QUOTES
--With a heightened competition at running back, the Rams are experimenting with the way they'll use true sophomore Lou Greenwood in the fall. CSU put Greenwood in a role similar to that of wide receiver Dion Morton last season, running the ball from a wideout position and some chances in the "Wildcat" to get the ball more in his hands.
--Think the Rams might have some big shoes to fill on the offensive line? Departed senior OG Shelley Smith was a sixth-round draft pick of the Houston Texans in the NFL draft, but his three departing-senior teammates -- OT Cole Pemberton, OG Adrian Martinez and C Tim Walter -- all earned free-agent contracts after the draft ended. CSU's biggest question mark on the line heading into the fall will be at center between junior Tyler McDermott and redshirt freshman Weston Richburg.
QB Pete Thomas -- The true freshman manned the first-team offense for the majority of the spring and enters the fall as the one to beat for the starting job. Coach Steve Fairchild was so confident in Thomas' ability that he almost immediately returned T.J. Borcky -- atop the depth chart to start the spring -- back to wide receiver. Fairchild made the politically correct statements all spring to include redshirt freshman Nico Ranieri in the conversation, but Thomas never let go of the first unit.
RB Raymond Carter -- A junior transfer from UCLA, . Carter is the perfect fit for the lead back in CSU's ground attack. Durability could be his only question; Carter had a minor ankle injury and missed the spring game. Carter and redshirt freshman Chris Nwoke should take the bulk of the carriers away from seniors John Mosure and Leonard Mason, who combined for 1,416 yards last season.
TE Joe Brown -- A redshirt freshman, Brown emerged as a playmaker in the passing game, capped off with a three-reception effort in the spring game for 52 yards. He took advantage of TE Eric Pietz's broken finger during the spring and likely will become an integral part of the offense in 2010.
DE C.J. James -- James had one of best springs of any defensive player. The Rams will enter the fall with some question marks at the end position, and James has a chance to solidify a large spot in the rotation.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "That is part of it (long-term stability), but I still think we are always going to play the quarterback here that I think gives us the best chance to win, and if that is a fifth-year senior or a true freshman, that's who we want to line up with on the field. I think we owe it to our fans, the program and the seniors to do that. I think right now, it is probably one of those two young guys (Nico Ranieri or Pete Thomas) that gives us the best chance to win." -- Colorado State coach Steve FairchildSTRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: On paper, the young Rams appear to be at the bottom of the MWC looking up at the rest of their league foes. The majority of these players, however, now have been recruited for coach Steve Fairchild's schemes. The Rams have a tough but not overpowering non-conference schedule, but their biggest hurdle may be their emotional makeup in trying to forget a 2009 season that ended on a nine-game losing streak. If they can, they have as good a chance as the MWC teams not named Air Force, Brigham Young, TCU and Utah to sneak into that fifth MWC-affiliated bowl slot.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Rams have as good a set of running backs as any team in the MWC, but they have questions almost everywhere else. CSU has only two players on the line with starting experience, is breaking in two new wide receivers and likely will rely on a freshman quarterback to guide the offense. CSU must hope its running game is as good as it thinks to help break in the rest of the offense slowly and without panic. The offense will be under pressure to come together quickly to help the team get the nine-game losing streak to end abruptly. The biggest question will be where the leadership comes from, especially if true freshman QB Pete Thomas holds down his job and neither senior John Mosure nor Leonard Mason earn the starting running back job.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Rams expect senior SLB Ricky Brewer's return to benefit the rest of the team in terms of leadership as well as ability. He'll form a strong corps with junior WLB Mychal Sisson. CSU moved offensive players Adam Seymore and Broderick Sargent over to the defensive line to help the unit create more pressure against opposing quarterbacks. The secondary returns three of four players, and junior college transfer Momo Thomas could fill in the void at the vacant left cornerback position. For CSU to become a dominant unit, however, it will rely on its defensive line to be able to apply pressure without blitzing.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: Junior K Ben Deline and sophomore P Pete Kontodiakos both return from respectable 2009 seasons. CSU still is looking for a returner that has the explosion former KR/PR Dion Morton had. If the Rams can find a speedster at the position, they should have one of the stronger units in the conference.
--DE Cory Macon missed the bulk of spring practice for personal reasons, and the fact that he missed so much time is problematic for the coaching staff. At best, the senior will have to climb his way back up the depth chart -- if he comes back. Either way, it's not a good start for a player entering his final year of eligibility in college.
--WLB Mychal Sisson had minor surgery midway through spring practice to relieve some pain in his shoulder. The Rams expect him to be at full strength in the fall.
--Senior TE Eric Peitz broke his finger during spring practice but should be ready to go in the fall as well.
--Senior ST Mark Starr is recovering from a torn pectoral muscle but also hopes to be at full strength in time for fall camp.
--CB DeAngelo Wilkinson (foot), sophomore DE Zach Tiedgen (shoulder) and junior SLB Michael Kawulok (knee) all have been slow to recover from injuries sustained last season, which CSU must keep an eye on in the fall.
--Junior QB Klay Kubiak's offseason shoulder surgery likely cost him any chance of winning the starting job next season, and he'll have to decide whether he wants to remain with the program or transfer where he can have a chance to play immediately.
Previous Report: 04/28/2010