2012 Buffalo Preview – Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Buffalo Bulls Defense
Preview 2012 - Defense
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What You Need To Know:
The Buffalo defense was decent considering the offense was so inconsistent, but it had breakdowns and gave up way too many points allowing 30 or more in seven of the final eight games. The potential is there for a far stronger year in the 3-4 alignment with one of the MAC’s best pair of ends – Steven Means and Colby Way – and with an outstanding set of outside linebackers. Khalil Mack might be the MAC’s best defensive player, Jaleel Verser is growing into a job, and inside linebacker Lee Skinner will make a ton of tackles. The secondary is more experienced and should be good, but it has to stop getting burned deep.
Star of the defense: Junior LB Khalil Mack
Tackles: Lee Skinner, 80
Sacks: Khalil Mack, 5.5
Interceptions: Cortney Lester, 2
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior DT Wyatt Cahill
Unsung star on the rise: Junior DE/DT Colby Way
Best pro prospect: Mack
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Mack, 2) DE Steven Means, 3) Skinner
Strength of the defense: Experience, Outside Linebacker
Weakness of the defense: Pass Rush, Scoring Defense
The defensive front struggled against the run and did nothing to get into the backfield, and now it needs something from the ends. That starts with Steven Means, the senior veteran who’s more built for the 4-3 than the 3-4 at a beefed up 6-3 and 260 pounds. He came up with 33 tackles and just 2.5 sacks with a pick. The moves and quickness are there, and he’s a big-time athlete, but the speed and the experience all have to come together for a big final year.
Also returning on the other side is junior Colby Way, a true 3-4 end at 6-4 and 280 pounds. Always moving and always working, he was terrific in a stunning campaign making 49 tackles with three sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. The State College, PA native has a strong work-ethic and has the size to become dominant with a little more seasoning.
The line needs an anchor with the loss of Richie Smith on the nose. The hope is for former JUCO transfer, and Army Black Knight, Wyatt Cahill to shine after making 15 tackles in his first year. The 6-4, 275-pound senior isn’t necessarily built for the spot, but he’s active and should be able to get into the backfield. He’ll be backed up by a redshirt freshman combination of Joe Felicia and Kendall Patterson, who’d be better in a 4-3 scheme than on the nose. The 6-1, 271-pound Patterson was a good get for the program and could’ve gone to a BCS school, while the 6-3, 253-pound Felicia is a linebacker who’ll work on the line both inside and out.
Sophomore Kristjan Sokoli has 6-6, 293-pound size and can work anywhere on the defensive front. He made 14 tackles with four tackles for loss, and he should be more of a factor with more work. 6-4, 301-pound sophomore Dalton Barksdale is athletic enough to work on the end but might be better as a tackle. Very smart and athletic, the brother of LSU’s Joseph Barksdale has a ton of upside.
Watch Out For … the tackle situation. The backup ends are really tackles, and the backup tackles are really ends. There will be a constant rotation of players both inside and out to try to find the right fit.
Strength: End experience. Way is turning into potential superstar, while Means has way too much athleticism to not become an even bigger factor. These two are good starting points to work around.
Weakness: Backup ends. The tackle situation is hardly set, but the Bulls will be relying on a slew of young players to come up with production on the outside.
Outlook: The line has to do more to get into the backfield and has to be a bit more active, but there’s excellent size up front and in time there should be good versatility. Means is good and Way could be tremendous, but the key will be getting good, consistent production from the inside. It’ll take a little bit, but the line will take a step forward.
Unit Rating: 4.5
6-3, 244-pound junior Khalil Mack is one of the MAC’s best all-around defenders and should be in for a whale of a season. He finished fourth on the team in tackles with 65 tackles with 5.5 sacks and a whopping 20.5 tackles for loss and 13 quarterback hurries. The first-team All-MAC star is a machine at getting behind the line from the outside with a tremendous hustle and a great first step. The star recruit three years ago out of Florida flies all over the field and can be used as a hybrid outside linebacker and defensive end.
Senior Jaleel Verser is also line an extra defensive end as a tall 6-6, 239-pound outside linebacker. He moved from the line to linebacker, got past a knee injury, and ended up working as a nice starter making 49 tackles with six tackles for loss. However, he didn’t come up with a sack and should do a bit more now as a pass rusher. When he’s right, he’s a major prospect who now has experience.
Returning to an inside position is Lee Skinner, a 6-2, 237-pound sophomore who’s great at coming up with stops when things are funneled his way. He finished second on the team with 80 tackles and five tackles for loss, and while he’s not going to do much against the pass and he’s not going to get into the backfield, he’ll make every stop against the run.
A replacement needs to be made for leading tackler Fred Branch, who came up with 82 tackles. Senior Scott Pettigrew has been around long enough to know what he’s doing, and he should be ready to do more after two years away from a knee injury. At 6-1 and 227 pounds he’s not all that big, but he’s tough and ready to go after making 32 tackles as a reserve.
Also working in the mix will be sophomore Wonderful Monds has the athleticism and game to go along with his fantastic name, and while he’s only 6-0 and 227 pounds, he can move. Sophomore Khari Brown was a top prospect and should be a tackling machine at some point in the near future. He made nine tackles in his first year and should eventually be a major factor.
