Jon Embree’s Buffs have a lot of holes to fill

Colorado’s first season in the Pac-12 wasn’t a memorable one – at least not from a sense of wanting to remember it.

The Buffs lost 10 games for just the fourth time in their history and suffered through a seven-game midseason losing streak that saw them surrender at least 31 points in all seven games and at least 42 in five of them. It was Colorado’s sixth consecutive losing season, the longest such stretch since 1979-84 under Chuck Fairbanks and Bill McCartney.

The poor season came with a senior-dominated lineup in Jon Embree’s first season as coach, so what’s next for the rebuilding Buffs?

Jon Embree has to replace a load of starters.
(US Presswire)
Colorado at-a-glance
Coach: Jon Embree (2nd season)
Last season: 3-10 overall, 2-7 in Pac-12
Spring practice dates: March 10-April 14
Returning starters (minimum 7 starts last season):
Offense (4): T David Bakhtiari, T Ryan Dannewitz, C Gus Handler, WR Paul Richardson
Defense (6): CB Greg Henderson, LB Jon Major, E Will Pericak (moving to T), FS Ray Polk, LB Douglas Rippy, LB Derrick Webb
Special teams (2): P Will Oliver, P Darragh O’Neill

The offense could be shaky. The Buffs do return three starting linemen, but not much else. They need a new quarterback, a new tailback, a new go-to receiver and a new starting tight end. In addition, while three linemen return, the best (G Ryan Miller) is gone. The return of T Jack Harris, who missed most of last season with a foot injury, is a positive, as is the versatility of David Bakhtiari, who started at left tackle last season but could move inside to guard this spring.

The quarterback battle should get a lot of attention. The main participants will be sophomores Nick Hirschman, who started one game last season for an injured Tyler Hansen, and Connor Wood, who transferred from Texas; Wood is a good athlete whose inconsistent arm cost him with the Longhorns.

There are six starters back on defense, but given the way these guys played last season, that is a mixed blessing. A lot of work needs to be done on the secondary, which was torched on an almost weekly basis. The line also must be rebuilt, though there is some potential at linebacker.

Adam Munsterteiger of Buffstampede.com – a Rivals.com website that covers Colorado – provides a more in-depth look at spring practice.

The biggest problem: Lack of experience. After graduating 28 seniors, the Buffaloes will be young at a number of spots in 2012. Only four starters return on offense, three of whom are linemen. Defensively, Colorado will begin spring ball with just five healthy scholarship linemen. Embree knows he will have to limit the number of live reps during spring practices because of the Buffs’ lack of down linemen. Help will arrive this summer, as Colorado signed four ends and four tackles.

On the spot: TE Nick Kasa. Kasa, a former five-star prospect, played sparingly in 26 games as a defensive end before moving to tight end midway through last season. Kasa worked his way into the mix and caught his first pass in the Buffs’ season finale against Utah. Given Colorado’s lack of depth and experience at tight end, Kasa has a great opportunity to put himself in position to earn the starting job this spring.

On the verge: QB Connor Wood. Although this is his first spring at Colorado, Wood has created sky-high expectation. He turned heads on the scout team last fall after transferring from Texas. He has drawn praise from the Buffaloes’ staff for his excellent work ethic and leadership skills. Wood will battle sophomore Nick Hirschman, who saw action in five games last season, for the starting job.

[New coaches, wild offenses in spotlight as Pac-12 spring football begins]

General overview: The Buffaloes fielded an experienced team in 2011, yet still finished last in the Pac-12. This spring is a changing of the guard and a fresh start at a number of positions, including quarterback and tailback. There is an opportunity for new playmakers to emerge. But expectations will be tempered as Embree continues a difficult rebuilding job.

For in-depth coverage of Colorado athletics, go to Buffstampede.com

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