A football team never really knows the quality of its depth until the need comes into play. And it inevitably comes into play. Injuries arise and, as UB coach Jeff Quinn is fond of saying, the time comes for "the next Bull in" to ascend from a backup's role and show what he has to offer.
The Bulls have fared well in the depth department this season, far better than their 1-7 record suggests. True freshman running back Devin Campbell produced a pair of 100-yard games while filling in for Bo Oliver. Wideout John Dunmore made everyone aware of his presence with a seven-catch game against Pitt while Alex Neutz was on the shelf. And Derek Brim, a former walk-on from Canisius High School, has emerged from special teams and specialty coverages to become one of the team's leading tacklers the last two games while replacing injured safety Witney Sherry.
Brim came out of Canisius an honor student perhaps known more for his academic prowess than his football talents. He entertained a couple of offers from Division II schools but turned them down, electing instead to enroll in UB's electrical engineering program and accept an offer to join the Bulls as a preferred walk-on at wide receiver.
Brim felt before last season that he wasn't going to make inroads at the position. He approached the defensive coordinator at the time, current Buffalo Bills assistant defensive line coach William Inge, seeking a move to the other side of the ball.
"I took the initiative to move over to defense," Brim said this week. "Initially I wasn't getting that much playing time on offense and I felt I could help the defense out. I went up to the defensive coordinator at the time and I just asked him, ‘I'm interested in playing cornerback.' They moved me to corner last year and I was doing all right at corner and this year they decided to move me to safety. It's been working out."
Brim, a 6-foot, 190-pound junior, made his first career start against Pitt and finished second on the Bulls with seven tackles, one of them for a loss. He moved up a spot on the charts against Toledo, producing a team-high nine tackles. In both games, UB contained highly regarded passing attacks as the defense allowed a total of just four touchdowns.
"It's been nice to see Derek Brim in there," said UB coach Jeff Quinn. "He's really taken advantage of his opportunity. I mean, he's had two great weeks of performance. When you get a chance to get in there and play and you've prepared and worked hard it shows you demonstrate a high level of respect for yourself and your teammates."
Brim's attention to detail made for a smooth transition into the starting lineup. In practice, the UB coaches covered nearly everything they saw from the opposing offenses. To Brim, the games were nothing more than a faster-paced version of the week's preparations under defensive coordinator Lou Tepper.
"Our coaches try to put us in spots in practice to simulate the game so it was pretty much just like practice out there for me, doing the same things that we do in practice," Brim said. "Coach Tep always emphasizes pursuit 100 percent and we've been buying into that so over the weeks our defense is constantly improving too. We just try to get to the ball. If we see run we just shoot. That's been our primary focus for the year. Each game our pursuit grade is getting better, which is allowing us to play better defense."
Two games in the starting lineup have increased Brim's visibility, at least from the outside looking in.
He's been a season-long contributor on special teams and picked up enough "points" from the coaches in the Toledo game to take over the lead in the Special Teams Player of the Year standings.
The progression's been dramatic since Brim first stepped foot on campus hoping for a roster spot as a wide receiver. And then as a cornerback. And now as a proven backup to Sherry, who remains day-to-day leading up to Saturday's noon start against Miami (Ohio) at UB Stadium.
"I was pretty sad to see Witney out," Brim said. "He's a great player for us and makes plenty of plays. But I was excited to get my opportunity. I had to fill his shoes and I just wanted to help our team out anyway I could."