Preview 2008 - Defense
- 2008 CFN Buffalo
Preview | 2008
- 2008 Buffalo
Defense | 2008
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What you need to know: The defense made excellent strides
last season, and while there are some major positives going into
this season, there's one big, screaming problem: the
linebackers. Not only is the corps full of smallish corner-sized
players, it's insanely young with at least two freshmen,
including true freshman Obi Ezemma, needed to play big roles.
Trevor Scott is gone off the line, but it's a good front four
that should be strong up the middle with the expected emergence
of Ronald Hilare and Anel Montanez. The secondary is the
strength of the defense, and maybe the team with sophomore
Davonte Shannon one of the MAC's best safeties. All four
starters return, and there's excellent depth.
Davonte Shannon, 123
Davonte Shannon, 2.5
Interceptions: Mike Newton, 4
Star of the defense: Sophomore SS Davonte Shannon
Player who has to step up and become a star: Freshman LB
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore CB Domonic Cook
Best pro prospect: Shannon
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Shannon, 2) FS Mike
Newton, 3) DT Ronald Hilaire
Strength of the defense: Experience, secondary
Weakness of the defense:
Projected Starters: The biggest question on the
line is who'll be the replacement for Trevor Scott, who made 10 sacks
and earned all-star honors on the end. Senior Mike Thompson will
be the first to get a shot after starting late last year and finishing
with 14 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and an interception. While he's nowhere near
the athlete Scott was, Thompson is 6-1 and 278 pounds with the strength
to be a big presence against the run. He's a tackle on the end.
Senior Chris Callahan will be in a steady rotation on the other
end, but the 6-3, 247-pounder is the starter after getting the nod in 10
games and making 34 tackles with 1.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss.
Versatile enough to play linebacker from time to time, he'll be on the
field in some way all the time. He has too much speed and quickness to
not do more as a pass rusher.
Returning to anchor the front line is
6-0, 288-pound senior Ronald Hilaire at one tackle spot. He
slimmed down a bit last season and became more active against the run
with a career- high 45 tackles with 1.5 sacks and four tackles for loss.
He's not much of an interior pass rusher, but he's a good veteran who'll
clog things up.
Even though he's a new starter to the mix, sophomore Anel Montanez
could be the best player on the line as the season goes on. At 5-11
and 290 pounds, he's a bowling ball with a good base and excellent
leverage. He was one of the stars of spring ball and could be an
emerging playmaker who adds another dimension to the line after missing
all of last year hurt.
Projected Top Reserves: Working in the rotation
with Callahan at one end is junior Orlando Toussaint, a 6-3,
233-pound pass rushing prospect who could quickly add more flash to the
equation. He might not push Callahan out of a starting spot, but he
could move him to linebacker.
While he's undersized at 6-2, 267 pounds, tackle Dane Robinson
was able to start for most of the season on the nose making 18 tackles.
At his size, he needs to be a threat in the backfield, but he's not.
More of an end playing tackle, the goal is to keep him fresh for
specific situations in a rotation with Hilaire.
Watch Out For ... more production from the tackles.
The expected emergence of a healthy Montanez and the rotation of Hilaire
and Robinson should clog things up a little better. Throw in the 294
pounds of Kevin Johnson and the Bulls have a good base to build
The starting four. There might not be a
Trevor Scott or an all-star talents, but there will be four, maybe five
really good players to form a dependable front wall. This won't be a
dominant group, but it'll be good enough to hold its own.
Weakness: Sure thing depth. It's been a goal of the coaching
staff to upgrade the talent on the line in a hurry, so several players
like sophomore end Tom Drewes and Montanez will be a big part
early on. The starters will be good, and now the effort to come up with
a good rotation needs to pay off.
Outlook: The Bulls did a great job of consistently
making plays in the backfield, but they didn't all come from the line.
For the most part, everyone got their chance to make big plays, and now
it needs to be up to the front four to do more. The key will be to find
a pass rushing end on the other side of the Callahan/Toussaint
combination. Thompson is a tackle, not an end. This should be a good,
active group against the run.
Projected Starters: The team will sink or swim
with the talented, but inexperienced true freshman Obi Ezemma in
the middle. At only 6-0 and 215 pounds, he's more like a safety with
great range and tremendous speed, but he needs work. He was a New York
all-state sprinter who was a good running back. Now he'll anchor the
defensive back seven.
Redshirt freshman John Syty was moved from safety to linebacker,
and now the pressure will be on to produce on the outside. He's a mere
6-2 and 190 pounds, and while he has excellent athleticism for the
position, he'll have major problems against the power running teams.
Sophomore Justin Winters will have to battle to keep the outside
job he win, sort of, this spring. At 5-11 and 190 pounds, he's woefully
undersized and will have to be disruptive from the start to stay on the
field. He only made four tackles with a half a sack as a reserve, and
while he'll have problems against the run, he'll get into the backfield.
Mostly a special teamer so far, the spotlight will be on.
Projected Top Reserves: Former JUCO transfer
David Hubbard is a veteran who came up with 23 tackles as a strong
reserve. While he's relatively big, at least compared to the other
options, at 6-0 and 225 pounds, he needs to be more active to take over
a starting spot.
Sophomore Josh Copeland will find a spotsomewhere in the mix. A
safety who's been forced to be a linebacker, he made 33 tackles and
picked off a pass. At 6-0 and 195 pounds, he'll move around where needed
in the defensive backfield, but he's more than tough enough to handle
himself well in the linebacking corps.
6-1, 230-pound sophomore Jerry Housey is one of the team's only
linebacker-sized linebackers. He made seven stops as a promising
reserve, and now he'll push for time in the middle along with Ezemma.
