Senior Jimmie Gilbert and junior Derek McCartney both enter the 2016 campaign with nine-and-a-half career sacks. Gilbert led the team with six sacks last fall, while McCartney led the way with four-and-a-half sacks two years ago.
More is expected out of them this fall.
“If we can get the opponent throwing the ball more in true passing situations, to me, they should be close to double digits [in sacks], both of them,” Buffs head coach Mike MacIntyre said. “Derek is stronger and I would say Jimmie is a little quicker. They have shown the ability. They showed flashes in the spring and early in this camp with their pass rush technique.”
Gilbert admits McCartney pushes him to get better as an outside linebacker, and vice versa.
“It is always a competition. We compete during practice in pass rush and even during walkthroughs,” he said. “Our job is to get [to the quarterback] as fast as we can, so we make a game out of it and it makes it fun. It just increases the energy and makes you want to produce even better.”
McCartney is actually a year older than Gilbert, but McCartney grayshirted and redshirted, while Gilbert played his first year on campus. A redshirt year would have benefited Gilbert, who arrived looking more like a basketball player than a football player, but he was needed during the 2013 season.
Gilbert in fact grew up in a basketball family. Both of his parents played at the college level and his older sister Karla played center for Texas A&M and was the Aggies' team MVP as a senior in 2013-14.
“My family embraced [my desire to play football] during my senior year of high school when they realized 6-foot-5 was pretty much my limit and I was better suited for football,” Gilbert recalled. “I actually got an offer to play basketball at Stephen F. Austin in Texas but at that point I already had it in my mind that I was going to play football.
“A 6-foot-5 power forward isn't much of a threat. If I was 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8, I could do something. Three inches make a big difference. So I just tried to focus on football at that point because I knew it was something I could excel at.”
Gilbert said he has no regrets about the path he chose to take. And if he can reach his goal of double-digit sacks this fall, he would move into the school's top 10 list for career sack leaders.
"I really need to increase my production. We put our safeties and cornerbacks and inside linebackers in a tough position when we, as a defensive front, don't get to the quarterback and apply that proper pressure," Gilbert said. "So me personally, I know that is one thing I really have to emphasize on and make sure I do my best to get to the quarterback as fast as possible."
Wednesday practices notes -
*** MacIntyre continues to express confidence in Diego Gonzalez, who had an up-and-down 2015 season as the Buffaloes' place kicker.
“His first year here he had a little bit of a hernia, so that hindered [him] even some going into last year. We had to really shut him down, weren't able to kick as much,” MacIntyre said. "This year he is completely healthy and I feel really good about what he has done. … [He has] been real consistent. And the ball is just popping off of there quicker so that shows his leg is alive and better.”
*** Following Wednesday's practice, MacIntyre was asked multiple questions about how his team can turn the corner in close games. The Buffaloes lost a total of nine games the previous two seasons by eight points or less.
MacIntyre believes the fact he now has a veteran team that has been in those close game situations a lot should help them “come out on top” more this season.
“And with our offensive line being a little bit stronger and better, I think we'll be able to have some chances to hold the ball a little longer on the pass, or blow a hole open a little bit better so now a three-yard run turns into a 10-yard run and you are moving and putting the other team on its heels,” he added. “It is those type of plays, not unbelievable ESPN type highlights. It is just the mundane plays that put you in a little bit better situation.”
MacIntyre said they also looked internally as a staff at how they could do a better job of playcalling and getting the ball to their playmakers more in critical situations, and also adding more of an element of surprise to their game plan to catch their opponent off guard.
*** The Buffaloes will practice at night from 7:30-9 pm on Thursday and then from 6-8:15 pm on Friday before returning to their normal schedule of morning practices.
“We were going to go under the lights one time last Friday but there was lightning so we're going to do two nights in a row this week; just get out catch balls in the lights, special teams and different things like that under the lights,” MacIntyre said.