2012 South Florida Preview - Defense
South Florida LB DeDe Lattimore
2012 CollegeFootballNews.com South Florida Preview - Defense
Preview 2012 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: The South Florida D is going to be fast, physical and athletic. What else is new? The Bulls have never had much problem attracting talented athletes to Tampa, as the current edition will attest. Sure, there are holes, but the program's next-man-in persona pretty much ensures that a drop-off in production can be avoided. Junior defensive ends Ryne Giddins and Julius Forte give USF a dynamic duo of pass rushers, who get out of the blocks and into the backfield in a hurry. After flirting with his ceiling the last two years, Giddins, in particular, appears ready to explode into NFL scouts' consciousness. The linebackers are a trio of heat-seeking missiles. DeDe Lattimore, Michael Lanaris and Sam Barrington are eager to reprise their roles as last season's top three tacklers. Although the secondary must replace a pair of quality starters, no one in charge seems to be overly unnerved about the situation. At cornerback, Kayvon Webster was All-Big East in 2011, and JUCO transfer Fidel Montgomery performed in the spring as if he'd been playing at the FBS level for years. While the safeties will miss Jerrell Young, the group remains deep and talented. Mark Joyce is a favorite among the coaches, JaQuez Jenkins has had a stellar offseason and Jon Lejiste is expected to recapture his starting role once he finishes rehabbing an injury.
Star of the defense: Junior LB DeDe Lattimore
Tackles: DeDe Lattimore, 94
Sacks: DeDe Lattimore, 7
Interceptions: Kayvon Webster, JaQuez Jenkins, 2
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior CB Fidel Montgomery
Unsung star on the rise: Junior DE Julius Forte
Best pro prospect: Junior DE Ryne Giddins
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Giddins, 2) Lattimore, 3) Senior CB Kayvon Webster
Strength of the defense: The line, the linebackers, run defense, pass rush, team speed,
red zone D
Weakness of the defense: Overall depth, softness in coverage
South Florida likes its building blocks on the D-line heading into a new season. USF often likes its building blocks along the D-line. Leading the brigade up front for at least one more year will be 6-3, 263-pound junior Ryne Giddins , who has the full attention of NFL scouts. The All-Big East second-teamer began approaching his press clippings in 2011, his first as a full-timer, making 44 stops, 11 stops for loss, five sacks and three forced fumbles. He is ferocious coming around the edge, blending an explosive first step and terrific motor with the moves and strength to battle through double-teams.
The Bulls' other end will be 6-2, 255-pound junior Julius Forte , one of the line's best conditioned athletes. He has lettered in each of the last two seasons, auditioning for the starting role by making 21 tackles, six behind the line and three sacks from off the bench in 2011. Built like an outside linebacker when he arrived, he's added 20 good pounds since, yet hasn't lost the step that helps him get into the backfield.
The Bulls are counting on 6-3, 250-pound junior Tevin Mims to provide valuable reps off the bench. The transfer from Navarro (Tex.) Junior College began his career at Texas before reinventing himself at a two-year school. He has the quickness of a linebacker, which is what USF likes to see from its pass rushers.
The program could have some issues on the inside. Not only has Keith McCaskill graduated, but projected starter Cory Grissom broke his ankle in the spring, and is not a guarantee to be available for the opener. The veteran of 28 career starts established career-highs with 38 tackles, six stops or loss and 1.5 sacks a year ago. The Bulls not only need the 6-2, 316-pound senior to be healthy in 2012, but they need him to be in shape once he's medically cleared to play.
Regardless of what happens to Grissom, sophomore Elkino Watsonappears to have carved out a niche in the starting lineup. In his first season at this level, he impressed the coaches with his quickness off the ball and retention of the D. Even at 6-2 and 287 pounds, he moved with the agility of some ends en route to collecting 33 tackles and nine stops behind the line.
With Grissom unavailable at the end of spring, 6-3, 282-pound junior Luke Sager filled in with the ones. He has yet to start a game as a Bull, coming off the bench in two dozen games over the last two years, and notching 10 tackles, three stops for loss and a sack in 2011.
Watch Out For .... the arrival of rookie DT James Hamilton. With or without Grissom, the Bulls are looking for more punch from the inside of the line. Hamilton is capable of providing it in his first year on campus. The 330-pounder originally committed to Florida State before shifting gears, and winding up in Tampa.