He's a tough player who can get into the backfield if used on the
Watch Out For ... lots and lots of movement. Don't
get comfortable with the depth chart because it'll change daily. There
will be plenty of attempts to come up with the right combination with
tinkering to be done all off-season and well into the fall.
Quickness. The defense will have to
live with the youth, inexperience, and lack of size among the
linebackers by hoping for speed and quickness to make up for mistakes.
Weakness: Size. Inexperience will also be a problem, but
the biggest concern will be a woeful lack of bulk. If this isn't the
smallest linebacking corps in the country, it's close. The projected
outside options are small for safeties, much less as linebackers.
Outlook: By design, this is a smallish corps with
safeties manning the spots, and the team has been able to get away with
it in the past. Now the corps is small, inexperienced and, if spring
ball was any indication, 50 miles away from being productive. All the
spots are open for the taking and there will be some experimenting done
throughout the off-season to find three who can play. Going into the
fall, this is the team's biggest weakness by a wide margin.
Projected Starters: All Davonte Shannon did
was lead the team with 123 tackles with three interceptions, 2.5 sacks
and ten tackles for loss in an amazing true freshman season. A
tremendous playmaking strong safety with excellent athleticism and
decent 6-1, 180-pound size. He did all of this even though he didn't
turn into a starter until the fourth game of the year, and now he'll be
the leader of the secondary for the next three years. Not only is he
great against the run, but he's like another corner when the ball is in
Also returning is junior Mike Newton at free safety after tying
for third on the team with 86 tackles while leading the way with four
interceptions. Able to play either safety position, he started out last
year as a strong safety but with cornerback speed and excellent range,
and at 5-10 and 195 pounds, he's more suited for free safety.
Both starting corners, sophomores Domonic Cook and Josh Thomas
return after decent, but inconsistent seasons. The 5-9, 175-pound
Cook was a great tackler finishing fifth on the team with 58 stops, but
he didn't do enough when the ball was in the air. He was growing into a
better and better defender before getting hurt late in the year and
missing the final three games with a hand injury.
The 5-10, 175-pound Thomas made 45 tackles with an interceptions and
four broken up passes. He stepped in for an injured Cook late in the
year and started, and became a better pass defender. He'll have to fight
to keep the starting job, but he has tremendous potential.
Projected Top Reserves: Somewhere in the mix will
be junior Kendric Hawkins after making 35 tackles, an
interception, and a team-leading six broken up passes despite being hurt
all year long. A great tackler, he improved as a pass defender and now
has to stay healthy and he has to be consistent.
In one of the big moves of the spring, 6-4, 205-pound senior Adekunle
Akingba will move from linebacker to free safety after making 46
tackles last year. He has seen time throughout last year as a defensive
back, and now the move appears to be permanent. A huge hitter,
"Kool-Aid" should be an intimidating force behind Newton.
While Shannon isn't going to come off the field, junior Chris Storr
will likely see more time at strong safety and he could play free
safety if needed. Able to come in for nickel and dime packages, he has
good experience and is a decent tackler. Now he has to get more time
after making six tackles last season.
Watch Out For ... even more improvement. After
finishing 117th in the nation against the pass in 2006, and 65th last
year, the UB secondary should be even stronger.
Experience. Even though the projected
starting foursome is made up of three sophomores and a junior, this is
one of the more experienced secondaries in the MAC. All four have
starting experience and there's excellent depth to count on if injuries
Weakness: Production against the good passers. There wasn't much
of a problem against the Kent States and the Ohios of the world, but
Rutgers, Toledo and Bowling Green had few problems. For all the
experience, this is still a young, growing secondary that has some work
Outlook: This is the strength of the defense and
it's not even close. Shannon is a sure-thing All-MAC performer to
revolve the entire defensive back seven around, while corners Thomas,
Cook and Hawkins are all improving. There could be a few more
interceptions, after taking away just 11 last year, and there need to be
more big plays overall, but this is a good group the coaching staff can
Projected Starters: Sophomore A.J. Principe
walked on to the team and turned out to be a huge surprise nailing 15 of
20 field goals including all 13 inside the 40. He has a little bit of
range, hitting a 47-yarder against Miami University, but he's erratic
from any significant distance. That's fine as long as he's on from short
to midrange again.
Freshman Peter Fardon will try to replace excellent punter Ben
Woods, who averaged 41.7 yards per kick with 21 put inside the 20. The
Australian is tough, having played Australian Rules Football, but he'll
have to prove he can be consistent from the start.
Star receiver Naaman Roosevelt was a disappointment on punt
returns, rarely getting any room to move averaging 7.6 yards per try. He
was lights out again on kickoff returns averaging 22.4 yards per try
after averaging 25.9 yards as a freshman.
Watch Out For ... Fardon to be fine. Woods might have
been excellent, but he only produced at a solid level for one year.
Fardon might have problems with his placements, but he'll blast a few.
Roosevelt. A known commodity, teams started to stay away from him and
focus more on bottling him up, and it showed. He's a weapon who'll be
among the best all-around return men in America again.
Weakness: Overall return production. Roosevelt was great as a
kickoff returner, but overall the team averaged a pathetic 18.4 yards
per return and 7.4 yards per punt return. The offense is better, but
it'll need more help from the return game for good field position.
Outlook: Overall, things will be fine, but the raw
numbers from last year might suggest otherwise. The return game needs
Roosevelt to do more, the kickoff coverage team has to be night and day
better, and the punting game needs to be consistent with Fardon taking
over. Principe has to be as consistent from midrange as he was last