Buffalo 'D' hopes to continue success without Mack
Junior linebacker Jack Stockman recovers a fumble against Eastern Michigan as junior safety Adam Redden joins in on the hit. Stockman and Redden are two key players to a defense replacing some of its most accomplished players. Chad Cooper, The Spectrum
Last season, the Buffalo defense recorded 38 sacks and 90 tackles for loss. More than half of this production is no longer on the team - with no loss more notable than that of linebacker Khalil Mack.
Starting defensive linemen Colby Way and Beau Bachtelle have also graduated. Junior linebacker Blake Bean - who ranked sixth on the team in tackles - transferred to North Texas to be closer to home. First-team All-Mid-American Conference corner Najja Johnson graduated. Many of the departed members of the Bulls' defense were major contributors on one of the top defenses in the MAC.
This hasn't hindered the defense's expectations for the 2014 season. The Bulls understand they don't have many names that jump out on paper, but they believe they have the playmakers to repeat last season's historic defensive year.
"We look at ourselves more as a group and we try to focus more on unity because we don't have as many known guys," said junior linebacker Lee Skinner.
Skinner ranked second on the team in tackles with 79. Other linebackers expected to make major contributions include junior Jake Stockman, freshman Jarrett Franklin and sophomore Nick Gilbo.
The Bulls understand in order to replace Mack's massive production, they must embrace the idea of playing as one defensive unit.
"I mean, you can't just replace Khalil by one person," Stockman said. "So I think really something that we have to do is step up together as a defense and become more fundamentally sound than last year."
The defensive line will include familiar faces, such as juniors Kristjan Sokoli and Dalton Barksdale. Fellow junior defensive lineman Tedroy Lynch will likely be called upon to replace some of the lost production.
"Colby [Way] and Beau [Bachtelle], they helped us a lot last year. Replacing those two starters won't be easy, but we got guys who are working hard to get there," Sokoli said.
Buffalo hosts its spring game Saturday. Although the squad has been playing at live speed and tackling during practice, this is the defense's first opportunity to play in an environment similar to the game-day atmosphere.
Skinner said he and the entire defense are excited for the opportunity to prove there won't be any lag from last season.
"We are feeling good," Skinner said. "We are definitely going to be flying around. I think that's one thing, as a unit we really don't hold back. If we make a mistake, it's going to be at 100 miles per hour and there's going to be a lot of hitting."
Buffalo's spring game is set for 2 p.m. at UB Stadium. The event is free for the public and all students.
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