When Maurice Linguist was named Lance Leipold’s replacement as UB’s head football coach last spring, things were immediately chaotic.
Linguist was hired in May (most coaches are hired in December or January) and was left with less than four months to assemble a staff, establish a recruiting class, retain potential transfers and evaluate the talent on his team before the season kicked off in early September.
And given the nature of that turbulent offseason, the results of the 2021 season (4-8, 2-6 MAC) weren’t particularly surprising.
But, over the past few months, Linguist — one of the nation’s most talented young recruiters — has brought in over 20 new players and the highest-ranked overall recruiting class in school history.
The 2022 offseason is his first full chance to work with his new team.
“[I’m] really proud of what we were able to do from a recruiting standpoint and bringing in a very talented group of guys,” Linguist said after UB’s first spring practice last Tuesday. “Now listen, we have a lot of work to do with this team. Talent’s one thing, we have to adhere to a certain set of standards and daily discipline to really move the needle the way we want to move it.”
With a new group of talented transfers — junior cornerback Caleb Offord (Notre Dame), graduate cornerback Elijah Blades (Florida), sophomore quarterback Cole Snyder (Rutgers) and graduate receivers Justin Marshall (Louisville) and Jalen “Boobie” Curry (Arizona), to name a few — as well as some of the highest-ranked recruits in program history, expectations are high for a UB team that made it a habit of qualifying for bowl games during Leipold’s tenure.
“There was a lot going into it,” graduate wide receiver Quian Williams said, referring to the start of spring practice. “From when the season ended, all the guys, we couldn’t wait to get back up here and get to work. The excitement builds up, the hype builds up, now we’ve just got to do a good job of just keeping it up there and improving everyday.”
Here are some notes from UB’s first week of spring practices:
New coaching staff
The offseason didn’t just see multiple players transfer out of Buffalo; it also saw a number of coaches leave the Queen City.
After struggling immensely on the defensive side of the ball (the Bulls ranked ninth in the Mid-American Conference in points allowed and gave up 38.5 points per game during the final four games of the season), UB parted ways with defensive coordinator Joe Cauthen after just one season.
Linguist tapped Brandon Bailey, who spent the last three seasons as a defensive assistant at Texas A&M, as Cauthen’s replacement.
Linguist says the Bulls are taking it slow in revamping the defense under Bailey, who’s in his first go-round as a Division I defensive coordinator at UB.
“We’re really starting from a blank piece of paper, but we were able to have a lot of uninterrupted time through January and February and really the half of March to lay out the scheme and present it in a very digestible way [to the players],” Linguist said.
While Bailey’s schemes differ from Cauthen’s, the coaching staff is looking to hammer home fundamentals in spring ball. Linguist mentioned concepts such as block shedding, form tackling and rallying to the ball as skills every successful defense should emphasize in its early stages.
“Obviously, when you change coordinators, things change,” Linguist, a former safety at Baylor, said. “But the fundamentals of defensive play stay consistent.”
UB also hired three new assistant coaches in running backs coach Greg Knox (who most recently coached at Florida), wide receivers coach Kevin Sherman (Murray State) and linebackers coach Kevin Corless (Samford). The three bring a combined 90 years of coaching experience to UB and are working on both on- and off-the-field concepts with the players, Linguist says.
“I’m really pleased with what our coaching staff has done over the last seven weeks,” Linguist said. “Being able to sit guys down, teach them the X’s and O’s, yes, but also get to know guys on a very personal level, which we think is just going to always add to what we’re doing.”
Quarterback talk has heated up since Kyle Vantrease, UB’s starting quarterback last season, entered the transfer portal and elected to play at Georgia Southern in early January.
With four quarterbacks on the current roster (Snyder, senior Matt Myers, sophomore Casey Case and redshirt freshman Brian Plummer), the Bulls have a quarterback competition on their hands.
Myers and Snyder got most first-team reps in on Tuesday, so everything indicates the starting job will come down to the two of them. Linguist spoke highly of Snyder when UB announced its recruiting class in February, and considering Snyder’s Power Five experience, it could make sense to start the transfer quarterback next season.
But Myers is the longest-tenured quarterback on the roster with prior starting experience at UB. While he couldn’t beat out Vantrease for the starting job last season, he’s among Snyder’s stiffest competition.
Linguist said it would be “unfair” to name a starting quarterback at the beginning of spring practices and that UB will allow its quarterbacks to compete and earn the starting role.
“Who’s our starting quarterback? The film’s gonna decide that, the players are really gonna decide that,” Linguist said. “What we have to do is put the ball down and allow them to play and make it very transparent and make it very equal at the beginning in terms of a rep count and how we go about structuring practice.”
“All four quarterbacks, they’re all great and they’re just gonna keep getting better,” Williams said. “It’s gonna be great to see what happens with our quarterbacks this year for sure.”
Replacing Dylan McDuffie
Junior running back Dylan McDuffie declined to answer questions about his transfer status last Tuesday, and it’s now clear why.
Despite being made available to the media following UB’s first spring practice, McDuffie re-entered the transfer portal just two days after practice began.
After initially entering the portal on Dec. 31, McDuffie withdrew his name from transfer consideration on Jan. 31 only to re-enter on March 31. The sixth-leading rusher in the MAC last season (1,049 yards), McDuffie has since received offers from Virginia, Duke, Western Kentucky, Florida Atlantic and the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) in the last five days.
UB must now shift its attention to finding McDuffie’s replacement, and whether the Bulls elect to replace McDuffie with one player or do so by committee, there are multiple viable options.
Senior running back Ron Cook Jr. ranked second on the team with 440 yards and three rushing touchdowns on 88 carries last season. The Washington native was also named All-MAC as a kick returner, averaging 21 yards per return in 2021.
Redshirt freshman Mike Washington appeared in three games last season and rushed for 132 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries, while senior Tajay Ahmed had six carries and a touchdown while contributing on special teams.
Redshirt freshman Al-Jay Henderson saw action in two games last season, sophomore Caron Robinson missed all of last year with an injury and freshman Jackson Paridis looks to be in the backfield mix in his first year at UB.
While Cook’s numbers stand out among the pack on paper, he stands at 5-foot-9 and weighs 187 lb., so Linguist and Knox could look into splitting carries between backs as the season approaches.
Anthony DeCicco is the senior sports editor at The Spectrum. In his free time, he can be found playing video games, watching ‘90s Knicks games and arguing with people on NBA Twitter at 3 a.m.