Watch Out For … Verser as a pass rusher. Everyone is going to throw the kitchen sink at Mack, and Verser has the talent and upside to get to the quarterback on a regular basis. He’ll be turned loose.
Strength: Experience. Mack, Verser, and Skinner would make for a whopper of a MAC threesome in a 4-3 set, and they’ll be great veterans to work around in the UB alignment. If these three stay healthy, the Bulls will have a major strength to help out the iffy D line.
Weakness: Run defense. There are plenty of stats and lots of flashy numbers, but the linebackers make way too many plays down the field. Skinner could change that with more big plays at the point of attack, but as a whole the Bulls need to come up with more stops.
Outlook: This might be the team’s strongest area in terms of pure talent. Mack is special, and Verser and Skinner are getting there. The depth is untested, but it’s extremely promising with plenty of nice prospect to work in the mix. The corps will be in for a huge season.
Unit Rating: 6
The only returning senior on the lot is strong safety Isaac Baugh, who came up with a decent season making 36 tackles with three broken up passes, but he didn’t do enough when the ball was in the air. At 5-11 and 205 pounds he‘s thick, can hit, and has nice athleticism. However, his biggest mark has been made as a special teamer.
Sophomore Courtney Lester stepped into a starting corner job and showed he could handle the work after coming to UB as a receiver. At 6-0 and 184 pounds he has decent size and is surprisingly physical making 54 tackles with a team-leading two picks and four broken up passes. He’s just scratching the surface on his ability as a defensive back, while on the other side, junior Najja Johnson is on the verge of being a MAC star. The 6-0, 194-pounder broke up a whopping 15 passes and made a pick, along with 39 tackles, as he grew into the job. A walk-on, he’s proving to be one of the defense’s top playmakers.
The lone open spot is at free safety, where Josh Copeland is gone after finishing third on the team in tackles. Junior Okoye Houston was a key part of the rotation last year, starting the first three games of the season, finishing with 35 tackles and a pick. At 6-0 and 202 pounds he’s a good hitter and has the potential to become a statistical star with great speed and range.
Junior Carlos Lammons worked last year behind Johnson at one corner and worked on special teams, finishing with seven tackles. He has been a good reserve over the last few years and has seen time at safety and corner, but at 5-8 and 176 pounds he’s not all that big and has yet to make a big impact. Also in the rotation will be sophomore Whitney Sherry, a 6-0, 195-pound safety with nice range and good potential, while fellow sophomore and former wide receiver Adam Redden will try to find a niche on the defensive side. He has the speed and athleticism, but now he has to prove he can work at safety.
Watch Out For … Lester to receive All-MAC honors. There’s a reason Johnson broke up so many passes; teams stayed away from Lester. The sophomore will grow into a top all-around defensive back.
Strength: Experience. A huge problem going into last year, now it’s a positive with three starters returning and good options for the open safety spot. Houston is like another returning starter.
Weakness: Deep balls. Yeah, UB was 36th in the nation against the pass allowing 204 yards per game, but that’s partly because almost no one on the schedule could throw, and those that did were able to hit home runs on a regular basis. That might change with more experience.
Outlook: The secondary turned out to be far, far better than expected after losing top talents Josh Thomas, Davonte Shannon, and Domonic Cook, but now it needs to take a step forward. Coming up with more picks is a must and cutting down on the deep passes would be nice, but overall the young secondary has good promise and potential. There isn’t another Shannon or Thomas in the group, but with more help from the pass rush the secondary won’t be a problem.
Unit Rating: 5
Sophomore Patrick Clarke took over the kicking job and was fantastic hitting all six of his kicks including going 3-of-3 from beyond 40 yards. He has good range and showed he could handle the work. He’ll also get a shot at the open punting job, but new recruit Tyler Grassman is expected to take over once he hits campus. The true freshman has a huge leg and was a great get for the program.
The return game has to be far, far better after averaging 19.6 yards per try. Brandon Murie is the most experienced returning option after averaging 28.4 yards per try on just nine attempt, cranking out a 93-yarder against Akron. The punt return game was also an issue averaging just 5.4 yards per attempt. Murie will be in the hunt for the job, as will top receiver Alex Neutz.
Watch Out For … Grassman. His emergence would make life a lot easier for the kicking game, allowing Clarke to just be a placekicker. The overall production can’t be must worse than it was last year after netting under 35 yards per try.
Strength: Clarke. He doesn’t have a huge body of work, but after connecting all six of his attempts,
including three from beyond 40 yards, the expectations are high.
Weakness: The return game. There were problems with the coverage teams and with the punting game, but Terrell Jackson and the return game was the biggest problem. UB finished 102nd in the nation in kickoff returns and 98th in punt returns.
Outlook: Buffalo isn’t good enough to be so lousy on special teams. Outside of Clarke, every area needs to improve and every spot needs work. The program hasn’t had good special teams in a while, and that has to change with a slew of new players in key spots.
Unit Rating: 4
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