University at Buffalo sophomore Jeremiah Dadeboe was in a single-high safety position Friday night but covered enough ground to make an interception of a pass 35 yards down the sideline.
Redshirt freshman linebacker Kadofi Wright was in a trail position covering the tight end on a quick-out route but was fast enough to get to the sideline and make an athletic pickoff.
Team speed. It was on display for the defense and an encouraging development in the annual Blue & White Scrimmage at UB Stadium.
“I think we needed to try find ways to be faster as a defense,” UB defensive coordinator Brian Borland said in reflecting on last year’s performance. “Every team would say that, but in our case it was true. I look at us last year and in a typical game we’d play 90 to 95 percent of the snaps really well and then the 5 or 10 percent of them would be out-the-gate plays where if we didn’t execute things just right on, we couldn’t recover and fix our problem.”
“We’re trying to find more athleticism, more speed that we can get out there,” Borland said.
More of the speed on the UB team is in the younger classes. And coach Lance Leipold brought in one of UB’s most encouraging recruiting classes in recent years from a speed standpoint in January. Those guys hit campus in August.
How fast can some of this speed creep up the depth chart and make an impact on the field? That’s an uncertainty. But UB coaches are doing everything they can to accelerate the development of team speed.
UB’s defense ranked seventh in yards allowed in the Mid-American Conference but it was last in the MAC and 124th out of 126 in the nation against the run. The Bulls allowed 253 rushing yards a game.
Big plays were the problem. UB gave up 10 runs of 40-or-more yards. Only seven teams allowed more.
One significant change Borland has made is inserting junior Jordan Collier as the starting “field-side” outside linebacker – lining up on the wide side of the field. Collier is a 217-pound converted safety who came to UB two years ago as a transfer from Alabama-Birmingham. He played 13 percent of the snaps last year, mostly in nickel situations.
The move means Ishmael Hargrove, the field-side starter last year, shifts over to the short or weak-side linebacker spot to share time with incumbent Jarrett Franklin. Franklin and Hargrove are two senior leaders on the team and high-character players. Neither is as fast as Collier.
Hargrove played 89 percent of the snaps last year and Franklin played 85 percent. Borland thinks a little lighter workload will allow them to be more effective.
“I think there’s a point where it gets to be diminishing returns,” Borland said. “We had several guys that played a high percentage. I think Ish understands that’s probably a position he’s better suited for. We have two starting weak-side linebackers. We can use them in different ways, which we are doing. There’s plenty of plays and plenty of room for those guys. We also know Ish is an experienced field-side linebacker, so if something happens he can always go out there and play.”
Wright is 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds. He’s long-armed and rangy. He worked as the No. 2 to Collier this spring. UB also has a speedy newcomer, junior college transfer Nikolas Ricks, who figures to help the depth at linebacker and on special teams.
“Kadofi Wright has had an excellent spring,” Leipold said. “He’s someone we’ve been excited about ever since he arrived on campus. He’s a little undersized. He has to still gain weight. He’s making the progression there.”
“He’s long and he’s athletic and he’s fast,” Borland said. “There’s a feel to playing the game. He’s got a good feel. He’s one of those things who could be a fixer at some point. We’ve got to find a way to use that guy.”
A “fixer” is somebody who covers up for others’ mistakes. Khalil Mack was the ultimate fixer at UB. Three guys could do the wrong assignment but Mack would blow up the play and no one ever would notice the mistakes.
That’s what UB needed on some of those long runs allowed last year, someone with speed to keep what should be a 15-yard run from breaking for 65 yards.
Dadeboe is a 6-1, 198-pounder from York, Pa., who is running with the second-team at safety. His strength?
“His total athleticism,” Leipold said. “He had offers to play Division I volleyball. He’s very explosive. But the natural instincts of the game to play that position is what really has taken a little time. He’s learning. He’s embracing contact and learning what it’s going to take. We’ve played him some at corner, some at safety, and I think he’s found a home at safety.”
UB returns a lot of experience on defense. There are eight returning starters. The Bulls are confident they will be more assignment sound than last season, which still is going to be critical.
“We know our margin for error was and maybe still is – we don’t have a big margin for error,” Borland said. “We’ve got to be right on with our stuff.”