BOULDER — Searching for ways to improve his game last offseason, Joel Klatt decided to think outside the pocket.
During his first two seasons as the starting Colorado Buffaloes quarterback, Klatt wasn’t known for his athleticism. He made his way with his arm, with poise and with an understanding of the offense.
This summer, however, Klatt focused on developing his scrambling ability. Although his ground game won’t earn a second glance in a conference that fields quarterbacks such as Vince Young, Brad Smith and Reggie McNeal, it has developed into significant weapon in the CU offense.
Through two games, not including sacks, Klatt has gained 48 yards — putting him on pace to crush his per-season average of 92.5. In the opener against CSU, he recorded a career-long 14-yard run. Last weekend vs. NMSU, he converted two third-down plays with his legs.
“It helps give us another dimension. It means other teams have to play the quarterback,” CU head coach Gary Barnett said. “We’re not going to be an option team, but he’s got good mobility and he’s fast enough to be a threat.”
Klatt, who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.72 seconds, said he put special emphasis on improving his speed and explosiveness during offseason workouts. The biggest difference, however, has been his experience recognizing when the defense has taken away his other options.
In years past, he would either throw the ball away or get sacked before he looked to run. This season, he has another option.
“The few plays I’ve found room to run, I would have probably burned in the past,” Klatt said. “This year, I’m looking for that other opportunity when everything else breaks down.
“And I learned from last year that I had to get faster and quicker with my feet so I could make those plays.”
Klatt’s legs are more than a last resort, however. Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson is confident enough in Klatt’s running ability to employ a limited option attack in the CU offense, which he introduced last year against Nebraska and has displayed a handful of times already this season.
Although it won’t become a major part of the offense anytime soon, it’s enough to keep the defense honest.
“We’ll use it if they give it to us. We’re not afraid of it,” Watson said. “It helps that Joel has become more explosive as a runner, and I think that’s something he needed to do.”
Although additional mobility can increase the risk for injury, the Buffs are not concerned. If anything, increased mobility may help keep Klatt healthy, considering most of his ailments, such as the shoulder injury that caused him to miss two starts in 2003, occurred inside the pocket.
“It gives him a chance to avoid the big hits,” Watson said.
If nothing else, this year’s Klatt is more versatile. And even though nobody is mistaking him for Michael Vick, his newfound awareness should give the CU offense more of a chance to work.
“It’s just a matter of taking what the defense gives you and trying to gain as many yards as you can when you do it,” he said.
Lighter sentence: Barnett, who has been tight-lipped about the status of suspended safety Dominique Brooks, hinted the junior’s status with the team is improving.
“He’s out of suspension and into limbo,” Barnett said. “Limbo is as long as I want it to be.”
Barnett suspended Brooks, who would have missed the first two games regardless due to a high-ankle sprain, last week, citing “conduct unbecoming a CU football player.”
Training room: Defensive lineman John Guydon (knee), center Bryce MacMartin (back), tackle Tyler Polumbus (ankle), tailback Hugh Charles (concussion), linebacker Brian Iwuh (knee) and guard Brian Daniels (ribs) didn’t participate in practice Tuesday, but Barnett expects all to be ready to play against Miami on Sept. 24.