Through the first two weeks of implementing new offensive and defensive schemes during fall training camp, the CSU football team and new coach Jim McElwain have embraced a somewhat simpler approach to finding success on the football field in preparation for their Sept.1 season opener against CU-Boulder.
“This has been a camp on these guys that they’ve never gone through, from all the things we’re asking them to do throughout everything,” McElwain said after the second scrimmage of the fall on Saturday. “I think what they’re starting to understand is if they take care of those type of things, the game really is easy, so I think they’re starting to get it.”
A key to the success of the Rams and McElwain’s new offense this season will be quarterback Garrett Grayson, who has been working on mastering the system since the beginning of spring practices in March.
“I feel as comfortable as I can,” Grayson said. “But I still feel like I can make reads quicker, stuff like times when I’m holding the ball too long and I’m still not hitting guys like I would want to be. But I feel like knowing the plays and knowing where people are going to be, I feel like I’m good to go.”
Defensively, the Rams feel confident in their ability to make big plays despite losing defensive starters Mike Orakpo, Nordly Capi and C.J. James during the off-season.
During Saturday’s scrimmage, without the help of injured defensive backs Momo Thomas (hand) and DeAndre Elliott (ankle), the defense recorded 8 sacks and 5 interceptions as a unit.
“One of the things that Coach (McElwain) preached about was family,” defensive back Bernard Blake said. “And our leaders and our starters, they have done a tremendous job in helping getting the young guys ready, so now that those guys went down, there are opportunities for other guys to step up.”
In addition to Thomas and Elliott, running back Chris Nwoke (ankle) and tight ends Blake Jones (knee) and Jake Levin (concussion) were held out of Saturday’s scrimmage, while wide receiver Charles Lovett left the scrimmage early after sustaining a rib injury.
McElwain stressed after the scrimmage that most of the injuries were not serious and if this were a game this week, only Levin would be held out.
The Rams that do take the field against CU-Boulder will need to work on minimizing penalties and turnovers, two areas that McElwain has focused on during the off-season.
CSU struggled with what McElwain called “unforced errors” Saturday, turning the ball over five times and committing various pre-snap penalties throughout the day.
However, CSU still showed improvement from being one of the most-penalized teams in Division-I football last year.
“Let’s put it this way, we wouldn’t have been the 98th-most penalized team in the country based on how we played (Saturday),” McElwain said. “We did have two offsides, actually two on the offense and two on the defense in some hard-snap situations, which is just a lack of focus. I mean those are unforced errors that good football teams don’t make.”
It’s the smaller details that the Rams have been focusing on in fall camp, leading the team to focus more on what they can do correctly than what mistakes their opponents will make.
“We shouldn’t concern ourselves with whoever we’re playing,” McElwain said. “We should concern ourselves with taking care of the things that we control and that’s how we play, how we communicate, how we pay attention to detail and how we execute.”
Football Beat Reporter Andrew Schaller can be reached at email@example.com.