Buffalo looks to get after the quarterback with a revised four-man front
In the transition from former head coach Jeff Quinn to new coach Lance Leipold, the football team is experiencing turnaround on nearly all units on the team, including the offensive line, linebackers and secondary.
But the biggest change the team is experiencing is on the defensive line, with graduating three defensive linemen from last season and transitioning to a new scheme.
“Biggest thing is going from three down linemen to four,” Leipold said. “We just wanted to increase the numbers there. Took a couple guys who stood up and made them defensive linemen. We have a ton of guys in place and [defensive line coach] Tim Edwards believes that we can go two deep with our defensive line.”
With the departure of seniors Tedroy Lynch, Dalton Barksdale and Kristjan Sokoli on the line, the coaching staff will rely on a conglomerate of younger players and experienced players who will assume larger roles to man the defensive line. Last season, the Bulls’ 3-3-5 defense was made up by three larger defensive linemen whose main role was to plug the running gaps. In a switch to the 4-3, the Bulls will have leaner defensive ends on the outside and slightly smaller defensive tackles in the middle.
Junior defensive tackles Max Perisse and Brandon Crawford are the unit’s most experienced returners. Perisse finished with 13 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and one sack as a defensive end last season. Crawford finished with 19 tackles, three tackles for loss and three sacks from the same position.
Perisse and Crawford would have returned as defensive ends, but new defensive coordinator Brian Borland’s 4-3 scheme prompts them to move to the inside and play the tackle position.
Crawford said the scheme change doesn’t affect what is expected from the defensive line. And he’s embraced it, too.
“As far as the four-man front, I really like the scheme,” Crawford said. “It feels easier for us to make plays and help each other. As for me and Perisse, we’ve really embraced being the leaders. We’ve helped lead the young guys and trying to bring them along so we can be ready this season. Everything is coming along great, the entire defense is for that matter.”
In last week’s Blue-White spring game, the defense finished with eight tackles for loss, five sacks and one forced fumble. After the game, Leipold said the defensive line was impressive and both he and Edwards felt “confident” about a new eight-man rotation on the line that was implemented this offseason.
The eight-man rotation will include four defensive tackles and four defensive ends rotating in and out, hoping to find cohesion between one group of four. Leipold said “some guys will play more than others,” but the Bulls are expecting to get as many defensive linemen in as early as possible.
With Perisse and Crawford expected to be the starters on the inside, sophomore Chris Ford and freshmen Christian Gonzalez and Corey Henderson will be the primary reserves. But this season will be about the growth of the underclassmen and their immediate impact on the program.
One player that stood out was freshman defensive end Randy Anyanwu. Anyanwu, a linebacker last season, made the switch to defensive end during the spring and will be one of many underclassmen on the line looking to get valuable playing time in 2015.
Anyanwu said having so many young players should help the Bulls in the long run.
“It’s good, we know the people that we’re playing with now,” Anyanwu said. “It’s like a brotherhood, we’re all really close in age and it has helped us work together on the field … We’re all looking for chance to make an impact early in our careers, so it’s a battle on the field, but it makes us tighter off it.”
Along with Anyanwu, freshmen defensive ends Demone Harris and Solomon Jackson and junior college transfer Torey Hendrick are also expected to take snaps at defensive end.
Despite all of the underclassmen taking snaps on the defensive line this season, Leipold said the amount of talent will figure itself out and the chance to have young players on the line next year will only help the Bulls in the future.
“We want them to thrive right away,” Leipold said. “Having a good pass rush is vital to what we want to do defensively. If these guys can come in and provide positive snaps right away, not only do they help us this year, but will help us in the long term, too. It’s our job to coach them up and get them ready for Albany.”
The team will not practice for the rest of the spring and will meet up again in July for summer workouts, with the season starting on Sept. 5 against Albany at UB Stadium.
Quentin Haynes is a sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org