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Instant Return for UB's Ross?

By Bob DiCesare

True freshman wideout Boise Ross looks like he’ll be in the mix as a punter returner along with Devin Campbell.

 “I’ve been doing punt return and kick return ever since my freshman year of high school,” Ross said. “It’s been a smooth transition from there. Just getting it down and getting into the college speed is the only difference that I’m trying to handle right now. It’s not relly that much different, just the height of the ball and the speed of the players really.”

Ross played his senior season at Liberty High in Bethlehem, Pa., and last September had an 81-yard punt return for a touchdown (and a 46-yard TD reception) in a game against Nazareth.

Sokoli Making Impact at NG

By Bob DiCesare

Earlier this week in camp UB defensive coordinator Lou Tepper pointed to nose guard Kristjan Sokoli as a defensive player who's made great strides from last season to this one. 

“I got to thanking Zach Duval for that, our strength coach,” Sokoli said. “I kind of tried to bulk up and first and towards summer conditioning the big focus became to stay low and cut fast and move better and maybe shave off a few pounds. They put 30 pounds on me and then took over maybe five or seven. Overall, it was one of my better offseasons. It’s paying off now because I feel bigger, faster and stronger.”

 A 6-foot-5, 300-pound junior from Bloomfield, N.J., Sokoli benefitted from rotating with Cahill last season. Dalton Barksdale will be the one spelling Sokoli at the nose this season.

 “My big focus right now is being able to play the whole game, being able to play my hardest football and my best football in the fourth quarter where it counts the most,” he said. “But at the same time I know Dalton Barksdale, he’ll be there too and he gives us a consistent look at nose guard but we all got to be ready to play four quarters of football.”

Johnson Injury and UB Notes

By Bob DiCesare

Former Sweet Home star Jordan Johnson underwent elbow surgery this week and likely will sit out the season. Johnson, a redshirt freshman running back, suffered a fracture and dislocation and will wear a cast for about another week. Johnson bulked up from 205 to 232 during the offseason before returning to a playing weight of 225. He would have been no higher than fifth on the running back depth chart behind Bo Oliver, Anthone Taylor, Devin Campbell and James Potts but would have factored in on special teams. Recovery time is estimated at six months.

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Todd Therrein (Wmsv. East), a converted DL, and Bobby Blodgett -- both sophomores -- are getting the work at right guard while Dillon Guy nurses an ankle sprain . . .  Backup slot receiver Cordero Dixon remained sidelined with an unspecified injury. . . . True freshman wideout Jamarl Eiland rejoined the team Friday after returning home because of a death in the family. . . . Boise Ross showed a great speed burst after a catch and appears the most likely of three true frosh WRs to see action this season. Teammates have nicknamed Ross "Mr. Potato." (Boise . .. Idaho ... Get it?) . . . Bulls will scrimmage the final hour of practice Saturday beginning at 12:45. Quinn said the offensive emphasis will be on specific situations, such as red-zone and two-minute execution.

Head-hunting rule has Tepper concerned

By Rodney McKissic

NCAA referees are placing an emphasis on head hunting or targeting this season, which has Lou Tepper concerned.

The UB defensive coordinator understands the intent of the rule – concussions are a huge point of discussion – but he would prefer that instant replay was involved.

If a hit to the head is deemed intentional or if a player lowers his head and leads the crown of his helmet, the player will be ejected from the game. If the play occurs in the second half, the player will be tossed and also suspended for the first half of the next game.

Tepper said during training camp a defender hit a player on the shoulder pad with his head and Tepper figures if that were a real game he would have been ejected.

“There’s going to be errors and there’s going to be prejudice toward the defense,” Tepper said. “I’m very concerned about the rule. If we were going to have instant replay and they say, ‘Hey, that’s a good penalty or not’ but they don’t. They throw you out and then afterwards they decide whether you’re going to play the next week.”

There are tailbacks who lead with their helmets, and Tepper figures defenders will get hit with penalties more often than not during those kinds of collisions.

“They’re coming head first and right into you and that’s rarely ever called,” he said. “We can be aiming for your chest and you could come with your head down and we’re going to get called for spearing. I think it’s troublesome legislation.”

Tepper teaches the “biting the ball” technique where if a ball carrier has the ball in either arm, the defender puts his facemask wherever the ball is.

“I want to attack it as though I were biting it and that keeps my face and not my head down,” Tepper said. 

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Junior tailback James Potts appears to have progressed nicely after tearing his ACL which kept him sidelined for most of last season. Other than missing a day when he sat out for precautionary reasons because of a knee bruise, Potts has participated fully in practice.

He said he has shown no ill effects from the surgery, cutting with ease on the left knee, and added he feels fast than when he arrived from Boynton Beach, Fla., four years ago.

“My freshman year during the summer, I ran a 4.37 but I haven’t run it since then but I definitely think I’m faster,” he said. “Every year you get bigger, stronger and faster so it’s only right that I get faster.”

Running backs coach Matt Simon said there was evidence of Potts’ increased speed prior to suffering the injury during the team’s win against Morgan State.

