Each week leading up to the 2014 football season we'll be profiling current UB football players who are looking to "Make the Leap" or breakout this season. These can include any current UB players whether that be a backup coming into a starters role or a starter that is ready to elevate their game to the next level. Our second defensive prospect is Sophomore Outside Linebacker Brandon Crawford.
2013 Season Review
As a true freshman last season Brandon Crawford only saw action in the final eight games of the season, including the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. During his time on the field he finished with 7 tackles, 2.0 for loss, 1.0 sack, and 1 forced fumble; not exactly mind blowing stats, but with a defense that had Khalil Mack, he didn't need to produce huge numbers on the field.
For Crawford the 2013 season was more about getting as many reps in live game action as possible while soaking up as much knowledge and wisdom from Khalil Mack as possible. When he did get a chance to be on the field he showed flashes of brilliance, one of which was during the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl when he strip sacked San Diego State quarterback Quinn Kaehler:
At first glance when you see a Buffalo jersey willing his way past an offensive tackle the way Crawford did, you'd think it was Khalil Mack. Crawford is physically imposing at 6-2, 230 lbs, but he also has the athleticism that allowed him to seemingly run past the offensive tackle.
All things considered the 2013 season was a productive one for Crawford who gained valuable game experience while learning from both Khalil Mack and defensive coordinator Lou Tepper, who literally wrote the book on linebacking.
Just because he is one of the heir apparents to the hole left by Khalil Mack, doesn't mean Crawford is guaranteed a successful season in 2014. Here are some of the obstacles he'll need to overcome.
- Lack of Mack: What will be a common theme for the defensive players I'll be covering is the loss of Khalil Mack. Crawford is a physically imposing and solid linebacker in his own right, but he won't command the attention of 2-3 blockers on every play the way Mack did which will allow defenses to attack the defense as a whole rather than just attack Mack.
- Pass-Rush Repertoire: Crawford showed nice burst and a nice swim move, especially on the strip-sack in the Potato Bowl. But, a puss-rusher can't be a one trick pony because offensive linemen will key into what they like to do and can cancel out any attempt at a pass rush. Crawford will need to develop a good bull rush, and work on his hand fighting skills to become a feared pass rusher.
- Competition: Crawford will be competing with fellow sophomore Jarrett Franklin (more on him next week...), and a host of incoming freshmen for snaps at outside linebacker opposite Adam Redden. Snaps may be at a premium given all of the youth at the position.
2014 Season Expectations
Khalil Mack is gone, and so begins the process of making up for his production in the defense and creating a new terror that can wreak havoc on the quarterbacks of the Mid-American Conference. Crawford had a solid season as a neophyte being groomed behind the best player in program history, and getting live game experience is always a plus. Definitely look for Crawford to start to impose his will on opposing offensive lines.
It's extraordinarily unreasonable to expect that Crawford will match or better Khalil Mack's production, so I don't think he'll put up Khalil Mack-type numbers (But if he wants to prove me wrong thats A-OK!); but, it isn't unreasonable to think that his numbers will increase by a fair amount from last season to this season. It's a good bet that he'll be heavily involved in the defense either in a starting role if he can win it, or in a rotational role as a situational pass-rusher on 2nd and 3rd downs.
Crawford will need to improve his pass-rush moves and show that he can drop back into coverage on passing downs to be a 3-down linebacker, but with experience he will certainly improve. Don't expect Khalil Mack numbers, but a solid season could land him in the running for All-MAC honors.
Prediction: 40 tackles, 6 for loss, 4.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles