2010 Buffalo Preview – Defense
Buffalo CB Josh Thomas
CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Buffalo Bulls Defense
Preview 2010 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: New defensive coordinator, William Inge, will float back and forth from using an aggressive 3-4 and a standard 4-3 depending on the situation. With a lack of bulk up front, outside of Anel Montanez and Richie Smith, the D will need to make a play-by-play decision whether to go quick up front or allow the linebackers to be the stars. The linebacking corps would've been special, but a transfer (Darius Willis to Kansas) and a knee injury (Scott Pettigrew this offseason) has made veteran Justin Winters' life harder. However, there's enough returning experience to be fine. Davonte Shannon is an all-timer of a defensive back patrolling at safety after three straight All-MAC seasons, and he's flanked by a deep, talented, and experienced group of corners.
Star of the defense: Senior S Davonte Shannon
Tackles: Davonte Shannon, 97
Sacks: Steven Means, 5
Interceptions: Davonte Shannon, 2
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior LB John Syty
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman DE Khalil Mack
Best pro prospect: Shannon
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Shannon, 2) LB Justin Winters, 3) CB Domonic Cook
Strength of the defense: Defensive Backs, Run Defense
Weakness of the defense: Proven Linebacker Depth, Size Up Front
Projected Starters: The Bulls needed a pass rusher to emerge, and they got one as sophomore Steven Means came up with a strong first year as a starter making a team-leading five sacks with 25 tackles and two quarterback hurries. The 6-3, 232-pounder bulked up over the last few years and no longer looks like a beefy safety, but he moves like one. A big time athlete, he's not necessarily going to be a rock against the run but he'll be a pass rushing specialist.
Working on the other side of Means, and benefitting from the lack of attention, will be Khalil Mack , a 6-3, 239-pound redshirt freshman from Florida who moves well and has the potential to be a pass rushing terror. A great option to work as a hybrid defender, he could be like a 4-3 end or a 3-4 outside linebacker with his range and quickness.
Looking to clog things up in the middle once again is senior Anel Montanez, a 5-11, 282-pound anchor who serves as a mauler of a run defender with a great leverage and a terrific base. He made 35 tackles with four tackles for loss, and while he's a solid veteran, he's not much of an interior pass rusher; he's a perfectly-sized veteran nose tackle and he won't get pushed around.
At 6-0 and 247 pounds, senior Jerry Housey is a woefully undersized tackle who started out his career as a linebacker who moved to defensive end. He started the first five games of last year before getting hurt, but he's healthy again and will be used to make things happen in the defensive interior. After making 13 tackles in seven games, he'll be part of a rotation.
Projected Top Reserves: A good backup early on, Richie Smith made 17 tackles as a true freshman before coming up with nine tackles with a sack along with an interception against Ohio taken 26 yards. At 6-2 and 291 pounds he's big with great quickness and talent. He would've been at a bigger name school if he didn't suffer a major leg injury late in his high school career, but he appears ready to blossom as a possible starter on the inside.
6-6, 233-pound sophomore Jaleel Verser has great size and a great first step off the ball. He has yet to play after missing all of last year and redshirting in his first year. He needs to get past a knee injury to become a major factor on the outside, but the talent and the upside are there to become a pass rushing specialist.
Watch Out For … Smith. It'll be hard to push Montanez out of a spot on the inside, but at the very least Smith is a huge player on the nose with the ability to work as an anchor. He'll see time at both tackle spots.
Strength: Pass rushing potential. The line did a nice job against the run allowing just 132 yards per game, but the real reason to get excited is the end situation with Means and Mack a terrific young pair to watch grow over the next three years. If Verser can get his knee right, there will be a great rotation.
Weakness: Tackle size. Smith and Montanez form a nice duo on the inside, if they end up playing side by side, but there's not a lot of size outside of them. Mack isn't a defensive tackle, but he'll see time on the inside along with sophomore Terry Peden, a 252-pounder who needs to hold up.
Outlook: Somewhat quietly, the Bull defensive front did a fantastic job last season. Two starters are back, but the excitement surrounds the young backups with plenty of quickness and potential. From time to time the line will switch back and forth from a three to a four man front to keep everyone fresh.