“He’s playing faster,” Simon said. “He’s more knowledgeable so his reaction and execution is a step quicker.”

UB has good depth in the backfield and they need it because it’s been rare when the Bulls had a leading rusher who appeared in all 12 games in a season.

No Frills Scrimmage

By Bob DiCesare

Execution was the order of the day as UB completed the first week of training camp Saturday with an hour-long scrimmage at UB Stadium. Neither punts nor kickoffs factored in the trial run although three Patrick Clarke field goals accounted for nine of the 16 points produced by the offense. The lone TD came on a 6-yard Bo Oliver run.

Although the Bulls trotted out some of the new formations and personnel groupings they've shown throughout camp, the approach Saturday was rather vanilla, and by design.

“Let’s get after the fundamentals, I told them that,” head coach Jeff Quinn said. “Our defense purusing the ball, our offense finishing. Just aligning correctly and understand your assignments and get after it until the echo of the whistle. And not getting too fancy by out-scheming each other from that standpoint, just seeing good, old-fashion, sound fundamental football -- blocking, tackling, throwing catching. And we saw that today.”

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Alex Neutz reprised the great catch he made Friday by outdueling cornerback Cortney Lester yet again for a long 50-50 ball.

"You should expect to see a lot more of those," said quarterback Joe Licata. "Because if he gets one-on-one coverage, he's one of the best guys in the MAC, one of the best guys in the country. So I'm going to keep going to him until someone can stop him."

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Practice reps suggest redshirt freshman QB Collin Michael has leapfrogged sophomore Tony Daniel and become the No. 3 QB behind Licata and Alex Zordich. . . . Offensive line depth was a question mark entering camp and remains so. Zordich was afforded little time on pass play while working behind the second-team "O" line. . . . Wideout Fred Lee came up with a couple nice catches early in the scrimmage. Redshirt freshman corner C.J. Stancil picked off a Michael pass.

Mack Goes With New Look

By Bob DiCesare

Add Khalil Mack, UB’s standout linebacker, to the growing list of collegiate and NFL defenders who’ve switched to the Bane facemask, so-named because it loosely resembles the mask worn by one of Batman’s arch villains.

Justin Tuck of the New York Giants is credited with the debut model of the Bane, which featured eight narrowly spaced crossbars. The facemask already has evolved to include a series of vertical bars that makes it close to impossible for blockers to get a fingerhold on the device.

“I got it just because the offensive linemen, they like to grab the facemask from time to time, so I grabbed this one just because you can’t get your fingers in it,” Mack said. “It’s a little heavier but I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

 Mack picked up on the trend while watching games on television.

 “I was looking at other teams, like Notre Dame, and even like on the next level, the NFL players were playing with it on the line, the pass rushers,” Mack said. “I saw that it could really help.”

Mack did not participate in Saturday’s scrimmage and didn’t take part in 11-on-11 drills the last two days. Neither he nor head coach Jeff Quinn is saying why that is, although it appears nothing more than a precaution. He has taken part in other drills.

 “He’s right on track with what he needs to do,” Quinn said. “I think our other guys have benefited greatly. You got to be prepared for all scenarios.”

Bulls High on Bean

By Bob DiCesare

Blake Bean received a few football offers coming out of high school but nothing that caught his fancy. He wanted to play Division I ball. He wanted to prove he had skills that schools were overlooking.

Instead of taking the best offer on the table, Bean opted to go the junior college route. It was at Butler Community College in El Dorado, Kan., that the linebacker attracted attention on the football field and posted the added allure of a 4.0 grade-point average.

UB loved what he had to offer: a relentless pursuit on and off the field and high academic goals. And it didn't hurt that he accomplished the high school rarity of winning state wrestling championships in two states. He captured the 215-pound title in Oklahoma as a junior and followed up in the same weight division in Kansas as a senior.

"Just parents got a job up there so I had to go up there, give up friends down at home and go to school up in Wichita," Bean said."

As Bulls had coach Jeff Quinn likes to say, UB defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Lou Tepper has "written the book" on the position. Tepper authored his first book on linebacking more than a few years ago and is following up with another. Tepper's presence proved the bridge between Bean and Buffalo.

"I didn't know much about them at the time," Bean said. "But the more I looked into it and the more I looked at the coaches and who I have coaching me . . .

""Coach Tep has been around it all and that was something I was more attracted to than anything probably is my position coach," Bean said. "You want to get better and that's what it's all about."

Bean goes 6-foot-1, 232 pounds and has the inside track on a starting linebacker spot. He's also switched his major to Biology with an eye on pre-med.

It takes two

By Rodney McKissic

How will UB replace Steven Means at defensive end? Apparently, it's going to take two players.

The likely starter will be senior Beau Bachtelle, whose strength is stopping the run, while newcomer Tedroy Lynch, a 6-foot-2, 249-pound junior college transfer from Shiremanstown, Pa., is a potent pass rusher.

The 6-5, 273-pound Bachtelle was part of the defensive line rotation a year ago appearing in 12 games and recording 11 tackles with three solos. At Lackawanna Junior College last season Lynch finished with 13 tackles for a loss and 9.5 sacks. Both took reps with the first team today

"He's more like Steven Means was when he first came here," UB DC Lou Tepper said of Lynch. "He may not understand the full gamut of our defense but he knows how to lay his ears back and and rush the passer. Those two will kind of combine to take Steven's place."

