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Four days away at UNC
The University of Northern Colorado football team will get its first taste of what fall practice is all about under new head coach Earnest Collins when the Bears begin practice 3 p.m. Thursday at the Butler-Hancock practice fields.
While the Bears learned a little bit about life under Collins during spring ball, the real work begins Thursday as the Bears prepare for the upcoming 2011 season.
Before fall camp begins, The Tribune sat down with Collins to get his thoughts on fall practice and the upcoming season.
THE TRIBUNE — What is your excitement level coming into your first fall practices as the new coach at your alma mater?
COLLINS — I am really excited. I really don’t know how my emotions are going to be leading up to Week 1 against Lindenwood, but I am looking forward to it. I really think we can do some special things here with these guys, with the players we have and the coaching staff that I have. So it is really hard for me to put into words how blessed I feel with the Lord bringing me back here to be the head man. It truly was a dream come true, so I am looking forward to all of it.
THE TRIBUNE — It doesn’t seem like the coaches in the Big Sky Conference or the media are as excited as you are about the upcoming season for your team. They picked you eighth in both preseason polls. Is that a good thing in that it takes the pressure off or the opposite?
COLLINS — I don’t know if I have ever had the pressure in my career coaching. I am just going to do the best I can do and the kids are going to do the best they can do, and we are going to play football. In any given year, anyone can improve. They can be better, so us being picked eighth, I could care less. The preseason polls don’t mean anything. Preseason polls are usually predicted from last season. Last season, we were the eighth team in the conference, so therefore they picked us eighth this year. The thing about it is where do you end up.
THE TRIBUNE — I am sure your guys have been here in the offseason, working out. Did you get a feel for about how many guys stayed up here and are you pleased with what they have done to prepare themselves?
COLLINS — I really don’t know because I haven’t gotten with (strength and conditioning coach Joe (Schaffer), because they tell us hands-off during the summertime (due to NCAA rules). So I leave it alone. They will see enough of us (the coaching staff) in fall camp. But you’ll see them at night out there doing 7-on-7 (drills) and things like that and I’m happy they were here. We’ll see. I’m sure whoever wasn’t here this summer working out with Joe, they’ll realize they should have been and if they weren’t, they were working out at home. Because it is going to be a fall camp something like I don’t think they have ever experienced before.
THE TRIBUNE — How different will this fall camp be from what the players have been used to with you during the spring?
COLLINS — It is going to be up-tempo. I don’t know what it was like before because I wasn’t here, but in the spring I know our practices were more up-tempo than what the players have been used to because we didn’t even condition in the spring and some were gasping and that type of deal. So with the conditioning added into it and with the two-a-days added into it, and us with the mindset of getting ready to play a football game, it is going to be something I assume they haven’t experienced before.
THE TRIBUNE — How long do you think it will take to install the new offense and defense?
COLLINS — Xs and Os are Xs and Os, so I don’t know if it is so much and installment of the offense and defense, it is just the little things like lining up correctly, running the route correctly. Every kid knows how to run a fly pattern. They know how to run a post and they know how to run a curl and an out. But it is the little things about how you get off the line to run that route and what you have to do to the receiver on that route. So those are the little bitty details that we have to hone into the kids. It usually takes awhile to get that going in practice, and I think after that first couple weeks of fall camp, we should have a pretty good idea of who is going to help us and who is not.
THE TRIBUNE — Position-wise, everybody likes to talk about the quarterbacks. Did you get a feel from spring of who comes into fall as the No. 1 guy and do you still consider it an open competition?
COLLINS — It is definitely an open competition. But what I did get from the spring is that whoever it is, we are going to be pretty good with whoever it is, whether it be (Dylan) Orms or (Seth) Lobato or (Matt) Baca. Or even the young kid, the walk-on (Tim) Tancik. He showed some things in the spring. So I know this — we are going to have a good quarterback. And I know this — we’re going to have a good backup and we’re going to have a good third-team guy. I just don’t know who that guy is going to be just yet. But I know quarterback should not be an issue for us.
THE TRIBUNE — How quickly in camp would you kind of like to get the matter of your starting quarterback resolved?
COLLINS — For us, when we actually start game-planning for Lindenwood two weeks out, you would like to have that guy set in stone. So that is the plan. Does that plan always work out like that? No. But that is the plan for us to have a starter named two weeks before the game and go get it.
THE TRIBUNE — At running back, you were thin in the spring. How good do you feel now about that position and did any guys kind of step up in the spring that you feel may be able to fill that void?
COLLINS — We had some decent spurts here and there during the spring, but that is still one of those positions that is yet to be seen. So we’re going to find out this fall camp, and that is one that may go right down to the wire before we know who is the guy because (John) Burnley did some good things, (David) Deans did some good things and (Anthony) Kereluk was sporadic. And then we have got three or four younger ones coming in. So I am just looking forward to seeing them all compete.
THE TRIBUNE — You lost your whole starting unit at linebacker from last year. At that position, did you see some guys from the spring that could fill that void for you?
COLLINS — Gavin (Miller) did a decent job this spring and Cameron Friend showed some good things this spring, so whether those two guys end up being the starters for us, I don’t know. I know that they did a decent job this spring, but when it comes down and the pressure is on you that you have to compete and keep your job week in and week out, you find out who those guys are and who can handle that kind of pressure. Because as they say, pressure busts pipes and so we will find out with the pressure on.
