Last year the University at Buffalo learned the hard way the importance of owning depth on the offensive line. This year the Bulls think they have it, and we'll find out soon because it's coming into play.
Two true freshmen and a red-shirt freshman are expected to start on the offensive line in Saturday night's season opener at Heinz Field against Pittsburgh. True freshmen Dillon Guy and Gabriel Barbe will man the left side at guard and tackle, respectively. Red-shirt freshman Andre Davis of Cheektowaga, a converted defensive lineman, gets the call at right guard.
Injuries have the Bulls reaching into the replacement pool out of the gate. Centers Jasen Carlson and Josh Violanti have missed most of training camp. Left tackle Pat Wilson has a shoulder injury suffered in the team's next-to-last scrimmage.
"Pat's not going to be playing Saturday," coach Jeff Quinn said at Tuesday's weekly news conference. "We've asked Gabriel Barbe to step up and go over there, and he's really done a nice job for us. So we're looking forward to seeing his progress and seeing how he plays against Pitt Saturday."
As for Carlson and Violanti, Quinn said, "They're upgraded. Are they going to play? I'd love to get both of them in there. I think Carlson's a little further ahead than 'Vio,' and we hope to have Jason ready to play on Saturday."
Junior Graham Whinery has moved from guard in to center in the absence of the other two. Matt Ostrowski, who missed eight games last year with a leg fracture, is at right tackle after opening training camp at guard.
The injury-related restructuring has the players calling the left side of the line "The Eh Team." Barbe hails from Montreal, Guy from Hamilton, Ont.
"Coming in as a freshman I didn't expect this but in the back of the mind that's what you always want to do," Guy said of his starting role. "I expected I would take a step, get a feel for the program and everything, but when opportunity called I just took it. Looking back now with that whole spring ball under my belt, and now fall camp, I feel very prepared."
Spring ball is also is also when Davis found himself on the offensive line and getting reps as a starter.
"I was especially surprised in spring ball," Davis said. "I never played offensive line in my life. They just threw me in the fire so to speak. As long as I was playing I was happy."
"Those young kids are hungry," Quinn said. "They're hungry to prove what their value and worth is. Barbe and Guy and Andre Davis have been with us all spring. It's not like these guys just came in three weeks and earned their time in terms of being the starters."
In addition to John Syty (Clarence), who will miss his final season because of a concussion, the following players are injured and out for Saturday: defensive lineman Dalton Barksdale, tight end Jake Reeder, and defensive back Adam Redden (St. Francis).
Pitt's in its first year under Todd Graham after the Panthers parted ways with Dave Wannstedt following last season. Graham spent the last four years at Tulsa operating a high-tempo, no-huddle offense and has been an advocate of the the no-huddle since the early 1990s. The Panthers have one Western New York native on their roster, freshman long snapper David Murphy (St. Francis). He's not listed on the depth chart. Two Panthers are regarded as top 75 prospects for the 2012 NFL draft -- G Lucas Nix and DE Brandon Lindsey.
Ostrowski put on 22 good pounds over the summer and now goes 6-foot-6, 320 pounds. When asked what you have to eat to put on 22 pounds, he responded, "I guess what don't you eat."