Unit Rating: 5
Projected Starters: With injuries and graduation taking away some key players, it'll be up to senior Justin Winters to once again be a steady producer. After making 125 stops in a huge sophomore campaign, the 5-11, 212-pounder finished third on the team with 79 stops. He's not all that big, but he's as tough as they come and he's always making up for the lack of bulk by going full tilt. He has one of the best motors on the team.
With starter Scott Pettigrew suffering a season ending knee injury this offseason, senior Raphael Akobundu will have to shine in the middle. He started every game in 2008 finishing with 71 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss, but the veteran lost his starting gig and ended up being a key reserve who got two starts. The 5-11, 238-pounder has the best size in the linebacking corps and has plenty of experience, and now the former Iowa Wesleyan College transfer needs to be one of the team's leading tacklers after making 37 stops with two broken up passes.
Former safety John Syty walked on to the team and became a key reserve last season making 13 tackles. Now the 6-2, 200-pounder will start out the season getting the starting nod on the strongside where he needs to use his motor and range to be a consistent playmaker. He might not be a big hitter, but he'll go all out.
Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Mark Richardson has yet to see the field, but he got his opportunity this offseason and he showed he's going to be a key backup in the middle. A 6-2, 221-pound guided missile, the Miami native is a tone-setting hitter with terrific range.
Built like a safety, 6-0, 205-pound junior Josh Copeland gets around in a hurry. Part defensive back, part linebacker, he made 33 tackles in 2007, redshirted in 2008, and came back to make 24 tackles with three tackles for loss last season. He's smart, moves well, and can be used to make plays against the pass from the strongside.
6-3, 216-pound junior Fred Branch is back in the mix after making just eight tackles. Squeezed out of the rotation, he'll get his chances again this season after starting out his career with a promising 26-tackle 2007 season. Stronger now, he'll be dangerous on the weakside.
Watch Out For … Akobundu. He might not be the team's most talented or consistent player, but he'll make a ton of stops on the inside. With his toughness and size, he could be the team's leading tackler.
Strength: Motors. Winters goes all out all the time, Syty plays like a walk-on who needs to keep producing, and Akobundu isn't going to be afraid to get in on every play. Everyone will be working to gang tackle and be fast to the ball.
Weakness: The loss of some key players. Gone is Scott Pettigrew, a starter who made 55 tackles with 1.5 sacks and three recovered fumbles after tearing his ACL this offseason. Adding to the pain for the linebacking corps was the loss of Darius Willis, the greatest recruit in UB history, as he followed Turner Gill to Kansas.
Outlook: This could've been a special linebacking corps had Pettigrew stayed healthy and if Willis had just stayed, but it'll still be a very active, very productive group that should form a good rotation. UB uses plenty of beefed up safeties meaning there's no limit to the range at all three spots.
Unit Rating: 5
Projected Starters: It's time to start including senior Davonte Shannon on the All-America teams, and a case could be made that he's going to end his career as the greatest defensive back in the history of the MAC. The three-time all-conference performer has made 341 career stops, coming up with 123 as a freshman, 121 as a sophomore, and a team-leading 97 last year. Not just a run stuffer at free safety, he's also great at getting into the backfield with 24.5 career tackles for loss and six interceptions. The 6-0, 196-pounder has decent size, never missed a stop, and is as smart as they come with tremendous instincts to be around the ball all the time. Able to play either safety spot, he produces whenever he's on the field.
Taking over the vacant safety job left by Mike Newton, the team's season leading tackler, will be sophomore Isaac Baugh, a good-sized 6-1, 204-pound strong safety with the raw skills needed to play anywhere in the secondary. Mostly a special teamer last year, he made four tackles, but the former high school wide receiver is physical enough and is more than ready to handle the new responsibility.
Senior corner Domonic Cook has carved out a nice career with 189 career tackles with four interceptions. He was always around the ball with a strong sophomore season recovering four fumbles and making three picks, and now he has to close out with a bang making more big plays as the No. 1 corner. Only 5-8 and 186 pounds he's not all that big, but he's physical, battles hard, and doesn't miss a stop.
With Cook being used in a variety of ways over the second half of last year, 5-10, 186-pound junior Josh Thomas took over a starting corner job and did a nice job. The veteran comes into the season with 22 starts under his belt and was terrific late last season finishing with 45 tackles with nine broken up passes. One of the team's fastest players, he has seen time as a sprinter on the UB track team, but he has to be a bit more consistent to hold down the starting corner job all season long.