THE TRIBUNE — As we know, one of your big losses was first-team all-conference receiver Jace Davis to academic ineligibility. How big a loss was that and do you expect that he can get his grades back up and be here next season?
COLLINS — I am hoping he does. But again it is one of those deals where you don’t miss what you have never had, and I haven’t had Jace there. He’s a good kid. He just has to get his priorities together. Would he have helped us? No question. You don’t put up almost 1,000 yards (receiving) and not be able to help a football team. But we have to go on because we are not going to have Jace. So somebody has to step up.
What to watch at UNC’s fall practices
1 — THE COLLINS’ ERA BEGINS IN EARNEST: The hiring of Earnest Collins as the head coach of the Bears has generated a new enthusiasm for the program among fans and alumni. Now it is time to see if he can revitalize a program on the field that has won nine games during the past five seasons.
2 — NAME THAT QUARTERBACK: As usual, all eyes will be on the battle for the starting quarterback position. Senior Dylan Orms appears to be the odds-on favorite. He was the starter last year (2,055 yards, 15 touchdowns, nine interceptions), but Collins has said it will be an open competition. Look for former Eaton High School standout Seth Lobato and junior Matt Baca to push Orms hard for the job.
3 — IF IT QUACKS LIKE A DUCK: Collins is installing a new no-huddle, spread offense similar to the high-powered offense that the University of Oregon runs, helping the Ducks score 47 points per game last season. It should be fun for fans to watch, but the question will be, how long will it take for the Bears offense to learn it and run it efficiently?
4 — THE REPLACEMENTS: One of the strengths of the Bears defense over the last two years has been the linebacking corps. However, UNC graduated its entire starting unit of John Eddy, Matt King and James Schrenk. The good news is that junior Cameron Friend and former Greeley West High School standout Gavin Miller have playing experience and appear ready to help fill the void. The question is, who else may step up and fill the other spot?
5 — STEPPING IT UP: The Bears lost wide receiver Jace Davis for the season because of academic ineligibility. Davis, a first-team all-conference selection will be missed this season, but the Bears need somebody to step up and fill the void. Patrick Walker looks to be the man who could do that after finishing second last season in yards (570) and touchdown receptions (six). However, young receivers like Denzel Hutchings and Chris Morris could also help the Bears overcome the loss of Davis.
FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH IN FALL CAMP
1 — DYLAN ORMS: Orms proved himself to be a reliable quarterback for the Bears last season with his ability to run and throw the football. His football smarts and leadership qualities combined with his ability to make plays with his dual-threat play should make him a good fit for Collins’ new offense.
2 — DAVID DEANS: The Bears have only one running back on the roster who has carried the football in a game for UNC (John Burnley). Deans could be a guy who provides the Bears with a change of pace to the speedy Burnley. At 5-foot-10, 230 pounds, Deans is a physical runner who can pound the rock. Deans also had a strong spring and could beat out Burnley for the starting job.
3 — BRANDON OWENS: Owens, a junior, is the team’s leading tackler among returning players after starting four games last season. A transfer from Colorado State, Owens has the speed and the size (5-foot-10, 175 pounds) to be a top cornerback in the Big Sky Conference. He will also help a young secondary that lost two key starters from last season in cornerback Korey Askew and safety Max Hewitt.
4 — LEE BARBIASZ: Offensive lineman don’t usually draw the interest or awareness of fans, but Barbiasz is hard not to notice. At 6-foot-7, 300 pounds, Barbiasz is a physical specimen who has become an anchor for the Bears at right tackle, with 22 straight starts. An honorable mention All-Big Sky selection last season, Barbiasz could join the elite tackles in the conference this season and anchor one of the best offensive lines the Bears have had since joining the Big Sky.
5 — NICK HERNON: A two-time honorable mention all-conference defensive end, Hernon seems to get better every season. He led the team in tackles for loss (10.5). Although a bit undersized for a defensive end 6-foot-1, 220 pounds, Hernon finds a way to get the job done with his speed and aggressiveness.
A few familiar names to University of Northern Colorado football fans will not be on the Bears squad this season for various reasons. Here is a partial list.
Jace Davis, wide receiver: Academically ineligible for 2011.
Cameron Deen, quarterback: Transferred to Mt. San Antonio College
Josh Morton, running back: Decided to forego football career
Pasi Fahina, defensive tackle: Left school for LDS mission
Source: Matt Schuman
NORTHERN COLORADO FOOTBALL FALL PRACTICE SCHEDULE
Thursday: 3-5 p.m.
Friday 5: 3-5:30 p.m.
Saturday: 3-5:30 p.m.
Aug. 7: 3-5:30 p.m.
Aug. 8: 3-5:30 p.m.
Aug. 9: 9-11 a.m. and 3-5 p.m.
Aug. 10: 3-5:30 p.m.
Aug. 11: 9-11 a.m. and 3-5 p.m.
Aug. 12: 3-5:30 p.m.
Aug. 13: 3-5:30 p.m. (scrimmage at end)
Aug. 15: 9-11 a.m. and 3-5 p.m.
Aug. 16: 3-5:30 p.m.
Aug. 17: 9-11 a.m. and 3-5 p.m.
Aug. 18: 3-5:30 p.m.
Aug. 20: 9-11:30 a.m. (scrimmage at end)
By Matt Schuman, Greeley Tribune