Strength: Generating a push. South Florida was No. 15 in the country against the run in 2011, No. 4 in sacks and No. 2 in tackles behind the line. The heat began with the pass rush, which is comprised of playmaking athletes, like Giddins, Forte and Watson. The Bulls once again figure to be detrimental to the health of opposing quarterbacks.
Weakness: Overall depth. It won't be a worry if Grissom heals in time, other injuries are avoided and some of the young kids, such as sophomore Todd Chandler, begin to emerge as productive members of the rotation. For now, though, the staff is a little concerned about the experience of the B team.
Outlook: South Florida will maintain its reputation as a pipeline to the NFL for D-linemen with the current group that's assembled. Giddins will require a lot of attention, including more than one blocker. However, when No. 97 is doubled, it could give Forte a clearer path to the backfield. In order to be whole, the interior of the line needs the presence of Grissom, whose recovery will be one of the biggest stories of the summer for the defense.
South Florida's top three tacklers from 2011 are back in 2012. All three are linebackers. Heading the brigade from weakside will be underrated 6-1, 238-pound junior DeDe Lattimore. Despite producing on a week-in, week-out basis, he hasn't gotten much pub away from campus. The Athens, Ga. native led a the Bulls D with 94 tackles, 13 stops for loss and seven sacks, a rare triple-crown at this level. He has continued to make strides, both physically and with his knowledge of the game. He's light years ahead of where he was three years ago, when plays were made almost exclusively with his intensity and shear want-to to put a helmet on someone. These days, he's anticipating the direction of a play before the snap. Couple those improving instincts with a great burst, and South Florida boasts a national awards contender.
Flanking Lattimore at strongside is 6-1, 230-pound senior Sam Barrington who has lived up to expectations since being a coveted prep recruit. The outstanding all-around athlete has started all but a single game over the last two seasons, making 72 tackles, 6.5 stops for loss and 2.5 sacks a year ago. He's tough at the point of contact, instinctive and one of the vocal and emotional leaders of the group. Barrington performs with the kind of intensity and intangibles that are not going to be lost on pro scouts.
Rounding out the starting lineup will be the Bulls' man in the middle, 6-0, 234-pound senior Mike Lanaris . After watching, waiting and studying, he played well in his debut in the starting lineup last fall, finishing second on the team with 87 tackles. While not the most physically gifted or NFL-ready of the linebackers, he plays with good football speed and maximum drive on each play.
Providing veteran leadership behind Lattimore at weakside is 6-0, 224-pound senior Mike Jeune . The former JUCO All-American at Independence (Kans.) Community College got his feet wet as a backup in 2011, chipping in with 23 tackles, four stops for loss and a pair of sacks.
Bucking to be the successor to Barrington at strongside in 2013 is 6-2, 212-pound sophomore Reshard Cliett. The converted safety needs to continue adding weight, but plays the game with the speed and range that South Florida likes in its linebackers.
Watch Out For .... Lattimore to (finally) get the recognition he richly deserves. Yet, the way he was ignored by voters last December, you'd think that the Big East was the AFC North. He should be on everyone's radar entering the season, which was not so much the case at this time last year.
Strength: Lateral range and quickness. After almost a decade of luring speedy, aggressive linebackers to Tampa, you can now bank on South Florida featuring great athletes on the second level of the D. Everyone, including the B-teamers, flies to the play, closes in a hurry and swarms the man with the ball.
Weakness: Length. If there's a chink in this group's armor, it's that they're not very tall. In fact, on the two-deep, only Cliett is listed at bigger than 6-1. While the Bulls possess the foot speed to keep up with opposing receivers, they remain vulnerable to throws over the top in the direction of a tight end or a stringy receiver.
Outlook: In Lattimore and Barrington, USF houses a pair of All-Big East contenders at linebacker. And Lanaris is yet another savvy veteran who has spent a ton of time on the field. There's a reason that the Bulls yielded less than three yards a carry in 2011, and it wasn't all because of the D-line. These guys fill gaps in a hurry, and wrap up well in space.
The glass is half-empty for the South Florida secondary. Or half-full, depending on how you size it up. Two quality starters, CB Quenton Washington and FS Jerrell Young, must be replaced from a year ago. It's a good thing that the Bulls have perennially excelled at developing talented defensive backs. The best of the holdovers is 5-11, 192-pound senior CB Kayvon Webster, a member of last year's All-Big East Second Team. While he posted 49 tackles, two picks and seven pass breakups, numbers only tell part of the story. He brings a physical presence to the position, jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage, and making them earn each of their receptions in traffic.
