The departure of its top three receivers from 2009 cost Buffalo 154 receptions, 18 of them for touchdowns. Zach Maynard's transfer to Cal cost the Bulls the only quarterback who attempted more than 15 passes last season.
Given those subtractions, the state of the passing game was of paramount interest as the Bulls lined up for spring workouts. The prognosis: potential abounds.
New coach Jeff Quinn alternated between quarterbacks Jerry Davis and Alex Dennison with solid results. Dennison, a 6-foot-2, 227-pound redshirt freshman from Irwin, Pa., completed 19 of 29 throws for 210 yards and a touchdown in the spring games. He was intercepted once, by three-time All-Mid-American Conference safety Davonte Shannon. Redshirt sophomore Jerry Davis, the backup to Maynard last season, was 12 of 20 for 113 yards and showed impressive arm strength while throwing on the run. He's a 6-1, 194-pounder from Fresno, Calif.
Quarterback accounts for only a portion of the equation in the passing game. With the Big Three of Naaman Roosevelt, Brett Hamlin and Jesse Rack having moved on, the rapid emergence of a new receiving corps is key to Quinn's spread offense performing at a high level. Interestingly, two Western New Yorkers seem poised to mitigate the loss of Roosevelt, who holds almost all Buffalo's receiving records.
Alex Neutz, a 6-0, 187-pound redshirt freshman from Grand Island, N.Y., sizzled in his public debut. Neutz caught a game-high six passes for 106 yards, including a 49-yard touchdown pass that transpired when he out-battled cornerback Sherrod Lott for a ball thrown by Dennison.
Also impressing was Marcus Rivers, a 6-4, 207-pound junior out of Lackawanna. A disappointment his first two seasons with the Bulls, Rivers displayed improved skills and a new confidence in catching five passes for 59 yards, including a 40-yard reception on a Davis throw. It was a notable step forward for a player eager to wipe the slate clean.
"You could say that," Rivers said. "New coaching staff, new offense, new me. I'm doing the extra things that I didn't do."
That includes spending more time partaking in hand-eye coordination and reaction drills, something he did little of his first two seasons -- with a high number of dropped passes to show for it.
While Rivers has a reputation to overhaul, Neutz is out to make a name for himself. And he's eager to do so after a year spent acclimating to university life and readying his body for the FBC level.
""Redshirting, it's a good experience because you get used to the college, the (FBC) level and the competition," Neutz said. "Like the hitting is totally different than in high school. But last year you're on the compete team, and it gets a little bit tedious just everyday doing the same thing. But this year, coming out with like a fresh start, just ready to go, it felt great."
Quinn gave his quarterbacks passing grades for the spring game while stressing there's still a team-wide need for improvement before the Sept. 2 opener against visiting FCS Rhode Island.
"We were able to get into our rhythm at times, move to the line of scrimmage quickly, get the ball snapped," Quinn said. "And then the second thing was get the ball out of their hands. There was a couple instances where maybe we held a ball a little longer than we should have. And then complete the deep ball. Make sure you complete the deep ball. And there was a couple times that we did that. We're going to need them both, and they're both very important to me and this football program."
Twenty-eight players produced tackles as the Bulls substituted liberally on the defensive side. Junior linebacker Imani Chatman had five tackles (three solo) and a sack. Sophomore linebacker Mark Richardson picked up a fumble and zipped 66 yards for a touchdown.
"I really felt our kids were locked in," Quinn said. "Their preparation all spring long has been solid. The way they went out there today really demonstrated to me that they're on board and they're moving in the right direction."NOTES, QUOTES
--Western New York seems to have become fertile ground for wideouts. Riverside's Mike Williams, the former Syracuse wideout, was drafted by Tampa Bay. Roosevelt went undrafted but signed with the Bills. Rivers and Neutz loom as two of the top three wideouts in a Buffalo receiving corps in which junior Terrell Jackson is the top returnee.
"There's hidden talent in New York, man," Neutz said. "No one wants to give us respect here."
--The Bulls split running back duties among returnees Brandon Thermilus, Ike Nduka, Jeffvon Gill and Josh Fuller. Gill amassed 43 yards on 13 carries. Nduka had 27 yards on three carries, his duty limited by a shoulder injury. Also leaving the game and not returning was sophomore defensive lineman Jaleel Verser, who was walked off the field after suffering a knee injury.
--Junior linebacker Scott Pettigrew, who started 19 games for Buffalo the last two seasons, will likely miss the 2010 season after suffering a knee injury.
