Niagara Gazette

August 25, 2011

UB closes up camp

By Thomas Baldwin
Niagara Gazette

AMHERST — The first step in the long road to the University at Buffalo’s new football season was a month of spring practices.

That’s over.

Then came a grueling training camp, full of two-a-day practices and scrimmages.

After Thursday night, that too is history, with just eight days to go until the season opener at Pitt on September 3.

The Bulls now move into regular season mode, and head coach Jeff Quinn is happy with what he saw during camp.

“Our kids played with great effort,” said Quinn, whose team will have a light practice on Saturday. “Certainly we know, improvement needs to take place. We need to stay healthy, we need to stay locked in and play team football on both sides of the ball and special teams. I like the way our kids came out here and competed on a daily basis.

“The kids practiced with purpose and have been professional about it. Businesslike.”

Quinn, whose club went 2-10 last season, likes his depth this season.

“That is why we spent a lot of time going out and recruiting good young players,” he said. “Last year, we played six true freshmen. There is a good possibility we might put six or eight true freshmen out there, because they know they can help us in depth, and do whatever it takes to help this program.”

According to Quinn, 95 percent of the Bulls’ 22 starters are set — with one exception — at cornerback. But although it is not official, it looks like Najja Johnson has finally won the titanic, summer long battle for one of the two cornerback positions still open. It became apparent when Johnson, a sophomore from Atlanta, took the majority of the snaps with the first team defense on Thursday.

However, associate head coach/cornerbacks coach Ernest Jones did not officially name Johnson the starter.

“We’ll be here for three hours watching the tape, then we are going to decide tonight,” said Jones, who prefers to actually go home at night while some coaches spend the night sleeping at the stadium. “We are going to tell the staff tonight at our meeting after the films, and then tell the guys early tomorrow morning.”

Jones could not come out and say it, but it looks like Johnson is the man.

“I would be comfortable with Najja Johnson,” Jones said. “He is the fastest guy on our defense. He is one of the most sound guys we have. He is a mature guy who doesn’t do anything wrong.”

The two players who Johnson appears to have beat out are Joe Petit and Dwellie Striggles. But, Jones said even if they don’t land the starting job, they will see some playing time.

“Because they were good enough to compete for the starting position, that will warrant them to get some snaps,” Jones said.

NOTES: Quinn announced that senior John Syty will miss the entire season due to concussion problems. Syty, from Clarence, will still be involved with the team on a consistent basis. ...Starting quarterback Chazz Anderson threw some crisp and accurate passes during the scrimmage. UB insiders claimed it was the best he had looked all summer.