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The Bulls’ offense is ready for a leap forward and here are two reasons why:

*The most recognizable one: The Bulls played the last four games of ’12 with Joe Licata at quarterback. Alex Zordich was resolute and to his credit showed great leadership but his stats tell the true saga. In eight starts, he completed 106 of 208 passes (51.0 percent) with nine touchdowns and seven interceptions.

If you take away the Morgan State game, UB’s offense scored 20 or more points three times in its first eight games. With the return of a seasoned Licata, who lead the Bulls to three wins in the final four games, prospects look much brighter.

*Think about how Branden Oliver performed last year under problematic conditions. The senior tailback missed five games because of injury and still rushed for 821 yards and five touchdowns despite playing against eight-man fronts geared to silence his production and a rickety passing game that couldn't take pressure off him. OC Alex Wood will find more ways to get him the ball in open space, including putting him in the slot.

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The first play in 11 on 11 drills drew some oohs and aahs when Licata faked a handoff to Oliver, tucked the ball under his arm and ran for a 30-yard gain. Will UB - gasp - run more read option plays with Licata.

"Oh no it wasn't a read option," UB coach Jeff Quinn said, laughing. "That was just Joe Licata doing his thing man."

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Friday will be the first day in full pads, and the way the defense was flying around the last two days, the players appear eager to hit somebody. ... Junior wide receiver Cordero Dixon went down with a minor injury during 7 on 7 drills but returned to practice. ... Senior linebacker Khalil Mack participated in all drills but sat out the 11 on 11 portion so younger players - like true freshmen Solomon Jackson - could receive some reps. ... The depth chart at QB according to the reps during 11 on 11 is Licata, Zordich, redshirt freshman Collin Michael and sophomore Tony Daniel.

True freshmen step into the spotlight

By Rodney McKissic

With so many returning starters, there are only a few spots available where true freshmen can potentially make an impact, but three days into UB's training camp a few could find their way onto the depth chart.

On defense, defensive back Houston Glass from Kentwood, Mich., and linebackers Solomon Jackson from Stone Mountain, Ga., and Brandon Crawford from Madison, Fla., have looked strong.

"Those guys have really stepped up," UB coach Jeff Quinn said. "They've been here this summer and I think they have a chance to go out there and prove what they know and what they can do to help this defense."

Offensively three wideouts - Boise Ross from Bethlehem, Pa., Jamarl Eiland from Canton, Mich., and Jacob Martinez from South Port, Fla., are pushing for immediate playing time as is long snapper Corbin Grassman, the cousin of punter Tyler Grassman, from Alexander, Ohio.

"Those guys kind of jump out right now," Quinn said. "I think they've all done a nice job. They've been very attentive and they understand they're opportunities are going to be presented by the way they come out prepared and the way they perform."

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Joe Licata will be the first to admit he isn't the most swift afoot, but the sophomore quarterback is making plays and showing mobility in the pocket.

"That's been a little something we've talked to him about," Quinn said. "Just being more present in the pocket, making plays back there, staying alive. The kids are doing a great job up front, the big fellas. ... That's giving Joe some time to get his eyes down field and find some open receivers."

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While Quinn likes his freshmen wide receivers, redshirt freshman Malcolm Robinson was mentioned a possible No. 2 threat at receiver to complement senior Alex Neutz. Robinson attended Canton (Ohio) McKinley High School, one of the largest and oldest schools in the talent-rich state.

Quinn also mentioned junior wideouts Cordero Dixon and Devon Hughes and tight ends Jimmy Gordon and Alex Dennison, a pair of seniors, sophomore Matt Wesier and redshirt freshman Mason Schreck as target who have showed promise in the early days of camp.

"Those guys all give another added feature that we need in order for us to continue moving the chains and putting ourselves in scoring position and capitalize on that," Quinn said. "All those guys are going to be factors."

O Little Town . . .

By Bob DiCesare

O Little Town? Actually, Bethlehem, Pa., isn't all that little. It totals about 70,000 residents and from that mix it turns out more than its share of Division I football players. Two of them -- sophomore defensive back/linebacker Okezie and true freshman receiver Boise Ross -- are expected to be contributors this year at UB.

Continue reading "O Little Town . . . " »

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About Campus Watch

Bob Dicesare

Bob DiCesare

Western New York native Bob DiCesare covers UB football, Big 4 basketball and writes an occasional column. He still holds a grudge against Chris Ford who, he's convinced, cost St. Bonaventure the 1970 NCAA basketball championship.

@TBNDicesare | [email protected]


Rodney McKissic

Rodney McKissic

Rodney McKissic began his journalism career in 1989 after graduating from the University of Cincinnati and has worked for The Buffalo News since 2001. A proud father of four children, he enjoys reading in his spare time.

@RodneyMcKissic | [email protected]


Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has covered colleges for The Buffalo News since 1999. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.

@amymoritz | [email protected]

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