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Gill era at UB gets up-tempo start New coach emphasizes ball security, turnovers

The Turner Gill era began Wednesday at the University at Buffalo, and the new football coach generally was satisfied with the first spring practice workout.

Just as gratifying is the fact that Gill, a longtime assistant coach at Nebraska, is now running a program for the first time as a head coach.

"It puts a smile on my face and I'm really excited about the opportunity," Gill said. "What makes it so exciting is our staff and it confirms a little bit more about the guys I hired on the staff. They're going to bring some energy, they're going to challenge them and they're going to love them."
It was an up-tempo, lively environment for the first day and the coaches set the tone early. The practice was barely 20 minutes old when wide receivers coach Juan Taylor threw down some papers in frustration after a dropped pass.

"Son, you have to make that catch," he said. "You ran a beautiful route but you dropped the pass. You . . . have . . . to . . . make . . . that . . . catch!"

After several nice receptions, Taylor later turned to sophomore wide receiver Ernest Jackson and said, "You're going to catch a lot of passes for us this season."

R. Todd Littlejohn was just as animated with his defensive backs telling one after a missed assignment, "I can backpedal faster than you can run."

Gill has already made it clear to his staff and players that he is not looking to ease into his Buffalo coaching tenure.

Even in a program where he faces perhaps the most challenging rebuilding task in the country, Gill wants to win now. The Bulls are coming off a 1-10 season, 1-7 in the Mid-American Conference.

"Everything is very well organized, and we didn't expect that," said senior linebacker Ramon Guzman. "It's refreshing."

Gill is also emphasizing ball security and takeaways. The Bulls committed 27 turnovers in 2005, and were tied with Syracuse, Tennessee, Florida State and California for 99th in the nation. They forced only 12 turnovers, which tied them with Ohio State for the 114th fewest in the country. Only Rice (11) and Illinois (eight) had fewer takeaways.

The staff ran through drills addressing both categories at the beginning and near the end of practice.

"A ball on the ground doesn't make me too excited," Gill said. "Just look at the stats. We didn't take care of the ball and we didn't create enough turnovers. That's the quickest way to get things done -- to help the team become more productive in terms of scoring and then have a defense to create a way to get things done."

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Players no longer part of the program include quarterback Chris Moore (transfer), defensive back Dwight Reid (dismissed from team), offensive lineman Tim Schmidt (medical disqualification), and wide receiver Jeff Green (medical disqualification). Junior Andrae Smith is out while recovering from a leg injury.

Tailback Philip Warren and tight end Robert Yealu, both sophomores, are not participating in spring drills because of an undisclosed violation of team policy.

With the Bulls' alignment shift from a 4-2-5 defense to a 4-3, Guzman and fellow senior James Vann are moving from safety to linebacker. Guzman now plays middle linebacker, his third position change at UB, while Vann moves to outside linebacker. Junior Trevor Scott has moved from tight end to defensive end.

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Here's sophomore quarterback Drew Willy's take on the new offense: "It's more of a quick pace, more attacking, more aggressive. Everybody is going to touch the ball. Every time there's going to be someone open, so you have to keep your eyes up."

e-mail: rmckissic@buffnews.com

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