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2011 South Florida Preview – Defense
USF CB Quenton Washington
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - South Florida Bulls Defense
Preview 2011 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: After debuting with a unit that ranked no lower than 22nd nationally in scoring and total defense, coordinator Mark Snyder is hoping for even better results this fall. The coach proved he could adapt without the previous regime's stars, encouraging news as five key starters depart. For years now, the Bulls' personality has been carved out on defense, a talented and athletic group that flies to the ball and creates havoc. This edition will be no different, sporting talent and potential at every level. No, there aren't any household names, but the collective group is outstanding and sure to get better as the season progresses. Up-and-comers, like DE Ryne Giddins, S Jon Lejiste, and linebackers DeDe Lattimore and Sam Barrington, have only scratched the surface of their ability, and are poised to erupt in 2011.
Tackles: DeDe Lattimore, 69
Sacks: Jon Lejiste, 4
Interceptions: Jerrell Young, 3
Star of the defense: Sophomore LB DeDe Lattimore
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior CB Kayvon Webster
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Ryne Giddins
Best pro prospect: Senior CB Quenton Washington
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Lattimore, 2) Washington, 3) Junior LB Sam Barrington
Strength of the defense: The line, linebacker, run defense, limiting big plays, third down D, red zone D, team speed
Weakness of the defense: Lapses in pass defense, stripping the ball
State of the Unit: After losing three seniors, including current Carolina Panther Terrell McClain, the defense is banking on a handful of career backups filling the void and rising up the ranks. For years, the program has excelled at developing D-line talent, a trend that'll be put to the test this season. The most recent edition set the bar relatively high, clogging running lanes and generating pressure on a consistent basis.
The most seasoned member of the line will be 6-2, 317-pound junior Cory Grissom , who's slotted in at nose tackle. He's made 16 career starts, gumming up the middle of the line and getting in on 16 tackles and three stops for loss a year ago. When healthy, he plays with the leverage and strong base to be an asset in run defense. Lining up next to him at defensive tackle will be 6-0, 286-pound senior Keith McCaskill, another blocky, low-to-the-ground interior lineman. Despite his average height, he has the reach of a 6-5 player, allowing him to keep blockers off his body. Quick off the snap, he had 14 tackles and four stops for loss.
The staff is holding out hope that the ends can begin to reach their potential. Senior Patrick Hampton earned his first three career starts in 2010, making 20 tackles, seven stops for loss, and 2.5 sacks. Playing with the speed and the moves of an outside linebacker, the 6-0, 240-pounder has the ability to be a dangerous pass rusher off the edge. Even more, however, is expected from 6-3, 259-pound sophomore Ryne Giddins , who's getting ready for takeoff. One of the most heralded recruits to ever choose South Florida, he laid the foundation with 19 tackles, six stops for loss, and 3.5 sacks. Considerably bigger and stronger than when he arrived, he still has the get-off and straight-line speed to be a dynamite pass rusher. Senior Claude Davis is looking for a second chance to make a first impression. A 6-2, 233-pound hotshot recruit from East Mississippi Community College, he had a quiet debut and made just one tackle.
Watch Out For .... Giddins to start becoming one of the Big East's more dangerous pass rusher. A little slow out of the gate to start his career, he's completely healthy and ready to begin approaching his lofty ceiling. Size and explosiveness are not a problem, so now he just has to go out and produce.
Strength: Getting penetration. Whether it begins on the interior or off the edge, the Bulls will have the athleticism to beat opposing linemen off the snap and into the backfield. Attracting nimble and agile pass rushers has never been a problem for the coaching staffs in Tampa.
Weakness: Depth on the inside. While the defensive ends will have a deep and fertile rotation, the same cannot be said for the tackles. After the starters, Grissom and McCaskill, the Bulls lack experienced players who can come off the bench and fill a void without skipping a beat.
Outlook: The defensive linemen ought to be adequately motivated because all of them have been waiting for an expanded role for a couple of years. Now is their time to shine. Players, such as Hampton and Giddins, get an opportunity to play every down and earn a brighter spotlight for a change.
State of the Unit: Two-thirds of the linebacker corps returns for the Bulls, giving the defense a solid base to build upon. Sure, it'll be tough replacing all-leaguer and current New York Giant Jacquian Williams at strongside, but this is another defensive position that South Florida has been able to rebuild over the past few seasons. It's a young and talented unit that'll get continuously better as it gets more snaps and experience.
Sophomore DeDe Lattimore wasted no time getting in the mix in his first year, finishing second on the team with 69 tackles, 6.5 stops for loss, and 2.5 sacks. A genuine playmaker from his weakside position, he has good lateral speed and plays the game with maximum intensity. He's just getting started in what promises to be an All-Big East career before too long.
In the middle, the other returning starter is 6-1, 235-pound junior Sam Barrington , another highly-regarded former high school recruit. A terrific all-around athlete, he played well in his first season as a full-timer, making 65 tackles and 6.5 stops behind the line. He's added 10 pounds of muscle since last fall, giving him the thickness he needs to better handle the rigors of being a top run defender. He'll have a capable safety net in 6-0, 237-pound senior Mike Lanaris, a two-time letterwinner, with 29 tackles and 3.5 stops for loss a year ago.
The battle at strongside is between a rookie and a veteran, 6-2, 210-pound redshirt freshman Reshard Cliett and 6-0, 215-pound senior Curtis Weatherspoon . A converted safety, Cliett had an outstanding spring, justifying his move from the secondary. Weatherspoon can flat out fly, covering ground as fast as any Bull defender. A former transfer from Dean Community College, he debuted with 19 tackles on defense and special teams.
