As the opening kickoff against the University of Colorado looms closer, the Colorado State football team’s fall camp continues to intensify.Head Coach Jim McElwain has said preparation for the Buffaloes has yet to begin, but Monday marked the team’s first game-time simulation. The day began with a morning walk-through; a routine that takes place the day before a game.
“In our case it’s not really a walk-through, the guys get after it pretty good,” McElwain said. “It’s really just an introduction to the mental work that we need to do.”
At this point, McElwain and his staff will use such days to determine who will start and who will sit when the Rams open their season Aug. 29 against the rival Buffaloes. However, right now their jobs are cheerfully difficult. Instead of making a easy choice from mediocre options as in years past, this team is loaded with with talent at almost every position.
“We want the young guys – who there’s going to be a lot playing – to understand the sense of urgency when we get to a Friday walk-through,” McElwain said. “We will see today in the scrimmage, an opportunity to see which ones are ready for primetime.”
And despite having a rough roster of starters, McElwain says every eligible player on the team will have seen the field in Monday’s scrimmage.
Here are some of the most noteworthy position battles so far this preseason:
Four of last year’s five starters are no longer with the team, leaving many to doubt this whether the Rams can maintain the high-octane offense they boasted last year. However, despite their inexperience, McElwain believes this is one of the most athletic lines in the conference.
“I don’t know if they’re making the right call all the time,” McElwain laughs. “But at least they are all on the same page. This offensive line, they’re going to make some mistakes obviously – it’s a new game – but that’s something you work through.”
The loss of projected starting tackle Mason Hathaway to a likely season-ending knee injury opens up a spot on an otherwise firm starting front five. Redshirt junior Sam Carlson is expected to fill in early in the year but Trae Moxley and Jordan Finley will continue to push him for that spot all season.
Running back: The loss of star sophomore Kapri Bibbs and senior Donnell Alexander was a huge blow for the Rams this spring. But while Bibbs tries his hand in the NFL and Alexander attempts to turn his career around at Akron, Colorado State has a full-on battle for the No. 1 running back spot this fall. Converted defensive back Jasen Oden was the team’s starter during spring practice and filled in admirably. But with the addition of Alabama transfer Dee Hart and junior college standout Treyous Jarrells, CSU’s backfield has gotten a little crowded. Surely all three will see action this season, but it will be a daily battle to see who carries the majority of the load for Jim McElwain’s offense this year.
Garrett Grayson is the obvious starter. The senior broke school records last year, was added to four prestigious award watch-lists this summer and attended the Manning Passing Academy.
His job is secure, but the Rams are very inexperienced behind their third-year starter. Most project sophomore Nick Stevens to be Grayson’s backup, but his performance in the through the end of the preseason will be telling of the work still ahead of him. True freshman Coleman Key has been impressive through the first half of camp and will continue to challenge Stevens for the backup role throughout the year.
Perhaps the strongest unit on the entire team, the linebackers bid farewell to Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year, Shaq Barrett last year, yet may be even better than last season.
With veterans Aaron Davis and Max Morgan returning for their fourth season together, as well as pass-rushers Cory James and SteveO Michel and a host of other talent filling in the cracks, Colorado State may have the best linebacking core in the entire Mountain West this year. However, with reserves Kevin Davis, Kiel Robinson, and Deonte Clyburn continuing to improve, there figures to be a fierce battle through the end of fall camp in the middle of the Rams’ defense.Football Beat Reporter Cali Rastrelli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @c_rasta5.