Last year UB's ground attack was anchored by committee. In Gills offense not having a solid, every down back, was a huge handicap. While it's nice to have depth getting into your third, fourth, and fifth running backs during the course of a season is a sign that injury and/or poor performance is probably hurting your offense.
I believe that the growing pains of last season and the differences in the offensive philosophy coming in this year will mean that the UB backfield is going to carry the offense. Towards the end of the season last year Gill, Thermilus, and Nduka all established themselves as potential feture backs, though there is still a question of durability. Bulls fans should be more comfortable with the group of backs going into spring practice this year than than they were when these same backs took the field against UTEP last season.
This spring there are a hand full of backs competing for time on the field.
Ike Nduka: Nduka, more than any single player, rescued UB from a season of being one dimensional. After weeks of struggling to find a running game Coach Gill gave Nduka a chance to start and Nduka responded by shredded Central Michigan.
Last year Nduka, from White Plains NY, was fourth in going into spring practices. The Junior carried the ball just one time (Auburn 2006) going into the 2009 season. He used a red shirt in 2007 and played only on special teams in 2008.
Nduka is a power back, but one with a solid explosion but his ability to play a role in the passing game (he has just 10 career catches) and his durability (missed time in several key games last season) both need to be proven this off season.
Brandon Thermilus: When Starks went down the presumption was that Thermilus would be the replacement, and that assumption held up through the first several games but with on a 3.3 yards per carry average through the 1-3 start that put UB behind the eight ball he was replaced with Ike Nduka.
As the season wore on Thermilus seemed to get his footing and by the time Nduka was hurt he was a back that the offense could rely on finishing the last two games with nearly 250 yards.
Thermilus will be in the mix for the feature back spot, but he has never been known for his speed, nor his proficiency as a pass catching back. These two things may land him as the 'H-Back' in the spread offense and not the down to down back.
Jeffvon Gill: One of the things that made Turner Gill a solid recruiter at a mid major school was his willingness to let any athlete try out for any position. When Jeffvon Gill received interest from a long list of schools in 2008 they all wanted him as a defensive back. Turner Gill saw the tape, liked the running back that he saw and told Gill that he would have a shot at the half back position.
In his freshman year Gill was called on when Ike Nduka went down midway through the season. Gill had a phenomenal game against Bowling Green where, in a losing effort, he racked up 172 yards on the ground.
Nick Sizemore: Sizemore played mostly on special teams last season where he managed four tackles. In his time with the offense he proved to be a solid blocker and snared one reception for seven yards against Miami.
Sizemore is a physical football player who excelled on both offense (Full Back) and defense (Linebacker). As a linebacker he had 111 tackles and 5.5 sacks as senior, as a fullback he had 34 carries for 177 yards (6 receptions for 67 yards) and scored nine touchdowns. Sizemore was named second-team All-State as a senior.
I have heard through second hand sources that the coaching staff is looking at different positions for Sizemore, one of the more absurd suggestions is on the offensive line. I really hope that somewhere between the decision makers and myself someone confused 'Tight End' with 'Offensive Line'. Sizemore has nearly a perfect frame to play the tight end but he would be a very undersized lineman. To put Sizemore on the line, even if only as a long snapper, would be a waste of his talents.Brandon Oliver: Oliver was recruited in the same class as Jeffvon Gill and used his red shirt last season.
The previous copaching staff described him as having good speed and quickness. Oliver has the ability to make people miss which may make him a candidate for the kick/punt return team. In high school he rushed for 1,159 yards on 194 carries (6.0 ypc) and scored 15 touchdowns his senior season (along with three catches for 61 yards and a touchdown). He was selected to play in the North Florida vs. South Florida All-Star Classic and the Dade vs. Broward All-Star Game.
Peter Gagliardi: Listed on the UB Athletics site as a Full Back, but on the NCAA website as a Tight End, Gagliardi has soft hands and good size and solid blocking fundamentals.
In high school he played tight end, fullback and defensive end. During his senior year he had 14 catches for 181 yards and two touchdowns, as a defensive end he had 24 tackles, two sacks, two fumble recoveries and returned an interception for a touchdown.
There are two 'types' of backs that get used in the spread offense:
F Back (Skill Back) - The F Back is the name sometimes given to a half back who lines up as a receiver on the play, or a back who motions into that position before the ball is snapped. The main difference between an H back and an F back is the type of athlete who is playing the position. A back who might otherwise be a full back is going to be your H Back, a back who would otherwise be a half back is an F back.
Who comes out of spring ball as the primary 'F Back'?
H Back (Power Back) - Because the spread offense is focused on spreading the defense it makes little use of full backs. Every warm body on the offensive side of the line is force the defense to cover as much of the field as possible. The H Back has to be a player with a hugely divers skill set as they will be called on to run block, pass protect, and run receiving routes from multiple sets against anything from a corner back to a linebacker. The only substantive difference between a tight end and an H back is that the H back usually does not have to be on the line when the ball is snapped. There are certain formations (like those that include an F and H back but no tight End) in which an H back will find themselves on the line.
Who comes out of spring ball as the primary 'H Back'?