Pettigrew said he tore his ACL and LCL in his right knee during a scrimmage during the spring. The Bulls are deep at linebacker, but along with senior Justin Winters, Pettigrew is the team's most experienced linebacker. The 6- foot-2, 214-pound Pettigrew from Thompson's Station, Tenn. started 11 games in 2009 and was tied for fourth on the team with 55 tackles. He had team highs in forced fumbles (two) and fumble recoveries (three). At the time of the injury, Pettigrew was competing with junior Fred Branch for a starting position.
--Redshirt freshman tailback Brandon Oliver suffered a knee injury during the early portion of spring workouts and was shelved for the rest of the spring.
RB Brandon Oliver -- All the tools are there -- speed, quickness, elusiveness, vision -- for Oliver to be a star in the MAC. Before he suffered a knee injury that forced him to miss the last two weeks of the spring, Oliver was arguably the best tailback on the field.
WR Alex Neutz -- The redshirt freshman is in the perfect offense for his skills. With Roosevelt and Hamlin gone, he'll get a chance to display them all.
S Carlos Lammons -- There's plenty of depth at the safety position and most players would get caught up in the numbers. Lammons won't because he's too talented to keep on the bench. Rated as the 44th best safety prospect in the country by ESPN.com, the Pahokee, Fla. native is the cousin of Baltimore Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin. Secondary coach Ernest Jones said if the 5-9 Lammons was 6-feet, he'd be at a BCS school. He has good, quick feet, good natural football instincts to play every position in the secondary.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "They did a good job in responding under some adverse situations. We had some guys break through the interior and put some pressure on them and they were able to key their poise and composure. ... I thought our tempo was good at times." -- Buffalo coach Jeff Quinn after the team's spring game.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: Let's just say Buffalo might throw the ball around some this year. Even with a new quarterback and receivers, the spread offense dictates that the ball moves through the air although the depth at tailback means the Bulls will run some, too. The defense was solid last year and returns free safety Davonte Shannon to lead the secondary while senior linebacker Justin Winters makes the run defense stout. The schedule isn't overwhelming although Bowling Green, Akron and Ohio are all on the road. Looking for a sleeper to win the MAC? This is a good place to start.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: For the past four seasons, Buffalo has taken great pride in its quick strike offense, but new coach Jeff Quinn wants to pick up the pace. The Bulls have bought into the new, up tempo, no-huddle offensive approach being installed by Quinn, who will also call the plays on offense. But after starter Zach Maynard transferred to Cal, Quinn has to break in a new quarterback and sophomore Jerry Davis is the leader. Davis appeared in five games and made one start last season. With good depth, experience and talent, the only question at tailback is who's going to start?
Seniors Brandon Thermilus and Ike Nduka shared the load last season, but Brandon Oliver showed flashes of greatness during the spring. Buffalo must replace Naaman Roosevelt and Brett Hamlin, two of the most prolific wideouts in school history, as well as tight end Jesse Rack. Junior Terrell Jackson is the most experienced of the returning receivers with 25 catches for 250 yards last season. Junior Marcus Rivers is a big target and is penciled in as a starter but his problems with drops sent him to the bench late in the season. Four starters return on the offensive line led by second-team All-MAC selection Peter Bittner, a senior guard, who was started 38 games in his career.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Defense is the strength at Buffalo and the secondary is the program's deepest and most experienced unit. Strong safety Davonte Shannon, a three-time first-team All-MAC selection, and corners Domonic Cook and Josh Thomas have a combined 89 starts. The next step is finding a replacement for Mike Newton at free safety.
The Bulls are shifting to a hybrid 3-4 scheme and the defensive line welcomes back two starters in run-stuffing tackle Anel Montenez, a senior, and promising sophomore defensive end Steven Means, who led the Bulls with five sacks. At linebacker senior Justin Winters is a two-time All-MAC selection who is active and disruptive, but the Bulls will miss junior Scott Pettigrew who tore two ligaments in his right knee and will likely miss the season. His replacement will be junior Fred Branch, who started a pair of games as a true freshman. Senior Raphael Akobundu has started 15 games in his career, including the final two of last season, while sophomore Darius Willis appeared in four games, including two starts in 2009 before being sidelined for the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker A.J. Principe enters his senior season already holding a number of school records, including most field goals (37). Junior Peter Fardon and senior John Rachuna will battle for the starting punting job. Fardon has handled the bulk of the punts over the past two seasons.
--Nick Sizemore, one of only three true freshmen to appear on the depth chart in 2009, has left the program and will transfer. A fullback, Sizemore played in all 12 games last season primarily as a blocking back. But he became expendable when the Bulls shifted to the spread offense, which doesn't utilize the fullback. Sizemore is the fourth player to leave the program since Quinn took over, following quarterback Zach Maynard, center Rick Perez and defensive end Matt Brennan.
Previous Report: 04/28/2010