2006 Spring Football Preview
March 24, 2006
Northern Colorado football will look for bigger skies in the 2006 football season, as the Bears join the I-AA powerhouse Big Sky Conference. New head coach Scott Downing will lead the Bears as they begin their new journey.
The Bears will return 13 starters from a team that went 4-7 and 0-5 in the Great West Conference last season. Key losses include All-American safety and NFL prospect Reed Doughty, quarterback Nick Hager, offensive linemen Shaun Farner and Bradley Forbush and cornerback Greg Gebhardt. But the Bears will have 17 seniors on the roster to fill the voids. There are also 17 redshirt freshmen that could compete for playing time.
Northern Colorado will have a new look on offense, as not only will there be a new starting quarterback, but there will also be a different scheme. The Bears will plan on using a multiple-pro scheme, which could give returning running back Andre Wilson (1,034 yards, 7 TD in nine games in 2005) a chance to catch more balls out of the backfield. With the mismatches the offense creates, returning wide receiver Andy Birkel (50 catches, 950 yards, 10 TD in 2005) will have a chance to break a game wide open.
The spring is a time to evaluate new players and become familiar with the roster, which is even more important with a new coaching staff.
"We have to find out what they can do," Downing said. "We need to evaluate everybody for the scheme we are implementing."
Downing said the spring will be a time where the coaching staff can see if they are on the same page with the players. He said the coaching staff will see where the players are as a team with awareness and overall knowledge of football. Downing said it is also important to keep the pressure on people.
One of the most important aspects of football is the off-season and getting stronger for the next season. Downing said he has been impressed with several players in winter conditioning:
In no particular order
Shawn Sopoaga (battled with injury in 2005)
Jacob Carlson (30 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss in 2005)
Trenton Dietz (nine tackles, 2.0 sacks in 2005)
Matt West (34 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks in 2005)
Vinny Pallone (30 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss in 2005)
Martin Awachie (redshirted in 2005)
Mike Deavoues (newcomer)
Mark Unrein (18 tackles, 1.5 sacks in 2005)
"How much pressure our defensive line can get on their quarterback will be important for our defense to be successful," Downing said. "Vinnie Pallone is one of the leaders of this group and he shows up to work. I am pleased with the hard work of these guys in winter conditioning."
Jake Duren (103 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss in 2005)*
Joe Kenney (69 tackles, three interceptions in 2005)
Sam Lewis (39 tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss in 2005)
Christian Sarmento (18 tackles, 3.0 sacks in 2005)
* - Coming off shoulder surgery, most likely out for spring
"Our linebackers need to make plays for us," Downing said. "This group still has a lot to prove."
Matt Thomas (63 tackles, three pass breakups in 2005)
Sirwestly Williams (37 tackles in 2005)
Jason Hildenbrand (27 tackles in six games in 2005)
Aaron Henderson (16 tackles, two interceptions in 2005)
Eric Carlson (redshirted in 2005)
"I am impressed with how the seniors in the secondary have been leaders," Downing said. "All of the guys in this group have consistently been hard workers in off season conditioning."
"Our offense will only be as good as our offensive line," Downing said. "I have not been around an offensive line where all of them are guys who will give you everything they have. It will be interesting to see what this group does and who will be in the top five in the end."
"I am interested to see what these guys can do," Downing said. "They can provide the offense with a great deal of flexibility. They are a young crew, but all of them bring something to the table."
"These guys work as hard as any running backs I've ever seen," Downing said. "They will be a great asset to our offense."
"We are going to challenge the wide receivers," Downing said. "They're going to need to step up to the plate and produce. They are young, but we need to find gamebreakers. We also need to develop depth at this position."
"I like what I have seen out of this group as a whole," Downing said. "It will be interesting to see who will step up."
"This group will be competitive and has a good attitude," Downing said.
With much of their offense returning and a lot of experience returning on defense, the Bears are stacked to be competitive. The spring will help the coaching staff to see where all the puzzle pieces fit in the big picture. With the 2006 season less than six months away, the mission starts now.