UB football looks to add dynamic attack with wide receivers
A receiving core full of options is looking for a No. 1 to step up
Last season, the Buffalo Bulls entered the season without a bona fide No. 1 receiver, hoping that someone would step up and fill the void.
But nobody stepped up, and freshman (rising sophomore) quarterback Tyree Jackson struggled without a bona fide top target.
This season, the Bulls know they need all of their receivers to step up. They will graduate three wide receivers from last season – Marcus McGill, Malcom Robinson and Mikel Demonte. McGill and Robinson were second and third on the team in receiving yards last season. Senior Kamathi Hosley is the Bulls leading returning receiver and had just 19 catches for 189 yards last season.
“Universally, the whole position has to step up,” said associate head coach and wide receivers coach Rob Ianello. “I’m not sure that you can sit here after last season and say that we tapped out. Really the only guy returning that’s had the most snaps is Holsey. We all need to step up.”
The Bulls’ practice at UB Stadium this past Thursday was reminiscent of a typical midseason Mid-American Conference game. The practice featured rain and snow, high winds and gloomy skies with temperatures in the low 40’s as the coaches tried to get a better sense of their players, especially their receivers.
A major problem for the receivers last season was a lack of explosive plays. Ianello says he wants to see the team take more shots downfield this year to back up the defense. They also need to focus on executing shorter, timing passes and gaining yards after the catch.
Holsey appears the most likely candidate to become the No. 1 receiver. Last year, he led all returning wide receivers in yards and receptions.
Holsey’s height is his biggest asset at 6-foot-4. He is a true outside receiver and could play a vital role in the red zone offense. That’s where he wants his length and vertical ability to take over.
“They expect me to go up and get the ball at the highest point on fades and go routes,” Holsey said.
He put most of his focus on improving his route running during the offseason. He understands that he can’t run deep on every play and must create separation from his defenders. Holsey has emphasized the need to have a stronger base and to play closer to the ground.
“He’s tried to make a real conscious effort, he’s a tall guy so one of the things we identified is he didn’t play as low last year,” Ianello said. “People got their hands on him because he didn’t play as low.”
The X-factor for the Bulls’ receiving corps will be senior Jacob Martinez finally being fully healthy. He missed five games last year due to injury but consistently lined up on the outside during practice. Martinez had seven receptions for 121 yards, including a touchdown, despite playing in just seven games.
“He’s played quite a bit of football here. Last year, he would’ve been a valuable contributor,” Ianello said. “He’s got quite a bit of experience to him.”
Sophomore K.J. Osborn emerged last season to be one of the more reliable receivers as the year progressed. The Bulls will need receivers who can play both inside and outside and Osborn has that capability. He was used in many different positions during practice and the coaching staff wants to get the ball in his hands as much as possible.
He has built a strong connection with Jackson; the two are roommates.
“All summer since we got here, we’ve been working with Tyree, so the chemistry with us has always been there,” Osborn said. “Last year with all these different [quarterbacks], sometimes I had to go throw with Grant [Rohach, who graduated last year] because I was always throwing with Tyree.”
Having a set quarterback is a major difference from last spring, where Jackson and Rohach battled for the No. 1 position up until the opening game. The continuity with the receivers was stunted because both quarterbacks had to get first team reps.
“Last year you have different guys, you see different balls,” said senior receiver Jamarl Eiland. “Now with Tyree, you get used to him and his passes a lot. Him running with the one’s pretty much the majority of the time has been good for us.”
The Bulls are striving for a more balanced offense this year and to “stay on schedule.” In order to achieve that, they must have more manageable downs and distances. They also need to turn the ball over less.
Ianello just wants to see the routine plays made and watch the offense go from there.
“There’s been a great emphasis on taking care of the little things,” he said. “If you gotta be at a certain depth, be at a certain depth. If this route converts, convert.”
UB will know more about their receivers in the annual Blue and White game.
The game will be on Apr. 14 at UB Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
Justin Bystrak is a staff writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org