2009 Buffalo Preview - Defense
Buffalo SS Davonte Shannon
Buffalo SS Davonte Shannon
Posted May 26, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Buffalo Bulls Defense

Buffalo Bulls

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2009 CFN Buffalo Preview | 2009 Buffalo Offense
- 2009 Buffalo Defense | 2009 Buffalo Depth Chart
- 2008 UB Preview | 2007 UB Preview | 2006 UB Preview

What you need to know:
The defense
was supposed to make a big leap up in production last year with a ton of experience returning, but instead there wasn't any pass rush, little was done against the run, and the talents secondary got burned way too often. However, there were takeaways. Lots and lots of takeaways. The Bulls forced 24 fumbles and picked off eight passes, making up for a ton of mistakes and saving the day on several long drives (just ask Ball State). Now, nine starters return led by an athletic linebacking corps and the tremendous safety tandem of Davonte Shannon and Domonic Cook. The line needs to be far better after getting run over by anyone who tried and after generating little push into the backfield. On the plus side, a slew of redshirt freshmen, highlighted by Steven Means, should start to get to the quarterback more from the outside. This might be a veteran defense, but it's still young and it's still improving.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Justin Winters, 125
Sacks: Justin Winters, 2
Interceptions: Domonic Cook, 3

Star of the defense: Junior SS Davonte Shannon
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DE Bruno Lapointe
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman DE Steven Means
Best pro prospect: Shannon
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Shannon, 2) FS Mike Newton, 3) LB Justin Winters
Strength of the defense: Experience, Safety
Weakness of the defense: Pass rush, Production

Defensive Linemen

Projected Starters: The line not only needs to replace three starters, but it has to get more production. That starts on the end where Mike Thompson is gone and junior Bruno Lapointe needs to rise up and become a pass rusher. The 6-5, 247-pound junior only made three tackles in his limited time, but he's a phenomenal athlete and has the raw skills to be what the line needs. Now he has to show he can be a football player. He needs to get to the quarterback.

There will be a rotation on the other side, but it's 6-3, 220-pound redshirt freshman Steven Means who could be exactly what the line is looking for. While he's built like a big safety, he's a tough prospect who is a pure pass rusher and could be a statistical star if this spring was any indication. He's a big-time athlete, and if he becomes a specialist, so be it. The team will take the pass rushing production.

Senior Dane Robinson started half of last season and was a key producer in the middle throughout the year making 14 tackles with 1.5 sacks. At 6-2 and 267 pounds, he's not all that big, but he has been able to hold up reasonably well and he's always going 100 miles per hour. He had problems with a thumb injury and was out for spring ball after undergoing surgery on his hand, but he's a decent veteran who needs to get into the backfield more.

5-11, 290-pound junior Anel Montanez will be the team's top defensive tackle with excellent strength and good toughness. He's a mauler of a defender in the interior making 28 tackles with a sack and 6.5 tackles for loss, and while he's built like a bowling ball with a good base and excellent leverage, his strength is his quickness off the ball. He could be the anchor as the year goes on.

Projected Top Reserves: Redshirt freshman Jaleel Verser will work in a rotation on the end with Steven Means, and he could end up being the starter. At 6-6 and 225 pounds, he's a tall, athletic defender who is built like a power forward and has the athleticism to be a key pass rusher. While he's not quite as good an athlete as Means, he's not far off.

6-2, 298-pound sophomore Richie Smith will work in a rotation with Dane Robinson bringing more size and tremendous upside. He saw action as a true freshman making 17 tackles with a sack. As one of the team's biggest lineman, and with good quickness, he has the potential to be an all-star with a little more time.

Watch Out For ... the underclassmen. The line might be undergoing an overhaul, but it might be more talented because of the new blood in the mix. The redshirt freshmen on the ends, Verser, Means, and Willie Moseley, will provide an upgrade in athleticism, while Smith is going to be a great one in the middle.