Watch Out For .... Cliett and Weatherspoon to duke it out right through the summer. Neither was able to build much separation, but that's not such a bad thing. Both played well actually, a sign that both will get plenty of reps this fall.
Strength: Range. After almost a decade of attracting fleet-footed linebackers to Tampa, you can now bank on the Bulls having burners on the second level of defense. Everyone, including the second-teamers, fly to the ball, closing quickly and swarming the man with the ball.
Weakness: Strongside. Relative to Lattimore and Barrington, strongside is going to be the weakest link of this trio. Cliett has a bright future and Weatherspoon can motor, but neither linebacker has much experience or the size needed to handle an oncoming guard with a head of steam.
Outlook: Lattimore and Barrington give the Bulls plenty of hope, today and right through the 2012 season. They'll be the catalysts of the middle of the D and two of the rising stars in Tampa. On the fast track to postseason honors, they'll also help deflect some of the attention from strongside, which could be an issue this fall.
State of the Unit: The lone departure from a year ago is an important one, CB Mistral Raymond, who's now a member of the Minnesota Vikings. He'll be missed, but he can also be adequately replaced now that four defensive backs with starting experience return. The 2011 edition will be looking to raise the bar from a year ago, when South Florida was generally stingy, but had a few too many breakdowns and inconsistent moments.
The Bulls' top corner is 5-10, 190-pound senior Quenton Washington, a player with a shot at playing at the next level once he's done. About to enter his third season as a starter, he made 59 tackles and broke up four passes in 2010, improving as the season wound down. He's got the speed and hips to match opposing receivers, encouraging quarterbacks to navigate the other side of the field.
At the opposite corner will be 5-11, 193-pound junior Kayvon Webster, who started four games last season and 10 games in his career. He was unable to jump Raymond in 2010, yet managed to make 29 tackles and pick up some valuable experience. Tough and physical, he'll jam receivers at the line of scrimmage and step up to support the run. Providing cover off the bench is another junior, 5-11, 180-pound George Baker. A backup on defense and special teamer a year ago, he made a dozen tackles.
Both safeties are returning starters from 2010. At free safety, 6-1, 208-pound senior Jerrell Young brings 34 games and 18 starts of experience. A big hitter, with the mindset of a linebacker, he also flashed good coverage skills last fall, picking off three passes to go along with 41 tackles. Behind him is another sticker, 5-10, 200-pound sophomore Mark Joyce. In his first season of action, he quickly got into the rotation, picking up his assignments and making 33 stops.
The strong safety will once again be 5-11, 201-pound junior Jon Lejiste, the staff's preferred choice to let loose on zone blitzes. Yet another physical headhunter, he operates with good timing and feel for the position, pitching in with 43 tackles, 7.5 stops for loss, a team-best four sacks, and a couple of forced fumbles.
Watch Out For .... the safety blitzes to keep coming as long as the corners keep covering. Although the coaches don't want to overdo the aggression, when the opening presents itself, they'll revel at the chance to let Lejiste and Young pin their ears back. When properly employed, attack mode can be hell on the other team's quarterback.
Strength: Physicality. With the safeties setting the tone in the secondary, the South Florida defensive backs are a collection of snot-knockers, intimidating receivers who dare to use the middle of the field. Tough in coverage and at the line of scrimmage, the Bulls make their opponents earn their receptions.
Weakness: Lapses. As well as the Bulls played in 2010, there were forgettable games, like allowing three touchdown passes to Cincinnati and an average Louisville passing attack. The secondary needs to plug a few leaky areas and play with a greater degree of consistency in order to elevate its play this fall.
Outlook: The Bulls continue to be in fine shape in the defensive backfield, with three returning full-timers about to be joined by an experienced and savvy Webster. This group will have just enough speed and aggression to keep the program among the Big East's toughest secondaries to navigate through the air.
State of the Unit: South Florida will be on solid footing on special teams, welcoming back last season's punter, placekicker, long snapper, and all-conference return man. However, that doesn't mean everyone's job is safe. Junior Justin Brockhaus-Kann , for instance, was the Bulls' punter last fall, but after averaging only 37.6 yards, has been knocked down a peg by Chris Veron . The redshirt freshman has a big leg and kicked with more consistency in the spring, earning the top spot on the post-spring depth chart.
The placekicker will once again be junior Maikon Bonani, who displaced Eric Schwartz in September and went on to go 17-of-21 on field goal attempts. It was a remarkable turnaround for a player who'd missed all of 2009 following a harrowing 35-foot fall at an amusement park.
The Bulls have two of the better specialists in the Big East, junior kick returner Lindsey Lamar and punt returner Terrence Mitchell . The speedy Lamar was electrifying in 2010, averaging 26.6 yards and scoring a couple touchdowns. Mitchell ranked second in the conference and 23rd nationally in his first year, averaging more than 11 yards a return.
Watch Out For… how well Veron handles his promotion. He came out of high school heavily recruited and highly-regarded, but has yet to punt under pressure or in the face of a real rush. Although Brockhaus-Kann is a good safety, there's hope around Tampa that Veron can elevate the level of play at the position.
Strength: The return game. Lamar and Mitchell give the Bulls a pair of All-Big East contenders, slippery playmakers who can zip through the tightest cracks in a wedge. Underrated cogs of the offense, they'll provide a steady boost to the program's field position.
Weakness: The coverage units. While South Florida improved here from 2009, it was still a shaky and inconsistent area of the special teams. The Bulls ranked in the bottom half of the country in punt and kick return defense, providing shaky support to the defense.
Outlook: The new staff arrived last season and had an immediate impact on the special teams unit. Bonani solidified the kicking game, the returns were explosive, and even the coverage teams showed signs of life. The key for a second straight season will be the punter, a position that might be about to get a facelift.
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