by Paul Peck, Buffalo Sports Page
The UB Bulls finished off spring practice on Friday night. There, on the field and on the sidelines, the transition facing this team was front and center.
Graduating stars and NFL Draft hopefuls Tyree Jackson, Anthony Johnson, Chuck Harris and Cam Lewis were watching the Blue-White game, a few hours after their workout for the Bills.
The players trying to replace those stars were battling on the field, hoping to continue the legacy of some of the program’s alltime greats.
Here are some observations from Friday’s scrimmage, and the practices leading up to Friday.
— Paul Peck (@PeckOnSports) April 13, 2019
- There were a lot of eyes on the quarterback position. It will be a challenge replacing what Jackson did to elevate the offense and the position. For the past two years, the Bulls had the best QB on the field and that’s why they won 16 games. Only two QB’s took part in the scrimmage, Kyle Vantrease & Dominic Johnson. Redshirt freshman Matt Meyers was battling a hamstring injury, as he did for a good part of the spring. Vantrease has the most experience on the field and in the program. He was solid, as he has been throughout the spring. Johnson is a talent, who is still learning the position. The former member of the Bulls basketball team “dribbled” a high snap, regained and threw a nice touchdown pass.
- Meyers may have the most upside of the quarterbacks. He has classic QB size (6-4, 220) and the mix of running and throwing skills that all teams now look for at the position. But he’ll have to get more consistent and learn the offense.
- The QB position battle is far from decided. That will happen in the fall, with all three QB’s getting a chance to win the job. Talented incoming freshman Trevor Bycznski will arrive then.
- The strengths of the Buffalo offense come at running back and offensive line. Top returners Jaret Patterson and Kevin Marks lead the backs. Theo Anderson and Dylan McDuffie looked good during the spring. This may be the Bulls deepest position.
- The line returns four of the five starters, and a good group of backups. Mike Novitsky has taken hold of the center position, replacing James O’Hagan. Jacob Gall, who started games at guard, could also play there while he battles for a guard position. In Kayode Awosika and Evan Ksiezarczyk, UB may have the best tackle tandem in the MAC.
- The receiving positions (WR & TE) are in major transition. The graduation of Johnson, and transfers of K.J. Osborn & Tyler Mabry have the Bulls searching for replacements. Antonio Nunn, coming off a terrific Dollar General Bowl, is the top returning wideout. JC transfers Daniel Lee and Larry Rembert will arrive before the season. Youngsters LeMaro Smith, Jelani Foster and Trevor Wilson were banged up during the spring. That gave WNYer Jovany Ruiz a chance to impress the coaches, which he did.
- Tight end does return athletic Zac Lefebvre, who will be used as both a tight end and receiver. Young players Julien Bourassa and Cole Burniston will be called on to step up.
- Early in the season, I would expect the Bulls to rely on the running game as they get the quarterbacks more comfortable. It will help that the line is very good. That will make the QB transition much easier.
- Technically, the UB defense loses 8 starters from last year. But because so many defenders played, there is significant experience ready to step into the starting lineup. A lot of the names will be familiar to UB fans.
- Malcolm Koonce and Taylor Riggins were impressive as rotational defensive ends. They’ll be the starters now. Ledarius Mack played a lot as a pass rusher, and Frendy Darelus is finally recovered from knee surgery as a freshman.
- Last year, the Bulls played up to nine defensive tackles. Some of them are graduated, primarily Justin Brandon. But many of that backup group are back, along with some impressive new additions. Big (6-4, 340) Eddie Wilson is a future star who should start. DeShondrick Foxworth, Chibueze Onwuka & Atu Vainikolo all have experience. Newcomers Tyrece Woods, Ronald McGee and Ahmad Holloway will add to the depth.
- The linebacker group has to replace Khalil Hodge, a big task. The new middle linebacker may be last year’s breakout star at outside linebacker. The Bulls experimented with moving James Patterson to the inside spot, where his instincts and talent can be in the middle of it all. Matt Otwinowski will have a role at middle or outside. Kadofi Wright and Tim Terry, key backups last year, appear ready to move up to the first team. Head Coach Lance Leipold pointed to the linebacker spot in saying this may be the Bulls most athletic defense in his six years.
- The standout group in the spring was safety. Despite losing Brandon Williams, the group returns veterans Joey Banks and Tyrone Hill. Redshirt freshman Cory Gross was a spring star. Ashton White, the Notre Dame transfer, rounds out a good group of four.
- Replacing Lewis, the heart and soul of the secondary, won’t be easy. But the Bulls have a veteran group at cornerback. Aapri Washington is a returning starter. Devon Russell is back after getting knocked out of the 2018 starting lineup with an injury. Roy Baker played a lot, and so did Ali Abbas and Wankieth Akin.
Summer workouts will happen next, and fall camp will open in August. The season opener is Thursday, August 29th at home against Robert Morris. Then, it’s challenging non conference games at Penn State, at Liberty and home vs. Temple. MAC play begins on September 28th at Miami.