The story at the other cornerback position has been the play of 6-0, 186-pound junior Fidel Montgomery , a first-year transfer from Southwest Mississippi Community College. He was quick to adapt to his new surroundings, impressing the staff with his speed and a degree of physicality that could get him some long looks at safety as well.
The veteran among the backup corners is 5-11, 182-pound senior George Baker. Used mostly on special teams, he's started just two career games, but has appeared in 35, a level of know-how that trumps all of his rivals off the bench.
The Bulls might have a good problem at strong safety. The returning starter is 6-0, 212-pound senior Jon Lejiste, a two-year starter on the back end. He's a knockout puncher and an effective blitzer from the secondary, making a career-high 47 tackles, and recovering three fumbles. However, as he sat out the spring to recover from an injury, junior JaQuez Jenkins flourished in the starting lineup. He's played sparingly in two years, making just 13 stops off the bench a year ago. Still, at 6-2 and 189 pounds, he has better length than Lejiste, and the ball skills to become a more effective pass defender.
The situation figures to be far less muddled at free safety, where 5-10, 200-pound junior Mark Joyce is on the verge of locking up a starting gig. The staff really likes his versatility and mix of skills, and is eager to turn him loose as a full-timer. He's been effective in reserve in two years, making 54 career stops and 37 solos. He likes to hit, and has a knack for being around the ball.
Watch Out For .... the competition at safety to be as fierce as the hitting this summer. Lejiste is the incumbent at strong safety, but can Jenkins' play be ignored? The junior does a lot of things well, and might actually evolve into a more complete player over time. In a worst case scenario, his reps are going to increase, even if it means coming off the bench.
Strength: Physicality. The Bulls like to hit, and they do it very well. The defensive backs are very feisty in coverage, and will intimidate opposing receivers when the ball is in the air. Anyone who beats these guys downfield is going to earn it, because the South Florida secondary hits about as hard as many linebackers do.
Weakness: Ball skills. The Bulls had plenty of opportunities to take throws back the other way in 2011, yet only picked off a dozen passes in a dozen games. The entire defense will benefit if a few more of those batted balls and jump balls end drives with a takeaway.
Outlook: Rather quietly, South Florida has been among the nation's best programs at producing quality defensive backs, a number of whom have gone on to play on Sundays. And while two starters need to be replaced, there's a wave of newcomers and former backups itching for their chance to shine in the lineup. With Webster and Lejiste servings as the anchors, the Bulls will once again be demanding to traverse through the air.
The Bulls believe that they'll be on solid footing on special teams, even if a new punter is injected into the mix. Senior Justin Brockhaus-Kann has held the role the last two seasons, but has performed miserably, averaging just 36.3 yards in 2011. Enter Mattias Ciabatti . The redshirt freshman, while no boomer, has surged ahead in the race to be on the field for the opener.
The placekicker, on the other hand, will be a familiar Bull, senior Maikon Bonani, who
is back for his third year. A Second Team All-Big East performer in 2011, he has connected on 51-of-68 field goal attempts during an extensive career. He has modest leg strength, giving way to sophomore Marvin Kloss on kickoffs.
While the Bulls have yet to decide on their return specialists, it's safe to assume that last year's contributors, kick returner Lindsey Lamar and punt returner Terrence Mitchell will somehow be in the mix.
Watch Out For… Lamar to take at least one kickoff back for six this year. He was bottled up and generally avoided last fall. However, the 5-9, 164-pounder has the speed and slippery qualities to squirt into daylight with even a hint of an opening with which to work.
Strength: Bonani. The veteran will have occasional lapses, but inside of 50 yards, Bonani is one of the more accurate kickers in America. Tuning out the pressure of crucial kicks, he's an underrated asset for an offense that stalls plenty when deep in enemy territory.
Weakness: The coverage units. South Florida has had problems in this area for years, curious considering how much speed they're able to put on the field. The situation became particularly ugly in 2011 on kickoffs, where the Bulls ranked 115th nationally in yards allowed, and gave up a pair of long touchdowns.
Outlook: South Florida has some loose ends on special teams that need to be tightened up. Bonani provides the unit with stability, yet the Bulls are determined to get better on coverage and returns, while getting more consistency out of the new punter.
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