By any measure, Tyree Jackson stands out on the University at Buffalo football field.
The 6-foot-7, 245-pound sophomore quarterback is the No. 1 reason for optimism about the UB offense this season because he is such an impressive physical specimen.
Another year of healthy eating and weight training have made Jackson faster entering Bulls training camp, which began on Tuesday.
Jackson was timed in the 40-yard dash in 4.57 seconds this month. That’s blazing fast for a man who’s 6-7. Speedy Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor was timed in 4.51 seconds coming out of college. Carolina Panthers star Cam Newton, 6-5 and 250, ran 4.56 in 2011.
Disclaimer: The 40 time is not a prime indicator of quarterbacking success. Tom Brady ran 5.28 before New England drafted him in 2000. UB all-time passing leader Joe Licata ran 4.93 two years ago.
Nevertheless, it’s a sign Jackson is rare athlete on the UB campus.
Another sign: Jackson’s hands. They’re 10 3/8 inches from the tip of his thumb to the tip of his pinky, as measured by The News after Tuesday's practice. That’s massive. Anything over 9 1/2 inches is considered large for a QB.
Newton’s passing hand is 9 7/8 inches. Denver’s 6-7 Paxton Lynch, a first-round pick in 2016, had one of the biggest measurements ever, at 11 1/2 inches. NFL scouts get very nervous about any QB with hands 9.125 inches or smaller.
Jackson’s hands are exactly the same size as those of Hall-of-Famer Brett Favre, whose mitts were remarkably big given that he stood only 6-2. That made Jackson happy.
“He’s my favorite player ever,” Jackson said. “It’s just because of how he played. He always had fun playing. He played like a little kid. And Green Bay always has been my team since I was little.”
Green Bay is just a 3-hour ferry ride from Jackson’s home in Norton Shores, Mich., on the eastern edge of Lake Michigan.
Jackson, who started nine games for the Bulls last season, is in the best condition of his life.
“This summer we really emphasized getting faster,” he said. “We worked on a lot of things to improve our burst. I felt like this summer was really beneficial to me.”
Jackson rushed for 459 yards (51 a game) and 5.3 yards a carry last season, not counting yards lost on sacks.
His running ability on designed read-option plays and in scrambling from the pocket figures to be an asset again for the Bulls. Opposing defensive ends have to stay honest on runs up the middle, lest Jackson keep the ball and run around them.
“He’s definitely going to have the ability to be a threat for us,” UB coach Lance Leipold said of Jackson’s running. “And as he gains confidence in the system, he’s going to know when that right time is to pull it down and go. In our zone-read game, he’s definitely going to be a weapon. We’re going to need that, and it should be a good part of what we do.”
“If it’s going to help the team win games, then I’m all for it,” Jackson said. “Running the ball is not really a problem. Sometimes it’s about being smarter in situations and not taking as many hits and sliding. That’s what I’ve really learned from my first year. Running the ball is part of the game. I’m a football player, even though I play quarterback.”
Improving the passing game, of course, is critical to UB’s fortunes. A lot of that depends on how many receiving weapons emerge.
Jackson was optimistic after the team’s first practice at UB Stadium.
“As a team I think we’re way ahead of where we were last year as far as the playbook,” Jackson said. “We’re not really teaching that much because all the guys are returning this year.”
“You walk in the locker room this year and you know everyone’s name,” Jackson said. “Last camp you were trying to get to know everyone, know how fast they play as a quarterback. This year we’ve been throwing since spring and all summer so I feel we’re way ahead.”