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Red-shirt freshman rise up in UB football scrimmage

Maybe Lance Leipold’s first recruiting class can start paying some early returns for the University at Buffalo this fall.

Red-shirt freshmen made a lot of plays Saturday in an 83-play scrimmage that was part of the Bulls’ 11th spring practice.

Wide receiver K.J. Osborn caught four passes for 81 yards and had two touchdown grabs in the session at UB Stadium. Running back Emmanuel Reed had two short-yardage TD runs and ripped off an 11-yard gain, the longest by a running back. Tight ends Tyler Mabry and Matt Seybert each made nice catches, with Seybert producing a red-zone touchdown.

Of course, the most prominent red-shirt freshman on the roster is 6-foot-5 quarterback Tyree Jackson. He continues to look pretty good in spring work.

“There’s a bunch of red-shirt freshman kind of showing up today, and that’s good to see,” Leipold said.

UB has three more closed practices this week, then concludes spring ball with the annual Blue & White Game, which will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at UB Stadium. That game is free and open to the public.

QB rotation: Grant Rohach, the senior transfer from Iowa State, continued to take the opening snaps of the workout, as he has all spring. However, Leipold reiterated that the QB workload remains even and the competition will not be decided until early in summer training camp. Rohach got 26 snaps, Jackson 25 and sophomore Chris Merchant 25, by unofficial count. They all got to work with the starting offensive line. Jackson remains the most impressive physical talent of the three from the standpoint of height and arm strength.

Osborn in WR mix: Senior starter Marcus McGill sat out due to injury. The starting three wideouts were senior Malcolm Robinson, sophomore Brandon Smiley (the Sweet Home product) and slotman Colin Lisa. Junior Jacob Martinez is next in line.

However, there will be room for a contribution from Osborn if he can stand out like he did Saturday. He did a good job high-pointing the ball to make a 37-yard sideline catch from Rohach over backup corner Ousmane Camara. Then he took advantage of a coverage mix-up – the only blatant one of the day – to catch a 22-yard TD from Jackson, who made a good throw on a rollout. His last TD came on a 13-yard fade catch vs. Andrews Dadeboe in the corner of the end zone.

Both Osborn and Mabry are from Ypslanti, Mich., home of Eastern Michigan University. They both left home to spend their senior year of high school IMG Academy, a football powerhouse in Bradenton, Fla, that is owned by IMG, a global sports and talent management company.

“My strength I’d say is route-running,” said Osborn, a 5-11, 195-pounder. “I like to call myself a deep-ball threat. That’s one of the keys I’ve been working on in the offseason, catching the deep ball and my speed. But I want to be consistent every practice in my route-running.

RB rotations: Senior starter Jordan Johnson sat out with a minor injury and No. 2 man Johnathan Hawkins, the prized sophomore recruit from Georgia, is out this spring while recovering from shoulder surgery. That gave plenty of carries to junior Zach Nicholas of Maryland and Reed, a red-shirt freshman from Florida.

Reed is only 5-7, but he’s a solidly built 185 pounds. He showed willingness to run hard inside, breaking a tackle in the backfield on a 3-yard TD run and going north-south on an 11-yard run off guard.

“He’s short in stature, but he’s got good thickness to him and he’s not afraid of contact,” Leipold said. “He’s been a very pleasant surprise in showing speed and quickness and making people miss. He can help this football team.”

Nicholas has bounced back and forth between safety and running back in his career, but UB now has safety depth. He’s at running back permanently.

Backup TEs: What does UB have behind proven starter Mason Schreck at tight end? The progress of sophomore Kevin Rogers and red-shirt freshmen Mabry and Seybert will determine how much UB is willing to use two-TE sets. Seybert made the catch of the day, getting both feet down on the side of the end zone for an 8-yard TD strike from Merchant. Merchant beat a blitz on the third-down play.

Extra points: The first segment of plays began from the 3-yard line, with UB working on punching the ball into the end zone. The second segment began from the 3 going the other way, with working on getting out from the shadow of its goal line. . . . Sophomore cornerback Cameron Lewis, who played a ton as the nickel corner last year, looks ready to take over for graduated starter Marqus Baker. Lewis had two breakups on third-down plays. . . . Sophomore defensive tackle Justin Brandon had a sack of Merchant on a third-and-12 play. . . . There only were three penalties called on the 83 scrimmage plays.  Leipold was happy about the clean play because he said he urged the officials to call infractions tightly. . . . Smiley had a 38-yard catch wiped out by a holding penalty.

Special teams: Sophomore place-kicker Adam Mitcheson hit 9 of 10 kicks from 34 to 37 yards. He also made his only two kicks of the scrimmage, connecting from 21 and 27 yards. UB has to replace graduated Tyler Grassman, a four-year starter. Senior Conor Clarke, a Lancaster High product, was the backup last season and is handling the duties this spring. UB recruited a highly touted South Carolina product, Taylor Sheets, who will try to win the job as a true freshman when he arrives in the summer.

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