Remnants of last season remain. For stretches at Friday's spring practice inside the Ralph Wilson Fieldhouse, all five University at Buffalo offensive linemen sported hulking black knee braces on each leg. A painful reminder of a painful season.
In his first year at the helm, Jeff Quinn sought to turn games into track meets, to use speed at all positions. But after going 2-10, it's clear. Small ball won't fly. Injuries and inconsistency plagued the Bulls all year.
From here on, Quinn is looking for size up front on the offensive line.
"That's been our offensive focus," Quinn said. "When you look at our size when we matched up against some of the better teams last fall, they emphasized size as a requirement. We want to recruit big and strong athletic guys."
Players were only in jerseys and shorts Friday, but this year's group passes the eyeball test. A unit routinely mauled in the trenches lived in the weight room. Quinn didn't stubbornly hold out hope that a speed-based line would work. He changed it up. Size will now take precedent. In 2010, no Bulls running back averaged more than 30 yards per game. And for the season, UB's 104th nationally ranked rushing game averaged only 3.1 yards per carry.
So, workouts were not pleasant this winter. A typical training day? Quinn laughs with movie-villain delight.
"It started early," he said, peering at players shuttling off to the team bus, "and extended throughout the day."
The diagnosis was simple. Behind strength coach Zachary Duval, the top priority was increasing lower-body strength. Far too often, UB was bowled over at the point of attack, embarrassed even. Tree-trunk built senior center Josh Violanti (St. Francis) admits the line was "average to below average."
Through rigorous cycles of circuit training, with the squat press central to most workouts, the Bulls got stronger. Now, Violanti says the majority of the unit can squat between 400 and 500 pounds.
"There's definitely a bigger emphasis on getting bigger and getting stronger," he said. "We really put an emphasis on that this year as opposed to last year when we tried to be leaner."
A full bill of health wouldn't hurt, either.
At one point last season, the Bulls were down to six healthy players on the line. Mammoth linemen Matt Ostrowski (6-foot-6, 322) and Gokhan Ozkan (6-7, 317) among others are expected to be fully recovered from season-ending injuries. Ostrowski, who broke his leg in week three, is watching on from the sideline. Depth shouldn't be a concern.
"It's nice to have reps off and to think about plays," Violanti said.
To be sure, don't expect a full-fledged shift in philosophy. The Tony Pike-led, empty-the-playbook offense Quinn commandeered as Cincinnati's offensive coordinator is still in effect. Simply, Quinn wants more sheer mass.
With the pads coming on this morning, Quinn hopes to see the payoff soon.
"You get what you demand," Quinn said. "That's always the greatest part of this game, to play physical and to play with your pads."