Quickness. Experience might be an issue, but there's a nice influx of very promising, very athletic young players who should be more disruptive. They might not know what they're doing, but they should be able to get to the quarterback more often.
Sure-thing pass rush. UB didn't do much of anything to get to the quarterback making a mere 14 sacks and finishing 94th in the nation in tackles for loss. While that might change thanks to the new players, there isn't any one player the line can count on right away.
Outlook: After doing a great job of making plays in the backfield in 2007, the Bulls struggled up front last year and didn't generate any pressure. The line is undergoing a major change, especially on the outside, and now a pass rusher needs to emerge. With the athletes up front there should be more big plays, but there will be major issues against anyone who can run with any power.
Rating: 4.5


Projected Starters: The linebacking corps needed someone to step up and become a playmaker, and junior Justin Winters did it finishing with a team-leading 125 tackles with two sacks, and 7.5 tackles for loss. Only 5-11 and 202 pounds, he's not big, but he moves extremely well and is just as good against the pass as he is at getting into the backfield. The big concern was how he'd be able to hold up against the run, and he proved his lack of size wasn't a problem on his way to third-team All-MAC honors.

Returning to his spot in the middle is Scott Pettigrew, a 6-2, 210-pound sophomore who might not be big for an inside defender, but he's a big hitter. While he only made 42 tackles with two tackles for loss, he's about to blow up and become a fringe all-star player now that he knows what he's doing. With his great range and his hitting ability, he could be a tone-setter for the corps.

6-3, 215-pound Imani Chatman will get a long look on the outside after making ten tackles in his limited time. The sophomore has mostly worked on special teams so far, but he's a good pass rushing prospect on the outside and he should be a disruptive force in a specialists role. He's not likely to be a regular against the run, but he'll be great when he's on the move.

Projected Top Reserves: True freshman Darius Willis will not only play this year, but he might be the team's best player in the front seven. Good enough to be recruited by Oklahoma and Texas A&M, the 6-3, 220-pound recruit from Houston made 130 tackles in an all-star senior season. Very athletic and a sure tackler, he could be the best high school prospect the program has ever brought in.

5-11, 223-pound junior Raphael Akobundu stared every game last year and made 71 tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss, but he's going to have to battle to get his job back from Chatman. The former transfer from Iowa Wesleyan College is a good tackler with nice size and toughness, but he's not the disruptive force that Chatman should be.

Former safety John Syty walked on to the team and finally got a chance to see time last year making 17 tackles. At 6-2 and 200 pounds, he's built like a defensive back and has decent range. He'll work on the outside behind Williams and will do anything needed to make a play.

Watch Out For ... Willis. He's the real deal and he's way too good to not be the centerpiece of the defensive front seven from day one. The coaching staff isn't putting any pressure on him, but that will quickly change.

 Speed. the coaching staff hasn't been able to get much in the way of size for the position, but it was able to bring in very quick and very athletic prospects who should fly around the ball and be more disruptive.
Weakness: Size. This was a huge problem last year, and the athleticism didn't make up for it. The projected starting trio averages around 210 pounds per man.
Outlook: Essentially, UB employs beefed up safeties to play linebacker. While that's not the worst thing in the world, several SEC teams like to do that, there has to be more production. Last year's corps was extremely young and extremely inconsistent. This year's corps is still young, but it should be better with a year of experience to go along with an upgrade in talent thanks to Willis.
Rating: 4.5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: Junior Davonte Shannon might be the MAC's best defensive player. He kicked off his career with 123 tackles and three interceptions with ten tackles for loss, and he followed it up with 121 stops, six tackles for loss, and an interception. The 6-0, 193-pound strong safety is a big-time athlete who doesn't miss an open field stop, making 70 solo tackles last year, and he's better against the pass than the stats might indicate. The two-time, first-team All-MAC performer will make it three straight if he can stay healthy.

While Shannon is the team's best defensive player, 5-11, 200-pound senior Mike Newton is the leader. The team's third leading tackler last season with 112 stops and 5.5 tackles for loss with seven broken up passes, he's always around the ball and he's always making plays at free safety. Versatile enough to play either safety spot, he's a good hitter and the all-around defender who should earn all-star honors.

