Even without the presence of Khalil Mack, the University at Buffalo doesn’t necessarily have to restock the shelf at linebacker.
There’s plenty of experience for defensive coordinator Lou Tepper to work with and opportunities for younger players – even a true freshman or two – to earn some valuable playing time. “I love them,” said Tepper who doubles as the Bulls’ linebackers coach. “I don’t have a jerk in my room, I’ve got hard-working guys who want to be pretty good.”
It didn’t even take Tepper long to identify Mack’s replacement: 6-0, 200-pound sophomore Jarrett Franklin, who appeared in 11 games and had 21 tackles, including three for loss. “He has an unusual body type, but he does some pretty good things,” Tepper said. “I’ve very pleased with his progress.”
But the Bulls don’t have a backup to Franklin just yet. Solomon Jackson, a 6-1, 230-pound redshirt freshman and 6-4, 215-pound true freshman Juwan Jackson, an early enrollee from Milford Academy, are being developed.
“We’ve got some guys who are working hard,” Tepper said. “They’re not ready yet, but they have wonderful attitudes,” Tepper said. “I’m hoping one of those two will develop in time.”
The Bulls are solid at mike linebacker starting with 6-2, 233-pound senior Lee Skinner, a pillar in the lineup, who has started all 37 games of his career and has ranked second on the team in tackles in each of his first three seasons. The Dayton, Ohio, native recorded 79 tackles including 3.5 for loss in 2013. His backup is 6-0, 219-pound redshirt freshman Greg Lis from Lincoln Park, N.J.
Returning at bull linebacker is Jake Stockman, a 6-3, 237-pound senior who started three times last season and finished with 43 tackles, 5.5 for loss. He replaces starter Blake Bean, who transferred to North Texas. Lancaster product Travis Pitzonka, who appeared in all 13 games last season, will back up Stockman.
“I can’t say enough good things about them,” Tepper said. “They may not be All-MAC guys, but they are disciplined, they’re in the right locations, they’ll hit the bejabbers out of you. I like them.”
The big question is who will be the rush linebacker? A likely candidate would be senior Adam Redden, a third-team All-MAC selection last season, but he’s spent most of the spring in the secondary at safety. Another is 6-2, 232-pound Kendall Roberson or 6-3, 222-pound junior Brandon Tammaro, who has missed the spring with an injury. It could be a true freshman like Myles Nicholas from Rochester, Randy Anyanwu from Lovejoy, Ga., Corey Henderson from King George, Va., or Will White from Detroit.
“We’ve got a number of guys who are going to be able to get out there and prove their worth whether it’s on defense or special teams,” UB coach Jeff Quinn said. “You can’t get enough linebackers because you have to utilize them in special teams and they’re going to have their chance to go out there and help this football team win games.”
There’s junior Nick Gilbo, who has missed most of the spring with a knee injury. He missed seven games last season with an injury, but Tepper expects the 6-1, 220-pounder from Port Henry to compete for playing time at the mike, bull and rush in training camp if his knee improves.
“Nick Gilbo is the guy who’s very talented, but he hasn’t played and we don’t know if he’s going to be ready or not,” Tepper said. “If he is, he’s going to challenge somebody to start, and it could be one of the three positions. He’s not the typical rush, he doesn’t have the length that most of the rushes have, but if we don’t develop a taller, lankier guy, I wouldn’t be afraid to put him there.”