After a first year campaign full of ups and downs, year two of the Lance Leipold era is underway. On Saturday, the Buffalo Bulls Football team hosted the annual Blue and White Scrimmage in which they showed the accumulation of everything they worked on during spring practice. The biggest storyline of this upcoming season is the quarterback battle as the Bulls have to replace four year starter Joe Licata.
Due to the current state of the team and it's roster size, the scrimmage wasn't an actual game. Instead, the team played out various game like situations. A good majority of time was spent on the red zone but there were a few occurrences where a whole drive from around the thirty yard line was played out.
After spending time watching the game and spring practices, it is safe to say that the QB battle is very competitive. Leipold will have to choose from Iowa State transfer Grant Rohach, Tyree Jackson, and Chris Merchant. All three of the quarterbacks have their distinct strengths that will only make it harder for Leipold and Andy Kotelnicki to choose from.
This past year, Tyree Jackson redshirted in order to retain as much eligibility as possible. The 6-5 QB is undoubtedly the most athletic one out of the trio fighting for the starting job. Jackson shows a lot of poise and a strong arm. Jackson's athleticism shows that he will also be a consistent dual threat. Something that isn't quite there yet is his ability to throw a more consistent deep ball accuracy wise and some of his decision making is a little questionable. As a Freshman this is fine and I predict that after this year he'll be the starter for the Bulls.
Chris Merchant comes into the 2016 season as a sophomore for the Bulls. Merchant possesses the best ability out of the trio of QB's when it comes to the deep ball. As far as I'm concerned, it doesn't look like Merchant will be the starter but he will be one to watch this summer after his stock rose exponentially during the scrimmage. He finished the day with 7-10 passing as three of his passes were for 29, 32, and 38 yards respectively.
After playing limited minutes during his time at Iowa State, Grant Rohach comes to Buffalo with one year of eligibility left. He too can be a dual threat and keep the ball to rush it. The graduate transfer shows the best ability to handle pressure and make smart decisions. In essence, he plays like the veteran and leader that he is expected to be as a redshirt senior. During the scrimmage, he went 13-17 scored four touchdowns. If I had to choose who the provisional starter is, then I'd have to go with Grant.
Quarterbacks aren't the only story of this year's spring season. What is exceptional is the tight end play that I saw. Last season we saw the use of TE's play a large role in Kotelnicki's offense with Matt Weiser and Mason Schreck. As Weiser graduates this year, red-shirt freshmen Tyler Mabry and Matt Seybert will be crucial additions to the offense. Mabry had an amazing spring game where he caught three touchdowns and had four receptions for 54 yards.
The defensive side of the ball also saw it's own strengths. Brandon Crawford has shown that he will be a huge threat from the defensive line. The soon to be senior grabbed a pair of sacks during the spring game. JUCO transfers showed how much they bring to the table as well. Safety O.J. O'Neal and Linebacker Khalil Hodge finshed the spring scrimmage with six and four tackles respectively. Hodge will play a huge role this upcoming season in a Linebacker group that lost a lot to graduation.
Overall the defense has a little bit of work to do as the offense did a great job of outperforming. The Andy Kotelnicki system looks much smoother compared to last year's 5-7 campaign. Hopefully, this is a sign of good things to come as Kotelnicki's offense was one of the bigger concerns for Bulls fans. Leipold's second year might not be a slight setback after all.