Here’s one thing the ton-to-prove University at Buffalo defense looks like it can take to the bank: A quality starting cornerback tandem.
The Bulls have two players with experience and athletic credentials in Boise Ross and Marqus Baker.
“I think they both had excellent camps,” said UB coach Lance Leipold.
The new starting duo debuts Saturday at UB Stadium in the Bulls’ season opener against the University at Albany, a rebuilding team from the Football Championship Subdivision. It should be a successful start to the Lance Leipold Era at UB.
Ross, a junior from Bethlehem, Pa., arguably was the most impressive defensive player in UB’s training camp. He converted from wide receiver to cornerback in the third game of last season and started eight games. He has the ball skills to be a playmaker. Ross showed off his good hands with numerous diving interceptions in practice the past month.
“Running routes and covering guys, it helps if you know what they’re doing,” Ross said. “I’d say it’s a big help in playing the ball.”
The 6-foot Ross has better-than-average size for a Mid-American Conference cornerback and has athleticism. He ran a 10.7-second time in the 100 in high school and long-jumped 23 feet. A full offseason at corner has helped, too.
“It’s really just getting my technique and my feet right,” he said. “I was still really lost in that area last year.”
Baker, a 5-10 senior from Tampa, Fla., saw significant backup time during UB’s 2013 bowl season and was supposed to start last season. But he suffered a lacerated spleen in training camp. He returned for the last four games as a nickel corner.
Now he’s eager to have a big senior year.
“It’s been a very long time coming,” Baker said. “I’m blessed to be here and I’m ready to play.”
Baker thinks the new 4-3 scheme of coordinator Brian Borland will help prevent big plays.
“The new defense definitely has made me feel more comfortable,” he said. “You feel more secure out there at corner now because before you might be out there on an island the whole time. Now you’ve got safeties over the top of you some of the time in this defense. I think there’s more coverages we can disguise. I feel confident about the defense.”
“I’ve been pulling for Marqus,” Leipold said. “He has been through so much, and he’s really worked hard to get himself in position to have a good senior year. He’s emerging as a leader and being confident. Coach Borland feels good about what he’s doing to help younger players get lined up. He’s going to help mentor Cam Lewis, as well.”
Lewis is a promising freshman corner on the second unit.
Last year’s season-opener against lower-division Duquesne set off alarm bells for UB’s defense, because it allowed 322 passing yards and 28 points. Big pass plays allowed were a problem all season.
With Ross and Baker on the boundary, UB thinks it can do a better job of preventing cheap, deep big-gainers.
Leipold said sophomore defensive end Zach Smekal, injured in training camp, has torn knee ligaments and is lost for the season. It’s Smekal’s third knee injury and probably means his career is over. Smekal was battling to get into the top-four rotation at DE.