Jon Embree chuckles as he answers the question he's been asked numerous times over the past month.

Why is he taking so many defensive linemen in the 2012 recruiting class?

"Because we only have like three coming back," he says matter of factly with a smile.

Colorado's second-year head coach is exaggerating but only a little bit.

The truth is the Buffs will be hardpressed this spring to have the kind of physical practices they did last spring because the program has only six scholarship defensive linemen on the roster and nine total, assuming the three underclassmen walk-ons on the defensive line from last fall remain with the team.

Embree, who spent four years coaching the defensive line in Boulder during the Rick Neuheisel era, has nine defensive linemen committed in the 2012 recruiting cycle with signing day just eight days away. Embree said he could still accept commitments from one or two more as long as they are right for the program.

One of those nine committed defensive linemen is Derek McCartney, the grandson of former CU coach Bill McCartney. He plans to delay his enrollment to January 2013 so the program really has only eight commitments on the defensive line who could be on the roster next season unless something changes with McCartney.

That leads to another reason for signing so many. There is always the chance that one or two could fail to qualify academically, either at the NCAA level or at CU, where the requirements are more demanding.

But there is more to this numbers game than simply trying to sufficiently re-stock the depth chart. Embree said CU coaches learned a lot from their first year in the Pac-12 about the kind of players and depth they're going to need to be able to consistently stop the wide variety of offenses they will see in the conference.

In this league, they can't have too much speed and athleticism on defense.

"As we continue to build this with the things we want to do on that side of the ball, we have to have guys up front," Embree said. "Last year was a good example. When you have problems on the back end, if you can't get pressure with four and then you start bringing more, you make your problems worse on the back end because now you're playing man."

"You need to be able to get pressure with four or five guys and a lot of that is just winning one-on-one matchups. I think our athleticism that we have recruited out of this d-line class and temperament is going to help us in the long run."

The star of the class on the defensive line is likely to be Kisima Jagne, an athletic 6-foot-5, 230-pound defensive end from Chandler, Ariz. Jagne committed to Embree in early December and is a safe bet when looking for members of the 2012 class who could make an immediate impact.

Embree has recruited a pair of 300-pounders for the middle of his defensive line in Josh Tupou, from Buena Park, Calif., and Justin Solis from Westlake Village, Calif. But while those two already look the part, they may need time to add strength and get into shape to play fast for extended periods of time on Saturdays.

Defensive tackle Tyler Henington, from Mullen High School, could make a surprise impact in the middle of the line if he can add some weight between now and September. Henington can be described as a bigger version of former CU defensive tackle Curtis Cunningham. He plays with a lot of energy and heart.

Three-star prospects De'Jon Wilson (Washington D.C.), John Stuart (Westlake Village, Calif.), Kory Rasmussen (Honolulu) and Samson Kafovalu (Riverside, Calif.) also could earn playing time.

Embree is a proponent of recruiting a lot of defensive linemen because he believes that the cream will rise to the top and those who don't excel on that side of the ball sometimes can be converted to the offensive line.

Defensive linemen generally already possess the speed and athletic ability to compete on the offensive side when they are moved. They simply need to add weight and learn techniques.

"Every year I'm going to try to bring in a decent amount -- depending on our scholarship numbers -- of defensive or o-linemen," Embree said.