Mark down yet another new starter for the University at Buffalo defense as it enters its season-opening game against Albany Saturday.
Projected starter Jarrett Franklin remains out indefinitely as he recovers from an offseason back injury, which comes as no surprise because he has yet to practice this summer. Junior Brandon Berry earned Franklin’s starting outside linebacker spot with UB’s release of its two-deep roster on Tuesday.
That means UB will have eight new starters on defense and just three senior defensive starters, making the Bulls the least experienced defensive team in the Mid-American Conference.
It’s just the opposite on the other side of the ball. UB enters the season with the most veteran offensive unit in the MAC in terms of senior starters. The Bulls have eight, and they have eight returning starters on offense overall.
Berry, a 6-foot, 215-pounder from Detroit, converted from safety to linebacker this year, as did the other starting outside linebacker, senior Okezie Alozie, a 6-foot, 220-pounder. Berry has seen action in 22 games the past two years but saw very limited duty on defense last year, making nine tackles.
“Brandon really I had a very good camp,” said UB coach Lance Leipold. “He’s matured. He’s a guy who plays with a lot of enthusiasm. We really challenged him to be focused and assignment-sound. I think he’s really stepped up. He’s in his junior year. He’s kind of at that point where you need him to step up and play well.”
Berry figures to split some snaps with Kyril Threats, a senior Canisius High product who has pass-rush ability.
Berry and Alozie should give UB good pass coverage at linebacker.
“The dilemma I guess you go through when you move safeties into linebacker spots is how they’re going to line up in the box and how they’re going to play against the run,” Leipold said. “I think they’ve adjusted very well to that. You hope the added bonus is, with so many people spreading you out, that you essentially have a modified or pseudo-type nickel package in from the start.”
Franklin, a 220-pound junior, ranked fifth on the team in tackles last season. Both he and reserve running back Devin Campbell, a senior, have missed all of training camp with back injuries.
“We’re hoping,” Leipold said of their chance to play this season. “That will probably be a few weeks away before we make a determination. The same with Devin.”
There were no surprises in UB’s two-deep depth chart.
Collin Lisa, the sophomore transfer from Alabama-Birmingham, is listed as the starter at wide receiver opposite Ron Willoughby. Senior Marcus McGill, junior Malcolm Robinson and sophomore Jacob Martinez figure to see plenty of snaps at receiver, too. Leipold also said true freshman Brandon Smiley, the Sweet Home product, is likely to play some this season and not red-shirt. Smiley has enjoyed a strong camp.
There are three true freshmen listed as second-teamers, all on defense. They are defensive end Charles Harris from metropolitan Detroit, defensive tackle Justin Brandon from Indianapolis and cornerback Cameron Lewis from Detroit. UB had two true freshmen on the two-deep roster last season and one the year before.
Besides Alozie, the returning UB defensive players who started the majority of last season are cornerback Boise Ross and defensive tackle Brandon Crawford.
While UB has the most senior starters on offense in the MAC, the Bulls don’t have the most returning offensive starters. Bowling Green has 10 starters back, while Western Michigan returns nine starters.