Colorado defensive coordinator Kent Baer, right, watches the Buffs practice on March 14.
Colorado defensive coordinator Kent Baer, right, watches the Buffs practice on March 14. (Cliff Grassmick / Daily Camera)

The Colorado defense took a few small steps forward last fall on the football field when analyzing the season purely from a statistical standpoint compared to 2012.

CU fell short of wholesale improvement across the board and actually took a step back in a few areas such as fewer tackles for loss and sacks. That might be cause for concern for some Buffs fans because the 2012 season is regarded as one of the worst in school history, if not the worst.

But in its first year under coach Mike MacIntyre and defensive coordinator Kent Baer, the CU defense did make a dramatic jump in two areas — forcing turnovers and scoring off those turnovers.

In 2012, the Buffs forced 15 turnovers, only three of which were interceptions. CU went through the final eight games that season without picking off a pass and the Buffs didn't score a defensive touchdown all season.

By comparison, last season the Buffs forced 21 turnovers and scored four defensive touchdowns, two on interceptions and two on fumble returns.

Now in his second spring in Boulder, Baer is raising the bar considerably. He said he wants to eventually get to a point where the Buffs are forcing 40 or more turnovers in a season. Obviously it would be a major accomplishment to get there in 2014. Baer says he hopes the Buffs will at least close the gap.

"I was pleased with our turnovers last year," Baer said. "We were in the 20s. I'd like to get in the 40s. It's something we emphasize every day. We do the turnover circuit every day. We make a big deal about tipped balls. To me, when you get a tipped ball, that's half a turnover as far as we're concerned.

"It's a huge part of emphasis, but that ought to be in just our every DNA."

The Buffs were last (124th) in Division I in scoring defense in 2012 allowing 46 points per game and giving up 50 or more points in a game five times. Last season they improved to 112th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 38.3 points and surrendering 50 or more points three times.

Baer would be the first to say those numbers are still way too high. He has his hands full this spring trying coax much more improvement from a roster of players who, for the most part, at least know the defense and understand the expectations.

"We've got so many things we've got to get better at," Baer said. "We've got to get better at third downs. We've got to get better at red zone. We've got to get better at playing more physical. We've got to get better at competing every snap.

"We're so much further ahead than we were a year ago, but we've got a long way to go. It's glaring with some things."

When the 2014 season kicks off in a little more than five months, CU fans will see fewer unfamiliar faces on the field than they have the past two years when multiple additions to the roster instantly became part of the starting lineup.

But there will still be a handful of new players who are either true freshmen, redshirt freshmen or junior college transfers. At this point, halfway through spring drills, it looks like there are four new players likely to get on the field on defense. Several of them could earn starting jobs.

They are linebacker Deaysean Rippy, defensive end Markeis Reed, defensive lineman Derek McCartney and cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon.

"The good news is the kids understand how fast we practice and what we expect and the amount of reps we get," Baer said. "So it's not like we come out and it's all new to them. Last year it was all new, even through 15 practices, it was pretty new."

Contact BuffZone.com Writer Kyle Ringo at ringok@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/kyleringo.