Grading film is one thing. Coaching players live on the field, making quick evaluations and corrections with clear communication is an entirely different story, and it`s one that begins for the new Colorado football coaching staff today with the kickoff of spring ball.

Coach Jon Embree vowed to make it "hard to be a part of this program" when he was hired in December.

He has been true to his word through the winter months and the strength and conditioning program, as well as handling disciplinary issues that cross his desk.

It has been a no-nonsense approach toward every aspect of the program that one player described this week as "a lot more professional.

University of Colorado football coaching staff Darian Hagan, left, Brian Cabral, Bill McCartney, Jon Embree, and Eric Bieniemy chant the CU fight song at
University of Colorado football coaching staff Darian Hagan, left, Brian Cabral, Bill McCartney, Jon Embree, and Eric Bieniemy chant the CU fight song at the end of the University of Colorado Football Preview Luncheon on Thursday, Feb. 3, at the Hyatt Regency Denver Convention Center in Denver. Photo by Jeremy Papasso ( Jeremy Papasso )
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It will be more difficult from here as Embree and his staff seek to instill a toughness and resiliency that clearly has been lacking within the program in recent years.

Embree said players have responded well to changes he has made to this point and there is a different energy around the program.

He said it was most evident earlier this week when the offensive and defensive lines squared off with weightliftingcompetitions in the Dal Ward Center.

"It was good to see the team coming together, guys pulling for each other," Embree said. "That was one of the most disappointing things; I didn`t feel like they were a team.


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When I went in the locker room when I first got here, it was like a ghost town and now you go in there, guys are in there laughing, having fun, watching TV, talking, communicating, just spending time together; learning about each other."

Embree and his offensive assistants will install the basics of a West Coast system this spring trying not to cloud players` minds with too much information in order to find out who has the physical skill and the heart to help lead the team to wins next fall.

Over the summer and in fall camp, coaches will determine how to put those players in the best position to succeed.

"It`s going to be tough. It`s going to be intense. It`s going to be hard work, a lot different than it was," quarterback Tyler Hansen said.

Hansen is coming back from a ruptured spleen that ended his 2010 season prematurely in the seventh game. He is fully healthy and brings the most experience into a battle for the starting job with junior Brent Burnette, a mid-year transfer, and redshirt freshmen Nick Hirschman and walk-on Justin Gorman.

This off-season has been different for players because they haven`t had a playbook for most of the winter. They only just started familiarizing themselves with the new offense and defense they will begin to learn today. But the challenge has them excited.

"I like it a lot," Hansen said of the offense. "I don`t have to run the ball as much, take as many hits and we`re getting the ball off on time. Stuff like that. It`s good stuff."

Embree has made it clear no one will be rewarded with a starting job based on their experience alone. Each player must prove themselves to coaches.

There are some areas where there isn`t much experience returning anyway. One of those spots is at cornerback where two seniors from last season are headed to the NFL. Another is center, where last season`s starter, Mike Iltis, is sidelined with a knee injury until fall camp.

"The big issue is we`re going to have to replace two proven playmakers in Jimmy Smith and Jalil Brown," defensive coordinator Greg Brown said. "Behind that, there weren`t a lot of guys who stepped in at that corner spot for the last two or three years because of the play of those two guys. So corner is a large unknown right now and it probably will still be an unknown going all the way into the fall."

Brown also plans not to overload his defenders with too much information this spring and let them play and compete. He said he will design the defense around his players` capabilities once he knows what he has.

"We`re evolving right now," Brown said. "There is no way of knowing where the thing is going to end up. Our focus right now is on spring ball and just trying to line up and play it straight and see if we can win some one-on-one battles let alone trying to out-scheme somebody."

The last time Embree was on the football field coaching players was Dec. 5 in East Rutherford, N.J., when the Washington Redskins lost 31-7 to the New York Giants.

Embree was the tight ends coach in Washington last season, but he left the stadium that day with CU athletic director Mike Bohn headed for his future leading the Buffs.

Today he returns to the field.

It`s the next step in his plan for bringing his alma mater back to respectability.

When he stepped off a small plane in Broomfield late that night back in December, one of his first comments was how he couldn`t wait to get back on the football field and how far away spring football seemed at the time.

"I am more excited for the players because they have really gone above and beyond this past off-season as far as what they have been asked to do and what they have done," Embree said.