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Despite NFL departures, Copeland set to wrangle secondary

Photo of Josh Thomas defending by Dave Marino

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

Losing three defensive backs to the NFL must be bittersweet for a mid-major Division I football team.  Not only were safeties Davonte Shannon, Domonic Cook and cornerback Josh Thomas productive in their University at Buffalo careers, but their poise and leadership will be dearly missed.

In a sense, though, their impact should endure long after graduation.  Young reserves Cortney Lester, Adam Redden, Isaac Baugh, Okoye Houston and Carlos Lammons sat dutifully behind the entrenched starters, absorbing technique tips and watching how upperclassmen with professional aspirations act on and off the football field.  Fifth-year senior Josh Copeland—the lone holdover from Turner Gill’s ‘07 recruiting class due to a redshirt year—will shift to safety and not only start, but act as the unquestioned leader of the defensive backs.  The value of three years playing alongside Shannon, Cook and Thomas will be invaluable for Copeland, who’s making the transition from linebacker to back his high school position.

In an uncomfortable time of adapting to a new role while serving as mentor of wide-eyed underclassmen, Copeland credits the three former Bulls for helping him prepare for their departure. 

“Davonte, Dom, J.T., they were great leaders,” Copeland said.  “We can’t be mad they’re gone—they’re in the NFL now—but they taught us a lot about leadership, playing on the field and how to act off the field.  A lot of that will carry over to this year.” 

It’s clear that Copeland has taken the responsibility to heart, as several underclassmen have noticed the senior’s willingness to carry the leadership torch only six padded practices into fall camp. 

“Copeland is positive—and he leads by example,” sophomore safety Adam Redden said.  “He speaks when no one wants to speak, he makes plays, and he’s somebody that people look up to.” 

“Before every snap, [Copeland] communicates the calls to me, making sure I’m right,” the redshirt freshman Lester added.  “We have our chemistry built up.”

Coach Jeff Quinn’s confidence in Copeland’s versatility and experience is a major reason why the former Bearcat head man believes his senior can juggle a position switch and leading his unit. 

“[Copeland] has a keen sense for the game—he understands the moving parts,” Quinn explained on media day.  “I look forward to seeing him handle the duties of the ‘whip’ safety.  He does great things when it comes to his [hitting] skills, and he’s been able to play the ball deep and vertical, so I feel very good about him.” 

If you’re confused about what exactly a “whip safety” does, TechSideline.com explains: “The Whip linebacker/safety is less of a linebacker and more of a defensive back in a linebacker position. The Whip position, a defensive football player’s dream to play, provides run support, blitzes from the corner, and provides pass coverage responsibilities.”  Essentially, the whip safety fills an array of roles—it’s not too far from Copeland’s previous responsibilities—unlike the free safety, who is concerned primarily with coverage downfield.

Buffalo’s secondary, widely considered to be the team’s weakest unit heading into 2011, will definitely experience growing pains.  Romel Dismuke, the Cincinnati transfer who started for UB in the spring game, was declared academically ineligible last month and has left the team.  Lester, the other spring starter, struggled to deal with Marcus Rivers—no surprise when the defender concedes five inches and 31 pounds to the receiver—but the probable starting corner likely won’t face such physical specimens this fall. 

Isaac Baugh, the probable strong safety, is a core special teamer with little collegiate experience on defense.  The other cornerback job is wide open, with sophomore Carlos Lammons as the current favorite and true freshmen Kyndal Minniefield and Michael Jamar-Brown catching Quinn’s eye so far in camp. 

It will be strange for Bulls fans not to see #7 darting toward a ball-carrier to wrap him up, #25 tracking a receiver down the sideline or #15 leaping backward to break up a pass.  Still, with Copeland in command and an infusion of young blood, expect the young Bulls to mature quickly.

TAGGED: college football, domonic cook, josh copeland, josh thomas, mac, ub bulls, university at buffalo

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