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'Depth chart' is wide open at Colorado

While Colorado's pre-spring "depth chart" -- players listed alphabetically in position groups -- isn't terribly informative, it does send a clear message: Nothing will be given; all starting jobs must be earned.

Oh, you have a pretty good idea that guys such as running back Rodney Stewart, offensive guard Ryan Miller, receiver Paul Richardson, defensive end Josh Hartigan and nose tackle Will Pericak -- among others -- are good bets to earn starting jobs.

But new coach Jon Embree is hoping to challenge returning starters and reserves alike with what figures to be a tough, physical spring that might weed out a few pretenders, starting Friday and running through the spring game on April 9.

And, really, considering that no first- or second-team All-Big 12 player is back, it's not like anyone should feel comfortable as the Buffaloes prepare for Pac-12 play.

What did Embree see when he watched the Buffaloes on film? Well, consider this rather stark pre-spring quote from the Boulder Daily Camera.

"What shows up to me on tape was we didn`t play hard," Embree said. "That`s really what showed up on tape. We let the scoreboard affect how we played way too much. Instead of focusing on the next play. You can`t look at the scoreboard. Your job is to beat the guy across from you that play no matter what happened good or bad before it."

Is there anything worse a football player can do than not play hard? The answer is no.

Some guys won't be able to play hard due to injury. Here's the list Embree provided reporters, per the Denver Post: offensive linemen Blake Behrens (shoulder), Mike Iltis (knee) and Maxwell Tuioti-Mariner (knee); defensive back Anthony Perkins (knee); fullback-tight end Matt Bahr (shoulder); and defensive end Chidera Uzo-Diribe (toe). Tailback Brian Lockridge (ankle) and DB Parker Orms (knee) will be limited. Iltis started at center and Bahr was the No. 1 utility back in 2010.

It doesn't appear that spring will be much about X's and O's. Scheme can wait. Embree wants to figure out who can play.

Here are some thoughts before things get started.

Quarterback: Tyler Hansen, who is coming back from a ruptured spleen that ended his 2010 season, is the front-runner because he's got experience and has been productive at times. His competition, JC transfer Brent Burnette and redshirt freshman Nick Hirschman, have no experience.

Running back: The big question is what's the pecking order behind Stewart, who rushed for 1,318 yards in 2010. At 5-foot-6, 175 pounds, it probably wouldn't be good for Stewart to get 25 carries per game over a 12-game season. A power-back complement would be a good thing. One possibility, redshirt freshman Trea' Jones, quit the team.

Receiver/tight end: The Buffaloes are in pretty good shape here, with four of their top-five receivers back. UCLA fans might remember Paul Richardson. As a true freshman, he caught 34 passes and was second on the team with six TD receptions (both numbers would have led UCLA). Tight end Ryan Deehan earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors after catching 25 passes, and there are some young guys who bring athleticism to the position.

Offensive line: Tackle Nate Solder is gone but four starters are back from a group that was fairly mediocre in 2010. The Buffaloes gave up 21 sacks, which would have ranked fourth in the Pac-10, and rushed for 137 yards per game, which would have ranked eighth. The 3.65 yards per carry is pretty uninspiring.

Defensive line: The Buffaloes will be using a base 4-3 after using a 3-3-5 in 2010, so there's a need to add bodies up front. Eight of nine players listed on the final depth chart are back, including Pericak, who earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors, and Hartigan, who led the defense with seven sacks.

Linebacker: Leading tackler Michael Sipili is gone as is B.J. Beatty, but Liloa Nobriga's work filling in for middle linebacker Jon Major, whose season ended after seven games with a knee injury, boosts experience at the position. The spring "depth chart" lists only eight lienbackers.

Defensive back: This will be an area of hot competition, though injuries -- Perkins, Orms -- will be an issue this spring just like they were in 2010. Two cornerbacks spots are open due to the graduation of standouts Jimmy Smith and Jalil Brown, and the play at safety wasn't exactly stout last fall. You'd expect new coordinator and secondary coach Greg Brown -- formerly of Arizona -- to do some mixing and matching this spring.