BOULDER - Word of mouth, workout results and a quick glimpse. Until the University of Colorado opens its season Saturday against rival Colorado State, there is little else with which to assess the Buffaloes’ tailback situation. Last year, Colorado relied upon senior Bobby Purify to handle the majority of its rushing duties. The team’s most valuable player, Purify led the Buffaloes in carries (231), yards rushing (1,097) and rushing touchdowns (nine) — and his numbers in each category were larger than those posted by the rest of the team combined. The two tailbacks who are listed at the top of the depth chart this year — sophomores Hugh Charles and Byron Ellis — had 24 and 19 carries, respectively, mostly in mop-up duty, for a total of 161 yards last year. But while that seems to suggest that tailback is a question, Colorado players and coaches don’t appear concerned. They have raved about the work of Charles and Ellis in the offseason and praised their play in fall practice. “The two backs have been extremely impressive to me so far,” coach Gary Barnett said. “I just really like what I see.” And there was that glimpse. It came courtesy of Charles in the Buffaloes’ 33-28 victory against the University of Texas-El Paso in the 2004 Houston Bowl. On the first play of the second quarter, with Colorado down 14-3, Charles energized his team by bolting 37 yards. Three plays later, he plunged into the end zone from a yard out for his first career touch- down. Charles carried the ball seven times for 51 yards in the game, but both marks were career highs, and the experience “tremendously boosted my confidence,” he said. The confidence of coaches, however, was boosted much earlier, thanks to Charles’ play on special teams. “When I saw him making all those plays on the punt team, I knew he was going to be a player,” running backs coach Shawn Simms said. “Because he makes plays. They couldn’t block him. He was tough, getting down there, making tackles. So that was the first clue that he was going to be pretty good.” In the offseason, Charles was the overall strength and conditioning champion of Colorado’s “speed” group, which includes running backs, defensive backs, wide receivers, quarterbacks, kickers and punters. Charles ran a 4.37 second 40-yard dash — the fastest on the team — and was best in the speed group in the power clean (325 pounds), incline press (318 pounds) and pro shuttle run (4.15 seconds). Charles’ top attribute is his breakaway speed, and though he stands 5-foot-8 and 185 pounds, Simms said he had no concerns about Charles’ being an every-down back. Charles doesn’t either. “I’m prepared to carry the load if I have to,” he said. The 6-foot, 200-pound Ellis is more of a “shaker,” according to senior back Lawrence Vickers. While not as flashy as Charles, Ellis has been solid throughout drills. “He does about everything right,” Simms said. “At least when you do the right things, you have a chance to succeed. And that’s the quality Byron has right now.” Ellis, like Charles, also has benefited from having a year of experience in the Buffaloes’ system. “I’ve picked up the concepts a little bit more, understand the offense a little better,” Ellis said. “I’m more prepared to actually play this year, get a little more time.” Charles and Ellis — who are roommates and good friends — will get chances to take over as the featured tailback. But coaches are not opposed to using the pair in tandem or as part of a committee. Should either or both falter, the Buffaloes can turn to Vickers, who Simms described as “an ace in the hole.” Vickers will start at fullback but can play tailback and split out wide — which is why Colorado lists him as a “V-Back,” with “V” standing for “versatile.” “He’s played a lot of football for us, knows what he’s doing, is pretty smart and doesn’t make a lot of mistakes,” Simms said. “You always know you’ve got somebody if things don’t work out.” Mell Holliday seemed to provide the Buffaloes with an intriguing option. An invited walk-on, the 5-8, 205-pound Holliday was so impressive early in camp that he rose to the third tailback spot on the depth chart, and Barnett offered him a scholarship. But Holliday was declared ineligible by the NCAA last week because of a residency rule. Colorado has asked for a waiver, but Barnett said he doesn’t “give that a lot of hope.” Whoever lines up at tailback, he will be helped by an offensive line with three returning starters, a pair of experienced tight ends (seniors Joe Klopfenstein and Quinn Sypniewski) and a solid group of fullbacks. All that was enough to make Barnett claim that his team is “further ahead in our running game than we’ve been for two years,” after last Wednesday’s practice. “It’s good when the head coach thinks that,” Simms said. “We’re not there yet, but we’re doing a lot of good things now early. ... We’ll be getting a good test (Saturday). That’s when you say, ‘OK, now you look good in practice. Now how do you put it together in the game?’” CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0365 or email@example.com
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