No one could sum up what it's like to play defense in major college football in 2012 better than Colorado linebacker Jon Major did after Wednesday's practice.

"It sucks to be a defender. That's the truth," Major said.

Major's candid admission came with a smile on his face near the end of a conversation about what it's like for defenders in the Pac-12 Conference and around the nation to face offenses week in and week out that spread defenses out and attack them with an ever-evolving bag of tricks and new wrinkles often in no-huddle, hurry-up fashion.

While the NFL has taken a few steps in recent years toward being more wide open, much of what those pro defenses see from week to week is the same or similar. Every now and then a team has to worry about a running quarterback like Michael Vick or Robert Griffin III, but it's nowhere near as diverse and creative as what Major and his teammates have to prepare for each week, while also taking college courses at a school without any physical education or general studies degrees.

"I'm sure every defensive player hates it cause it's so difficult and it's smart," Major said of the approach offenses take. "It's one-on-ones in 10 yards of space and if you can't have that technique and fundamentals to fall back on... Pretty much in the open field now you have to break down and just hold on and wait for everyone else to come, and that's hard for some guys cause their whole life they haven't played teams like that and they haven't played athletes that are here now."


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It might be charitable to say the Buffs are struggling defensively.

CU is last in the Pac-12 and 111th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 39.4 points per game. CU is last in the conference in total defense and 10th in both rushing and passing defense.

In the first 18 games under coach Jon Embree and defensive coordinator Greg Brown, CU has allowed opponents to score at least 30 points 14 times, including their most recent outing last week at home against UCLA.

Embree is quick to point out the defense can't be held completely responsible for those results because the offense has put the defense in difficult positions with turnovers, three-and-outs and inconsistency in moving the ball.

It doesn't get easier any time soon. The Buffs will face four of the six highest scoring teams in the conference over the next four games, beginning a week from today when Arizona State comes to town for what could be another nationally televised embarrassment for black and gold.

Embree and his coaches went back to basics in practices this week focusing on tackling, running to the ball and trying to force turnovers. CU is also last in the conference in that category with a minus-4 turnover ratio.

"The unique thing about football is sometimes you can't practice the things you need to do without actually doing it. But then there is that part of you when you start getting guys hurt you try to protect them a little bit. It's that bottom line at times. So with us having a bye week, just threw caution to the wind and let's go."

CU obviously has had personnel issues since Embree took over on defense. Last season the defense was decimated by injuries and that was compounded when four defensive backs were suspended at midseason for violating team rules.

This season the Buffs have played without two of their most experienced defenders in linebacker Doug Rippy and free safety Ray Polk. Those losses hurt with so many young players logging time around them and in their place.

While those are legitimate excuses for some of the Buffs' struggles, it doesn't explain why progress doesn't seem to be coming on the scoreboard or in the statistics. Embree and Brown were both annoyed last week by the number of missed tackles. Embree said he believes his defense played well and gve the offense a chance through most of the 42-14 loss to the Bruins, but a few key breakdowns and missed tackles turned the game into another blowout.

Embree and Brown said Wednesday that there are areas where the Buffs can make immediate improvements such as tackling and being sound with assignments and techniques. Major said practices this week have definitely emphasized that.

Like many defensive coordinators around the nation, Brown would love to have a stable of athletes and playmakers like those that populate the Alabama defense. And like others in his business he is always looking for better ways to defend the myriad looks offenses give the Buffs in the Pac-12.

He has tried to be creative at times this season by dropping nine players into coverage, blitzing on occasion and offering different pre-snap looks that quarterbacks haven't previously seen. But another problem for defenses in keeping with offenses that have become adept at playing fast and severely limiting the amount of time defenses have substitute and read what they're seeing.

Brown said he recently had a conversation with former Arizona State and NFL defensive back Adam Archuleta, who worked the UCLA game as a member of the television crew.

"Adam said, 'You know what? I look at college football and I don't even recognize it,'" Brown said. "It has become so different so fast. A lot of the old school rules don't apply any more. It's a different game."

The one thing everyone at CU agrees on is the best defenses at any level of football are still those with players who play with great fundamentals, which is why the Buffs have focused on the simple things this week

"It's all about fundamentals," Major said. "It's the stuff you learn when you're a kid and stuff that carries over. It's what makes pros able to play so long in the NFL just what they can fall back on. So the fundamentals like tackling and angles and using your leverage properly and all that.

"...It takes one bad angle or one missed tackle and you pay the price."

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Embree called redshirt freshman tackle Stephane Nembot "a brute" in the run game. "I expect a lot of good things out of him as he continues to get more comfortable with playing this level of football and this speed." Embree said 12 players have been held out of practice this week to give them a chance to get healthy in time for the ASU game. He said if the Buffs had a game this week, many of those players would not have played. ...Embree canceled Thursday's practice so players could have an extra day to focus on academics. The Buffs won't practice again until Sunday, but coaches will be on the road recruiting.

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