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Bulls defensive front shows early signs of promise

The University at Buffalo’s new defensive front four looked reasonably stout in Saturday’s Blue and White spring scrimmage at UB Stadium.

That’s one small step forward for a UB defense that is being completely revamped from a year ago.

The Bulls’ defense held the UB running backs to 69 yards on 27 carries, a 2.5-yard average in the 70-play scrimmage.

It was pointless to draw too many conclusions from the 80-minute event, held before about 500 spectators. UB starting quarterback Joe Licata sat out, and star running back Anthone Taylor barely played. The play-calling was vanilla, aside from two flea-flicker passes that did not connect.

Nevertheless, the starting defensive tackle tandem of Brandon Crawford and Max Perisse looked particularly stout. That’s encouraging, because those two are the strong favorites to open the season as the starters. The defensive ends looked active, especially against the second-team offensive line.

“I thought they did really well,” new UB coach Lance Leipold said of his defensive linemen. “You have to look at the particular matchups, but you could see some penetration by the interior two guys. You could see some nice plays on the outside from our defensive ends. Actually probably all four that rotated did a nice job. Tim Edwards, our line coach, feels he’s going to have eight guys to rotate.”

With UB switching from a 3-3-5 defense to a 4-3 front, everybody on the line is in a new spot. UB allowed 31.5 points a game last season.

Crawford is a 6-foot-2, 287 pound junior who is up 15 pounds from last season and 45 pounds from the start of his freshman year. He started six games last year and had three sacks. Last year he played head-up on an offensive tackle or on the inside shoulder of a tackle. This year he’s in a 3-technique, over the outside shoulder of a guard, a spot that offers more opportunity to penetrate.

Perisse is a 6-4, 271-pound junior who improved during last season, starting three games. He saw a lot of his action shaded over the center. Now he’s playing on the inside shoulder of a guard.

“I love it,” Perisse said of the 4-3. “I think it gives more opportunity for the defensive guys up front to make plays. …. It went from five or more against three to five against four, so it opens up more opportunities for other guys to make plays. If I’m getting a double-team, it should open up space for Brandon Crawford or Demone Harris to make a play.”

Crawford stuffed Taylor for a 1-yard gain on the second play of the scrimmage. He and Perisse were solid throughout the session. The two DTs combined for a sack and a 4-yard loss on back-to-back plays against the second O-line late in the scrimmage.

The starting defensive ends were Harris, the Timon-St. Jude product, and Solomon Jackson. Rotating at DE with the second-team were Randy Anyanwu, Myles Nicholas and Zach Smekal. Anyanwu had two sacks.

email: mgaughan@buffnews.com