2008 Buffalo Preview - Defense
Buffalo S Davonte Shannon
Buffalo S Davonte Shannon
Posted Apr 18, 2008

CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Buffalo Bull Defense

Buffalo Bulls

Preview 2008 - Defense

- 2008 CFN Buffalo Preview | 2008 Buffalo Offense
- 2008 Buffalo Defense | 2008 Buffalo Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Buffalo Preview | 2006 CFN Buffalo Preview

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.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Davonte Shannon, 123
Sacks: 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 Obi Ezemma
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:
Linebacker, size

Defensive Line

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 around.
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.
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.
Rating: 5


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 outside.

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.
Rating: 4

Defensive Backs

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 the air.

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 strike.
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 to do.
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 count on.
Rating: 6

Special Teams

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.
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 year.
Rating: 6