2013 South Florida Preview - Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - USF Defense
Preview 2013 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: The South Florida defense has lost its swagger. Longtime NFL coordinator Chuck Bresnahan has been hired by Willie Taggart to help restore it. The Bulls weren't just bad a season ago—they were feeble, causing just nine turnovers in 12 games. What happened to the electric, attacking unit that had become a trademark of the program back when Jim Leavitt was turning USF into a nationally-known commodity? The Bulls still attract speed and tenacity to Tampa, though there are going to be glaring holes in the back seven. DeDe Lattimore is the only sure-thing at linebacker, and the pass defense needs a total overhaul. It's up front where the greatest hope exists. South Florida is loaded with depth and promising linemen, none with a greater upside than DE Aaron Lynch. The first-year transfer from Notre Dame is poised to explode out of the chute, taking NFL scouts on a wild ride that could wind up being his only year as a Bull.
Star of the defense: Senior LB DeDe Lattimore
Tackles: DeDe Lattimore, 76
Sacks: DeDe Lattimore, Ryne Giddins, 3.5
Interceptions: Elkino Watson, 1
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior LB Richard Cliett
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore CB Kenneth Durden
Best pro prospect: Sophomore DE Aaron Lynch
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Lattimore, 2) Lynch, 3) Senior FS Mark Joyce
Strength of the defense: The line, creating pressure, run defense
Weakness of the defense: Linebacker, pass defense, generating takeaways, third-down D
The D-line was already going to be the deepest unit in Tampa. The availability of sophomore DE Aaron Lynch adds an exclamation point to the argument. The former mega-recruit of Notre Dame sat out 2012, a year after debuting in South Bend with 33 tackles, seven stops for loss, 5.5 sacks and 14 quarterback hurries. The 6-6, 244-pound Lynch has the long arms, explosiveness into the backfield and hot motor that will conjure up images of a young Jevon Kearse. It's going to be fun watching No. 19 blossom into an NFL prospect this year.
If this isn't the year that senior DE Ryne Giddins blows up into one of the Big East's better pass rushers, it may never happen. Physically gifted and tantalizingly close to putting it all together, the one-time blue-chip prospect has yet to match his full potential. A year after showing flashes and earning All-Big East Second Team in 2011, Giddins faded with 25 tackles, four stops and 3.5 sacks. The new coaching staff is being tasked with maximizing the potential of the 6-3, 253-pounder, revving up his motor and making sure that he's poised to make an NFL salary run.
South Florida will be flush with depth on the outside. Heck, senior Tevin Mims is in a fight for a job he held throughout the 2012 season. In his debut out of Navarro (Tex.) Junior College, the 6-3, 246-pounder had 35 tackles, 3.5 stops for loss and two sacks. Mims has the range and quickness to do even more damage off the edge. Senior Julius Forte has lettered in each of the last three years, serving an important role from off the bench. The 6-2, 253-pounder is one of the line's best-conditioned athletes, and his veteran leadership does not get overlooked. Sophomore Eric Lee started five games last season, yet will have a difficult time working his way into this rotation. After only managing 17 tackles and a half-sack, the 6-3, 230-pounder must figure out how to transform his speed and quickness into results.
On the inside, the Bulls must replace captain and All-Big East performer Cory Grissom. The tackles are expected to rally around 6-3, 275-pound senior Luke Sager, an inspirational leader of the group. He started all 12 games a year ago, scrapping and clawing his way to 26 stops and three tackles behind the line.
After serving as a disruptive playmaker from the bench over the last two seasons, junior Elkino Watson might be ready to finally start. The 6-2, 286-pound gap-buster has 16 career tackles for loss, despite starting just one time. He gets off the snap quickly, and will use an unorthodox gait and pass rush moves to disrupt plays behind the line.
Watson will have a lot of company in the quest for a starting job. Junior Todd Chandler, a blocky and stout 6-0, 317-pounder came off the sidelines to make 19 tackles, five stops for loss and two sacks in 2012. Senior Anthony Hill is making his way back to the team after sitting out last season with a knee injury. And 6-2, 308-pound sophomore James Hamilton is a former commit to Florida State who's hoping the loss of weight and the earning of a letter in 2012 will lead to increased playing time.
