Embree giving Buffaloes a gut check

BOULDER, Colo. -- If some Colorado players are struggling with new coach Jon Embree's long, taxing and physical spring practices, that's by design. Embree is a no-nonsense guy who wants to send a fairly straight-forward message.

Get good or get gone.

"What it's done is it has separated some guys from the standpoint of we now know who really does love football," Embree said Wednesday, eight practices into his return to Boulder. "For some guys, they don't want nothing to do with it. Some guys you thought you'd be able to count on, you find out that it's not in their heart. They are not tough enough. It's good to find that out now because we'll make adjustments accordingly."

For Embree, he's got some guys and some GUYS. He prefers the latter.

The Buffaloes are adopting a pro-style offense after running the spread under Dan Hawkins. They will go with a 4-3 base on defense after using a 3-3-5 -- base nickel -- last year.

Embree is honest: There are some talent voids that the coaches will try to cover up with scheme.

"We've got to attack," he said. "We can't just sit back. I'm an honest person. We are not good enough to just line up and say we're going to beat you. From a talent standpoint, we're not at that elite level yet."

Some notes on hot spots.

Quarterback: While most signs point to Tyler Hansen remaining the starter, Embree clearly doesn't want Hansen to feel too comfortable. Also, redshirt freshman Nick Hirschman has been playing better.

"Nick Hirschman is starting to figure some things out," Embree said. "The light is starting to go on. He still needs to be a little more decisive. I'd say the edge with Hansen right now is that Tyler just is a little more decisive with what to do and just the command in the huddle."

Skill guys: Embree likes running back Rodney Stewart, though he needs to improve in the passing game, and receivers Paul Richardson and Toney Clemons. But he's not thrilled with the depth. He named redshirt freshman Tony Jones when asked about Stewart's backup, but then he noted, "These freshmen coming in are going to have a great chance," he said. "If you are a high school skill guy, at running back and receiver, you will have a great opportunity to play here early."

A recruiting pitch? Absolutely. It's clear the Buffaloes need to upgrade their speed all over the field.

Tight ends and fullbacks: Embree feels pretty good about Ryan Deehan and DaVaughn Thornton at tight end, and he wishes Matt Bahr (shoulder) was able to practice. But, again, tight end is a recruiting priority (Embree, by the way, is a former starting TE for the Buffaloes, so he knows the position).

As for fullback, a position that Colorado didn't use under former Hawkins, converted linebackers Evan Harrington and Tyler Ahles are leading the way. But neither has been consistent.

Defensive line: The big story early was senior defensive tackle Conrad Obi not only asserting himself after a mediocre career but also displacing standout Will Pericak with the No. 1 defense. Embree noted that got Pericak's attention.

"Now he's starting to compete," he said. "He needed a fire lit under him."

Embree also made note of Curtis Cunningham, Kirk Poston and Josh Hartigan as impressing him. Defensive end Chidera Uzo-Diribe returned to action this week after missing early practices with a toe injury and impressed Embree: "I think he's going to be a really good player. Good power. Great first step. Explosive."

Further, Embree praised senior Tony Poremba and walk-on David Goldberg for making plays.

Linebacker: Embree is pleased with inside linebackers Jon Major and Douglas Rippy, and added that Derrick Webb was playing well before he got hurt (hip). On the outside, he's not as happy. Liloa Nobriga? "He's had a hamstring. He can't stay healthy," Embree said. Patrick Mahnke? "He's flashed a little bit," he said.

Secondary: Safety Anthony Perkins is out with a knee injury, but Embree called him "the leader" of the secondary. Ray Polk, who struggled at times last year, has made an impression. Embree also made note of Travis Sandersfeld and said Terrel Smith "has finally showed up."

Cornerback? The list is short. Embree only named Jered Bell as being consistent.