The University at Buffalo’s defense simply congregated to the quarterback the last two seasons with relentless pressure that flowed through Khalil Mack, Colby Way and Adam Redden among others.
The questions now are can the Bulls still trust individuals to win matchups and can their pass rush supply enough stress to unsettle the quarterbacks? The majority of the players who propelled the unit to 72 sacks in two years are gone and with new faces pushed into prominent roles the Bulls are calling themselves, “The No-Name Defense.”
And the No Names don’t expect pass rushing to be a thing of the past.
“The pass rush is still strong even though Khalil is gone,” said Redden, who turned 23 on Wednesday. “We still have veteran guys. We’re not too concerned – it hurts not having Mack – but these guys are good athletes.”
The Bulls have applied the heat quite well since defensive coordinator Lou Tepper took over, including a school record 38 sacks last season. UB has been most effective bringing pressure in its dime package where Tepper estimates the unit has registered most of its sacks. Tepper added the defense will practice in the dime for the first time this spring on Friday. “We’ve got a lot of retooling to do there,” he said.
But Tepper likes his personnel, starting with Redden, the St. Francis product, and a third-team All-MAC selection who registered 4.5 sacks as a junior.
Another is sophomore Jarrett Franklin, who finished his true freshman season with 21 tackles – three for loss – and 1.5 sacks. Franklin is starting in Mack’s position at outside linebacker.
“Those two will most likely be two of the edge rushers,” Tepper said.
Sophomore linebacker Brandon Crawford will rush from the inside while additional playing time should boost the production from senior defensive end Tedroy Lynch.
“Obviously we don’t have Khalil, there but we have some speed rushers and we’re going to have to make the most of those,” Tepper said. “It’s not like we don’t have anybody who hasn’t rushed the passer before. Jarrett Franklin and Adam Redden has. Crawford got his feet wet and Tedroy played a little last year. But we’re probably back to where we were two years ago in terms of developing.”
Tepper’s 3-3-5 defense is a cover first scheme. He estimated that one-third of the Bulls sacks came from three or fewer rushers and added the Bulls regularly rush two defenders and two, “a lot.” Quarterbacks are releasing the ball quicker and Tepper doesn’t see the need to bring multiple defenders.
“Quarterbacks want to get the ball off in a hurry and the NFL is the same way that we are,” he said. “If you can’t get there with four, why rush four? Our philosophy is if you can’t get there with four, rush three. If you can’t there with three, rush two. We have been known to rush one.”
Like the time two years ago against Miami (Ohio) when Tepper sent Mack against six-man protection and he still sacked Zac Dysert.
“We designed that for him because he got the ball out of his hand so quickly,” Tepper said. “We weren’t going to let him have anything to throw in a hurry.”
It’s a work in progress and Tepper is still creating packages that will include Redden and Franklin.
“I like the fact that those kids understand, they’re working toward getting better at it,” UB coach Jeff Quinn said.
There’s more teaching but the defensive staff offers vast experience. Defensive line coach Chris Cosh, secondary coach Eric Lewis and safeties coach Mike Dietzel have worked as coordinators in the past while Tepper has been a head coach at Illinois, Edinboro and Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
The pass rush may come from players who have yet to arrive on campus. The staff signed five linebackers and two linemen: Myles Nicholas from Irondequoit, Randy Anyanwu from Lovejoy, Ga., Corey Henderson from King George, Va., and Will White from Detroit who are all linebackers, and defensive linemen Gusty Schwartzmeier of Hilton and Jake Khoury from Traverse City, Mich. Also, Juwan Jackson from Newark, N.J., enrolled in January and has shown some promise in practice.
“I’ll be eager to see where those guys are,” said Quinn, who has played 22 true freshmen over the last four seasons. “These guys will be given an opportunity.”