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2011 Colorado Buffaloes Spring Game: What To Watch For

Jon Embree and the new Colorado coaching staff's first spring practice comes to an end tonight with the 6 p.m. spring game. This spring has seen a lot of change and a lot of positive energy from the players, coaches and fans and one can hope that this will be the foundation for a new era of Colorado Buffaloes football. The practices have not been without drama, with players finally speaking out against Dan Hawkins and with coach Embree planning to make cuts to the roster after tonight's game. 

Even with a large piece of the roster not participating due to injury, tonight's game should be a great look at the new Buffaloes and a sneak peak into what we can see next year. Here are five things to watch for in the spring game.

Who steps up at defensive back?
With cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Jalil Brown headed to the NFL and inconsistent play coupled with injuries at safety, pay attention to who stands out in the defensive backfield. Clearly when you look at the defense, the Buffs have some experience with the front seven but the backfield is still very much unproven. CB Jered Brown, Georgia transfer Markiri Pugh and Deji Olatoye should be in the running for the cornerback spots. At safety, Ray Polk and Anthony Perkins return as well as Parker Orms (still injured), Terrel Smith and Tyler Sandersfield. The Buffs' offense in last Saturday's scrimmage threw all over the Greg Brown led defense, let's see if the cornerbacks fare better this weekend.

Check out the rest and info on a t-shirt giveaway today after the jump...

Who are the intriguing players to watch?

Last Saturday, a few guys really stood out as players who can make a contribution this year. With Jon Embree being a former TE, one has to expect the tight end position to have a big year. The Buffs have some talent at tight end in Ryan Deehan and DeVaughn Thornton. Thornton, who will not play in the spring game after a big collision this week in practice, caught two touchdowns in last year's spring game but didn't make much of an impact in the season. Look for him to be a much needed receiving threat in the middle of the field. In 2010, Colorado barely used the tight end leaving the safeties open to press the line of scrimmage or fly out on coverage against the wideouts. If offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy can get the tight ends involved in the offense, it should open up the running game and the wide receivers on the outside. Thornton and Deehan could be key in that regard. Another player to watch is RB Tony Jones. The redshirt freshman dazzled in last Saturday's scrimmage. Jones' emergence should help ease the load put on Rodney Stewart. Both Jones and Stewart are smaller backs but Jones runs hard with a low pad level. 

On the defensive side of the ball, LB Doug Rippy has been getting tons of praise as a guy who has turned the corner to make an impact. Maybe a coaching change is just what he needed. He has always been a physical specimen but rarely got on the field. This year could be different. Another guy that will catch your attention is S Terrel Smith. As a true freshman, he was forced into action and responded very well. He isn't afraid to make a play or fly in and cause disruption. You will notice #41. The Buffs have many injuries on the defensive side of the ball so keeping the guys playing healthy will be a big priority.

Who will step up with potentially 23 players out of the game due to injury?

The Buffs will be without the services of at least 15 players today, a huge number when you consider Colorado is still awaiting many of the 2011 incoming freshman to join the team. Today is a prime day a big day for the coaching staff just to see how deep Colorado may be at certain positions. The list of players who are out and questionable are below:

PLAYERS LISTED AS OUT: TE Matt Allen, TE Matt Bahr OL Blake Behrens,WR Toney Clemons, DT Curtis Cunningham, OL Ryan Dannewitz, DB Vince Ewing, C Mike Iltis, DL Nick Kasa, TB Brian Lockridge, DB Parker Orms, DB Anthony Perkins, TE DaVaughn Thornton, OL Max Tuioti-Mariner, ILB Derrick Webb

PLAYERS LISTED AS QUESTIONABLE:   DT Nate Bonsu, OL Shawn Daniels, WR Jason Espinoza
DE Josh Hartigan, CB Jonathan Hawkins, OLB Liloa Nobriga, DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe DE Forrest West

Clearly, the defensive line is the hardest hit position due to injuries which should give the offense the advantage.

Who will replace Nate Solder?

The Buffs have an experienced group of offensive linemen returning but they lose a big piece from last season in left tackle Nate Solder. Last Saturday the offensive line dominated a depleted defensive front which is a good sign but losing Solder won't be any easy transition.

How is the energy of the coaching staff?

If you are at the game Saturday, be prepared for some intense coaching. Jon Embree means business and he isn't afraid to tell a player with poor effort to pick it up. Embree served notice to the players that he will be making cuts if they aren't performing on and off the field. He has brought back the feeling that Colorado football isn't just a free ride but a privilege to be a part of and that the right to play football must be earned. I wouldn't expect to see a flawless scrimmage but I expect the Buffs to be much more disciplined from a penalty standpoint, much crisper in and out of the huddle and play with better energy. Those intangibles should be evident Saturday.

Any improvement on special teams?

Penalties and poor special teams play were a serious issue during the last few years of the Dan Hawkins era, enough to impact the results of many games. Can this coaching staff get more out of the same set of players in 2011?

Bob and I will both be at the game tonight and would love to say hello to any of you in attendance. I am bringing the rest (11) of the Ralphie Report t-shirts we have (only large's and medium's) and we will be giving them away to the first people that come and claim them. Keep an eye on our Twitter feed and Facebook page to find out what bar we are camped out at starting around 3:30.