Projected Top Reserves: One of the team's better tacklers over the last two seasons, senior Sherrod Lott followed up a 53 tackle season with another 53 tackle campaign. Used as a nickel and dime defender, as well as a corner, the 5-9, 169-pounder from Florida will move around where needed while also pushing for time behind Josh Thomas.
The sky's the limit for redshirt freshman Carlos Lammons , cousin of Baltimore Raven WR Anquan Boldin. The 5-9, 170-pounder was one of the stars of spring ball and he should be a smart, steady defender right away both as a corner and in nickel situations. One of the team's top recruits in 2008, he's ready to play a bigger role.
On his way and ready to be a factor at safety is true freshman Okoye Houston , one of the team's top recruits. The 6-0, 185-pounder from South Carolina hits and hits big, but he also isn't shy about going after the ball when it's in the air. Most likely he'll be the heir apparent for Davonte Shannon next year, but he might be too good to not see time.
5-10, 170-pound new recruit Dwellie Striggles is a ready-made playmaker who spent his first year at South Florida. Very quick and very athletic, he can be used as a receiver as well as a key backup corner, but he'll have to fight through a logjam of talent to get on the field.
Watch Out For … Lammons. He might have a tough time starting with Cook, Thomas, and Lott all looking to get playing time, and starting action, but he proved to be too good this offseason to keep on the bench. He'll find a spot somewhere.
Strength: Shannon. He doesn't make mistakes and is an NFL-caliber leader for everything to work around. He's big, productive, and he'll continue to be a great help for the corners.
Weakness: Interceptions. Even with good pressure from the defensive front, UB only came up with seven picks on the year and defensive tackle Richie Smith made one. The DBs have to be more aggressive when the ball is in the air and have to change games around.
Outlook: With a nice corner situation with depth, experience, and speed, the UB pass defense should be fine. With Shannon thrown into the mix, the secondary should be among the best in the conference. While there were some rocky spots over the second half of the season, the secondary was solid and it should be a plus once again. More picks would be nice, and there will be some 300-yard passing games allowed, but this should still be one of the MAC's best pass defenses.
Unit Rating: 5.5
Projected Starters: There will be a battle for the starting kicking job with senior A.J. Principe needing to fight despite holding the school record with 37 career field goals. He his 10-of-13 field goal attempts, but he has no range whatsoever with his longest boot coming from 36 yards out. That's why senior John Rachuna is getting a long look. The 6-6, 205-pounder handles the kickoffs and has the range to bomb away, but he missed his only attempt last season.
The punting game was a disaster throughout last season finishing 109th in the nation averaging 32.58 yards per punt. Junior Peter Fardon struggled averaging a paltry 35.6 yards per punt, and after putting 23 inside the 20 two years ago, he only put 12 inside the 20 last year. The Australian who played Australian Rules Football before joining the Bulls, hasn't been consistent enough with all his experience. He'll get a big push from sophomore Jacob Schum, a sophomore with a live leg.
Corner Domonic Cook will get the first look as the main punt returner trying to revive a dormant part of the attack. UB averaged just 5.79 yards per try, but Cook averaged eight yards on his five attempts. He'll be part of the kick return game, too, after averaging 21.5 yards per try, but it'll be running back Branden Oliver who'll be the main man once he's healthy from a knee injury.
Watch Out For … Oliver. One of the team's most dynamic new playmakers, he should inject some life into a kickoff return game that finished last year 119th in the nation averaging a mere 17.67 yards per try. He's too explosive not to be a big-time upgrade.
Strength: Principe from short range. The veteran is all but automatic inside the 40 and really does have a decent enough leg to connect from beyond. He'll be pushed for time, but he's ultra-reliable from close range.
Weakness: The return game. The punting game isn't a prize, but at least Fardon is a proven veteran. The Bulls were second-to-last in America in kickoff returns and 103rd in punt returns. This has been a focus of the new coaching staff.
Outlook: The kicking game was decent and the coverage teams were fine, but other than that the Bulls had a disastrous year on special teams. The return game should be night-and-day better with Cook and Oliver handling the workload, and Harden is going to be able to air it out a bit more for the punting game. There won't be miracles, but there will be a big improvement.
Unit Rating: 5.5
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