Christian Powell runs the ball during the Buffs’ scrimmage on March 15, 2013.
Christian Powell runs the ball during the Buffs' scrimmage on March 15, 2013. ( CLIFF GRASSMICK )

It stands to reason the Colorado offense will improve next season in the passing game with more weapons at wide receiver and a more creative scheme.

But what about the running game?

It's the area with the most question marks under new coach Mike MacIntyre mostly because CU is expected to feature the same running backs running behind many of the same offensive linemen as a year ago when CU mostly struggled to run with any consistency or effectiveness.

There are some changes in scheme that will obviously play a part, such as using the Pistol formation at times, but MacIntyre's offense at San Jose State didn't exactly thrive running the football. The Spartans passed for more than 4,300 yards in the 2012 season but ran for just 113 yards a game. They ranked 106th in the nation in rushing, just three spots ahead of where the Buffs finished.

San Jose State averaged 3.3 yards per carry and scored 17 rushing touchdowns last fall. Running back De'Leon Eskridge did the vast majority of the damage, accounting for 1,025 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns.

Those totals have the attention of CU running backs who are getting their feet wet in the new scheme this spring.

Christian Powell, a high school fullback, became the Buffs' starting tailback early in the 2012 season and was the most consistent rusher throughout the season. He had a chance to become the best freshman rusher in school history but missed the final game of the season with a concussion.

Powell ran for 691 yards and seven touchdowns and is hoping to improve on those totals as a sophomore. He is trying to drop weight and play at 230-235 pounds next fall. He said he is still practicing as both a fullback and tailback under the new coaching staff.

"I'm just trying to top that," Powell said of his goals this year. "Last season I saw places where I could improve a lot. So I'm trying to improve all those aspects from last season and build on it and be even better."

Josh Ford hopes to eat into some of Powell's carries this fall if not steal the starting job straight away. Ford will be a fourth-year junior and earned a scholarship last season after spending two years as a walk-on.

Ford has consistently impressed fans and media members in spring drills every year he has been in the program, but that only began to translate to actual playing time on game days in 2012. He finished as the Buffs' fourth leading rusher behind Powell, Tony Jones and Donta Abron and each of those teammates is back to compete with him again this year. Ford played in eight games last season, but only carried the ball 27 times.

"The team calls me Beastmode and that's what I try to come out and do," Ford said. "Continue to beast on the field. Go get the dirty yards, be a leader. They're looking for that leadership. So be a leader and just staying consistent at knowing what I'm doing because knowledge equals playing time."

Ford said picking up the new offensive system hasn't been that difficult to this point. However, coaches have said they have purposely refrained from installing much of the offense in order to allow players to play fast without getting bogged down in the mental details.

It will certainly become more cumbersome as spring continues and when practices resume in August.

"My goal this spring is just to learn this new system, compete, get better and hopefully be that guy to lead my team," Ford said. "But really working and competing, that's what it is right now. I'm not worried about anything else. I know what I can do. I think these coaches know what I can do. I'm just ready to ball."

Jones began last season as the starter before he was replaced by Powell. He finished as the team's second leading rusher and third leading receiver, accumulating nearly 500 yards of total offense and scoring three times.

Abron began to come on at the end of the season. He played special teams in every game as a freshman but began to see more and more playing time on offense as the season wore on.

Two other running backs on the roster, Davien Payne and Terrence Crowder aren't involved in the competition this spring. Payne is suspended for violations of team rules and Crowder is trying to overcome a torn knee ligament for the second time in the past two years.

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