Watch Out For .... the competition for jobs to rage on deep into August. Other than Lynch and maybe Sager, no one is going to be guaranteed anything from the new staff this season. Spots on the two-deep are clearly going to remain up for grabs, creating an environment that should bring out the best in all of the contenders involved.
Strength: Depth of talent. Fresh legs will not be a problem for the Bulls, even during the late summer of sweltering Tampa. South Florida can go two-deep with quality and experience, wearing down opponents with its rotation of linemen. The addition of Lynch will also mean that the unit now has a star player who'll garner maximum attention from the other team.
Weakness: Consistency. The Bulls had talent a year ago, too, but didn't sustain their production, week after week. Too many players, like Giddins and Chandler, were up and down, failing to showcase consistency. The time has come for this unit to put it all together, and start acting like one of the most talented and athletic D-lines in the AAC.
Outlook: South Florida is capable of dominating at the point of attack this season, racking up the sacks and the tackles for loss the way it did when Jim Leavitt used to coach the team. The Bulls are brimming with size, speed and disruptiveness, with Lynch about to become a nationally-recognized pass rusher. If the rest of the linemen can take advantage of the attention Lynch will receive, this deep group will make life so much easier for a questionable back seven.
South Florida's most accomplished player on defense—if not the entire team—will be 6-1, 237-pound senior DeDe Lattimore, a perennial standout likely to settle in at middle linebacker. The fourth-year starter in Tampa has become a fixture on the second level of the D, rising up the school charts with 239 career tackles. His performance dipped in 2012 to 76 tackles, 7.5 stops for loss and 3.5 sacks, but a lot of Bulls got swept up in last year's mess. One of the quiet leaders of this program, Lattimore possesses the know-how and the want-to to rebound in a very way in his final season of eligibility.
Strongside will be manned by 6-2, 220-pound veteran Reshard Cliett, who's played plenty over the last two seasons. In fact, a year ago, he started six games, finishing with 40 tackles, two stops for loss, a sack and three pass breakups. Cliett plays with range and a chip on his shoulder.
Weakside will be up for grabs in fall camp. Sophomore Tashon Whitehurst is the only other linebacker to start a game last year, opening against Connecticut. A rangy and long 6-3, 198-pounder, he flashed his athleticism by making 15 tackles and a sack. At 6-3 and 213 pounds, sophomore Zack Bullock is built a lot like Whitehurst. He, too, lettered after making brief appearances on defense and special teams, while showing an ability to support the pass defense. Junior Hans Louis has been one of the biggest surprises of the offseason so far. The 6-0, 215-pound former walk-on played his way into starting contention by flying all over the field in order to create chaos.
Watch Out For .... Lattimore to—finally--receive the recognition he richly deserves. Despite making 239 tackles, 27 stops behind the line and 13 sacks, the senior was never recognized as an All-Big East performer. Maybe now that the league is the American Athletic Conference, Lattimore will get some love from postseason voters.
Strength: Lateral range and quickness. After almost a decade of luring fleet-footed, aggressive linebackers to Tampa, you can now bank on the Bulls featuring outstanding athletes on the second level of the D. Everyone, including the second-teamers, flies to the pile like safeties, closes in a hurry and swarms the man with the ball.
Weakness: Girth and experience. Lattimore aside, the Bulls linebackers are generally small … and young. The players competing for spots in the rotation are very small, and Cliett is the exception in a unit dotted with unproven defenders. Against physical opponents that commit to the run, South Florida will be forced to do a lot of drag-tackling downfield.
Outlook: South Florida has issues at the second level. There's Lattimore and then a bunch of question marks. Cliett will need to dramatically dial up his production from strongside, while the baby Bulls will be asked to grow up quickly. Now that all-star Sam Barrington has graduated, USF is in danger of being uncharacteristically average at linebacker.
As the USF secondary gets a new look in 2013, the younger defensive backs will be looking to senior FS Mark Joyce for guidance and leadership. The three-time letterwinner is coming off his first full season as a starter, making 74 tackles. The old staff liked the 5-10, 200-pounder's versatility and overall mix of skills. The new regime, led by assistant Ron Cooper, is sure to gravitate to Joyce's work ethic and willingness to lay the lumber on running plays.