Junior Domonic Cook is a nice tackling corner finishing fourth on the team with 76 tackles to go along with a team-leading three interceptions and four tackles for loss. He's not all that big at just 5-8 and 187 pounds, but he battles hard, is physical, and has the upside to be a No. 1 shut down corner. While he gets beaten too often deep and he needs to come up with more plays on third down.

Senior Kendric Hawkins was never healthy last year and ended up playing in just eight games making 36 tackles. He's expected to be back from a foot injury and he has the potential to be the team's top cover-corner, but that's a big if. He has been hurt for the last two seasons and will likely make his biggest impact in nickel and dime packages.

Projected Top Reserves: Combining with Hawkins at one of the corner jobs will be Josh Thomas, a starter when Hawkins went down and made 57 tackles with six broken up passes. At 5-10 and 180 pounds, he's not all that big, but he's a tough tackler and isn't a horrible playmaker against the pass. Now he needs to be more consistent and he can't give up so many big plays.

Ray Anthony Long will move over from linebacker and work as a backup strong safety behind Shannon. The 6-1, 195 pounder was surprisingly good in spring ball, looking like a natural in the secondary with good range and better than expected instincts. The sophomore made ten tackles last year as a promising reserve, and while he won't push Shannon out of a job, he'll see plenty of action.

Mostly a nickel and dime defender, senior Chris Storr will once again work at free safety behind Newton after making 11 tackles. At 5-11 and 195 pounds, he's built like a corner and moves well. While he's versatile enough to see time at either safety spot, there's a big drop-off from Newton to him.

Watch Out For ... Long. Even though he's too good an athlete to keep off the field, the coaching staff can't seem to find a place for him. There's a chance he could almost have his own position on pure passing downs and be allowed to roam to make plays.
 Experience. This was a veteran secondary last year, and now there are five starters back after Hawkins and Thomas split a corner job last year. Shannon and Newton form the MAC's best safety tandem.
Production. To be fair, the secondary didn't get any help from a pass rush, but passing games were able to do whatever they wanted to with nine teams (not including UTEP, who threw for 199 yards) going for 200 yards or more, Missouri throwing for 439 yards, and Western Michigan and Ball State combining for close to 1,000 yards through the air.
Outlook: The secondary is loaded with experience, stars, and options. Now there has to be more production. Everyone can tackle and everyone can play, but the corners have to be better. Shannon and Newton can only help out so much. On the plus side, there are plenty of hits and lots of forced fumbles, but there need to be more takeaways.
Rating: 5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Junior A.J. Principe walked on to the team two years ago and has connected on 27-of-37 field goals including a 12-of-17 2008.  While he doesn't have a big leg, he's great from inside the 40 going 24-of-25 inside of it with four of his misses last year coming from deep. While his biggest kick was from 40 yards out, he has a 47-yarder to his career credit.

UB's net punting numbers stunk, finishing 11th in the league and 91st in the nation, but sophomore Peter Farden put 23 kicks inside the 20 and he averaged 39.1 yards per boot. The Australian, who played Australian Rules Football, hasn't shown off a big leg, but he's been good.

WR Naaman Roosevelt has been an elite kick returner, averaging 22.4 yards per try as a sophomore and 25.9 yards per attempt as a sophomore, but he struggled last year averaging just 15.4 yards per try. He'll do more this season. Brett Hamlin is a fantastic punt returner averaging 14.2 yards per try.

Watch Out For ... Roosevelt to be Roosevelt again. Ernest Jackson did a phenomenal job on kickoff returns last year, so Roosevelt didn't need to be a star on kickoff returns. He will return to form and will end up averaging around 25 yards per try.

Short range accuracy. Principe doesn't miss inside the 40, while Farden is great at pinning teams deep. However ...
Deep legs. Farden might be able to air it out, but he hasn't done it yet with his biggest kick just 57 yards. Principe can't hit on a regular basis from any significant distance.
Outlook: There are a few problems here and there, like kickoff coverage and the big legs, but the special teams are solid. If Roosevelt is an All-American again, UB will have a significant advantage over most teams in the return game.
Rating: 7