AMHERST, NY- For the first time in his tenure, University at Buffalo coach Jeff Quinn won't have Khalil Mack blowing up plays, Alex Neutz hauling in passes or Branden Oliver running over tacklers.
What will he have?
"There's certainly a great deal to build upon with our football team," Quinn said after the team opened training camp Monday. "You can't say enough about that senior class last year and they've got something to build on. A lot of people didn't know that senior class four years ago when they were freshmen. We've got a lot of work to do, and I certainly saw a crisp practice for the first day."
Quinn, who enters his fifth season at UB, knows one player he can count on: redshirt junior quarterback Joe Licata.
"[Licata] is a true competitor and a leader by nature," Quinn said. "He's so much more comfortable with the offense and the system. I feel really good about what he can do to lead this offense."
Licata led UB to its first winning record since 2008 as a redshirt sophomore last year. The team finished 8-5 (6-2 in the Mid-American Conference) and lost the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Game to San Diego State. It was the second bowl game in UB's history.
One more conference win would have secured a berth in the MAC Championship game.
"What we try to do is make sure all 105 guys take ownership," Quinn said. "But certainly, Joe being that key position at quarterback and knowing he's won a lot of games as the starting quarterback. He's such a humble kid and he's a worker. He knows what needs to happen out on that football field, and where all the pieces need to be when we throw the ball."
"You could see that today. We were a little off at times, but Joe was able to get them back on track. I could hear him on the sidelines. And that demonstrates to me that he really is ready to take that step up a notch in that leadership role for our football team."
Photos: UB Football's First Practice
The team practiced in helmets only, as they will Tuesday. On Wednesday and Thursday the players will wear helmets and should pads, and then players will wear full pads beginning on Friday.
The offensive line should be very good, but wide receiver, running back and the defensive secondary all have question marks, Quinn said.
Sophomores Boise Ross and Malcolm Robinson, juniors Marcus McGill and Ron Willoughby, and seniors Devon Hughes and John Dunmore will try to replace the departed Neutz, who had been in NFL training camp with the Bengals.
"[Ross] has just got to be consistent in everything he does," Quinn said. "And that takes time. But I feel good that there's enough players on that side in the receiving core. I think all of them as a committee will give us the kind of production Alex Neutz gave us along with Freddie Lee last year."
Tight end, however, should be an area of strength for the Bulls.
"I certainly like our two tight ends," Quinn said of junior Matt Weiser and sophomore Mason Schreck. "I really feel they're going to play a significant role in our success as we continue to move along this year."
At running back, Quinn looks forward to watching juniors Anthone Taylor and Devon Campbell, and sophomore Jordan Johnson (Sweet Home).
On the defensive side, Quinn will count on junior corners Marcus Baker and Okezie Alozie, along with sophomore linebacker Jarrett Franklin and sophomore defensive end Brandon Crawford.
He expects Franklin and Crawford to help fill the void left by Mack, who now plays for the Oakland Raiders.
"Jarrett Franklin is a hard working a young man, a very locked-in individual," Quinn said. "Here's a young man who came all the way from St. Louis, Mo., and was a state champion wrestler – just a real tough kid. He played well over 200 snaps last year, so he got his opportunity to get in there and learn from one of the greatest players to ever play here."
"I feel good about Jarrett, and I know he's excited about his opportunity to fill those big shoes that number 46 vacated."
Quinn said he and defensive coordinator Lou Tepper expect a solid year from Franklin.