Joyce will likely be joined at strong safety by 6-2, 190-pound JaQuez Jenkins, a veteran of three letters with the Bulls. In 2012, he started eight times, notching 53 tackles, four of which were behind the line. Jenkins has the length and the toughness to both play centerfield and press up to support against the run.
The most experienced safety among the reserves is Joyce's backup, 6-0, 185-pound senior Fidel Montgomery. The versatile second-year transfer from Southwest Mississippi Community College played in every game of his debut as a Bull, chipping in with 19 tackles and a forced fumble.
So who replaces Kayvon Webster and George Baker at cornerback? It's one of the most important questions for the 2013 team. Cooper and the rest of the staff aren't ready to anoint starters. Sophomore Kenneth Durden is the closest thing to a favorite at the position. The fluid 6-0 and 173-pound athlete made a positive impression on the prior staff, stealing reps from the veterans and earning a letter with 10 tackles.
Senior Brandon Salinas has made his way back to the Bulls after not being with the program in 2012. The 5-11, 170-pound former walk-on has limited experience, but has played well in the offseason. Senior Joshua Brown is in his second year out of Arizona Western Community College. He debuted in Tampa in 2012 by appearing in eight games and making 11 stops. Finally, 5-11, 163-pound junior Torrel Saffold has been signed out of Butler (Kans.) Community College to make an immediate impact within the cornerback rotation.
Watch Out For .... Durden to gobble up one of the starting jobs at cornerback. While the situation at cornerback looks like a jumbled mess right now, Durden has the talent and motivation to gradually bring some order to the defensive backfield. He was coming on hard toward the end of 2012, and seized that momentum in the spring.
Strength: The safeties. Relative to the cornerbacks, South Florida is in a far stronger position at safety. Joyce and Jenkins are a pair of hard-hitting veterans who were starters last season. They'll bring a much-needed attitude and physicality to a unit looking for an identity.
Weakness: Ball skills. USF was hardly bullish in pass defense last fall, a trend not likely to change overnight. Playing as a member of a Big East not known for its elite quarterbacks, the Bulls ranked 110th in the country in pass efficiency defense, 123rd in completion percentage and last with just a pair of picks.
Outlook: The Bulls need help in the secondary … in a hurry. Both starting corners graduated from a group that was downright feeble in 2012. The safeties are serviceable, even menacing at times. But the fate of the entire D could hinge on the play of the new cornerbacks. If this team continues to be tissue-soft in coverage, it'll offset all of the good things expected to happen at the line of scrimmage.
The one area that South Florida excelled at in 2012, special teams, is about to get a facelift. All-stars Maikon Bonani and Justin Brockhaus-Kann have graduated, leaving the Bulls in need of a new kicker and punter, respectively. Junior Marvin Kloss is making a push to be the unit's utility man and dual-threat. After serving as the kickoff specialist last fall, he's now vying to be the team's placekicker, showing off the strongest leg among the competitors.
Versatile sophomore Mattias Ciabatti appears to be the best option for the Bulls at punter. He was the backup a year ago, though had just one attempt for 43 yards in the blowout of Chattanooga.
The Bulls will continue to audition a number of different return men, including junior Andre Davis, senior Derrick Hopkins and senior Marcus Shaw. Davis struggled as a punt returner in 2012, while Shaw averaged 24.5 yards on ten kickoff attempts.
Watch Out For… rookie Emilio Nadelman to keep Kloss from becoming content at placekicker. The new recruit from Miami is coming off a successful high school, and is approaching the opportunity as if he has a chance to become a four-year starter.
Strength: Kloss' leg strength. Can he split the uprights consistently? We'll see. What is certain about Kloss is that he has significant pop in his leg, as evidenced by his kickoffs a year ago and his effort throughout the spring. Kloss is the kind of kicker who'll miss the 38-yarder, yet come back later to unleash the game-winner from 52 yards out.
Weakness: Certainty. The punter is new. The kicker has limited experience. And neither the return game nor the coverage teams were especially crisp a year ago. South Florida lacks that one element of its special teams that can be counted on, week-in and week-out.
Outlook: South Florida's most stable unit of 2012 will have a very new look in 2013. The Bulls will be breaking in a new punter and a placekicker, while keeping their fingers crossed that the return game can deliver more than it did last fall. The key will be Kloss, who needs to kick with accuracy as well as power.
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