What you need to know ...
The USF D will be the best in the Big East if the line is
This is a fast, fast, fast defense with just enough size
to hold up against the stronger power offenses.
Stephen Nicholas, Ben Moffitt, and Pat St. Louis form one of the
nation's best linebacking corps, while the return of safety
Danny Verpaele from a foot injury gives a big boost to an
already strong secondary. If Mike Jenkins and Trae Williams
don't form the best corner tandem in the Big East, they're a
very close number two.
Ben Moffett, 96
Stephen Nicholas, 7
Interceptions: Several with 2
Star of the defense:
Senior LB Stephen Nicholas
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior DT
Tavarious Robinson, Sr.
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Josh Julmiste
Best pro prospect: Nicholas
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Nicholas, 2) LB Ben
Moffitt, 3) CB Mike Jenkins
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, speed
Weakness of the defense: Line, proven pass rush from the
The line is the X factor on the USF defense. Three starters
need to be replaced and there's not a sure-thing pass rusher to rely on.
The only returning starter, Richard Clebert, is a solid force on the
nose, while Josh Julmiste is a big end who appears in for a big year.
While it's not a huge line, there's good athleticism.
The key to the unit: Find a pass rush. The Bulls finished 14th in
the nation in sacks making 37, but replacing Terrence Royal be tough.
Defensive Line Rating: 6
- DE Josh Julmiste, Soph. - 8 tackles, 1 sack
On the verge of being a star, the 6-6, 265-pound brother of the starting
quarterback Pat Julmiste is big, quick, and extremely athletic. He was
originally considered a tight end, but quickly moved to the defensive
- NT Richard Clebert, Jr. - 16 tackles, 3.5 TFL
There's nothing flashy about the 6-1, 295-pound anchor of the line, but
as the only returning starter, he'll have to stand out early. He took
over the starting job early last season proving to be a strong rock in
- DT Tavarious Robinson, Sr. - 20 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2.5 TFL
Part end, part tackle, the 265-pound senior has been a quality reserve
over the last three years making 53 career stops with 2.5 sacks, While
he's not a top pass rusher on the outside, his quickness should make him
a factor at tackle against the less athletic guards.
- DE George Selvie, RFr.
The coaching staff toyed with moving him to the offensive line and
playing him at center after he saw some work during bowl preparations,
but he's more needed on the defensive side. He's a tough 240 pounds who
needs to prove he can get into the backfield on a regular basis.
- DT Allen Cray, Jr. - 13 tackles, 1.5 TFL
A bowling ball of a tackle with a good base and leverage, the 6-0,
295-pound junior will start out as the backup behind Richard Clebert on
the nose but could end up at tackle. With a high-octane motor and decent
quickness, he'll be a major factor in the rotation.
- DE Jarriett Buie, Jr.
Expected to be a major factor over the last few years, the 6-4,
240-pound junior missed all of 2004 with academic issues and was out all
of last season after getting hurt in fall practices. He'll combine with
George Selvie at right end and should be a pass rushing specialist.
The 1-2 punch of Stephen Nicholas and Ben Moffitt is one
of the best in the nation and should combine for close to 200 tackles
and over 30 tackles for loss. Pat St. Louis is the unsung third member
of the group, but he finished second on the team in tackles. The
reserves haven't gotten a lot work since the front three have been so
good, and there's a huge drop-off from the first to the second team.
The key to the unit: Depth has to be developed in
case the injury bug strikes the dependable front three. All three might
be gone next year, so if nothing else, the backups need time so they can
hit the ground running in 2007.
Linebacker Rating: 9.5
- Stephen Nicholas, Sr. - 79 tackles, 7 sacks, 15.5 TFL,
3 broken up passes
One of the nation's best linebackers, Nicholas has seen time at both
outside positions and has been dominant at each spot with 224 career
tackles, with 12.5 sacks and 38.5 tackles for loss. While he's not huge
at 6-3 and 226 pounds, he hits like a Mack truck and has phenomenal
range. Despite his lack of size, he would've been around an early round
draft pick had he left early. On the Butkus Award watch list for each of
the past two seasons, he'll receive his share of All-America
- Ben Moffitt, Jr. - 96 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 15 TFL, 3 broken up
passes, 4 forced fumbles
Pound for pound, the 235-pound junior is one of the team's strongest
players and has carved out a spot for himself by steadily improving over
the past few years. He led the team in tackles last season and turned
out to be a terror in the backfield. He gets plenty of room to roam with
offenses paying attention to Stephen Nicholas on the outside. When he
has a line on a ball-carrier, he's a guided missile.
- Pat St. Louis, Sr. - 89 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 9.5 TFL, 2 broken
While he doesn't receive anywhere near the publicity of Ben Moffitt or
Stephen Nicholas, he's every bit as productive as a speedy 230-pound
weakside defender. He finished second on the team in tackles and now has
23 straight starts seeing time in the middle as well as on the outside.
He's the team's fastest linebacker.
- Sam Miller, Jr. - 4 tackles
He's only 200 pounds and he isn't the most talented linebacker around,
but he goes 100 miles per hour and has safety speed. He's mostly a
special teamer to go along with his backup work on the weakside behind
Pat St. Louis.
- Chris Robinson, RFr.
A nice athlete with 6-3, 230-pound size, Robinson will start off playing
behind Stephen Nicholas on the strongside. If he moves anywhere, it
would be into the middle rather than the weakside.
The nation's sixth best pass defense should
be even better with the league's best corner tandem in Mike Jenkins and
Trae Williams and helped by the return of Danny Verpaele after missing
last year with a broken foot. How strong is the USF secondary? The
team's fourth leading tackler last season, Carlton Williams, is a
backup. There's excellent speed and athleticism among the reserves with
several good options to form a good rotation.
The key to the unit: Be as good as last year. As long
as Louis Gachette shines at strong safety, this will be the Big East's
Secondary Rating: 8.5
- CB Trae Williams, Jr. - 39 tackles, 2 interceptions, 3
broken up passes
While Mike Jenkins is the team's best defensive back, Williams isn't far
behind. The former running back looked more comfortable after having a
few problems as a redshirt freshman. He starting 11 games at left corner
and is now good enough to make offenses pay for throwing away from
- SS Louis Gachette, Soph. - 16 tackles, 2 interceptions
A strong reserve as a freshman, the 6-3, 205-pound Garchette is a big,
strong safety with excellent range and a nice nose for the ball. The
former scout team quarterback should quickly be able to pick up what
he's supposed to be doing as a the starter and should grow into one of
the team's top tacklers.
- FS Danny Verpaele, Soph.
Appearing to be on the verge of huge things after a 57-tackle freshman
season, Verpaele missed all of last year with a foot injury. He bulked
up 15 pounds to be a bigger hitter, but he'll move from strong safety to
free safety to take better advantage of his 4.4 speed. He's great at
getting into the backfield with the timing to be used as a dangerous
Mike Jenkins, Jr. - 38 tackles, 1 TFL, 2
interceptions, 5 broken up passes
One of the best cornerbacks in the Big East, Jenkins has a next-level
combination of size, speed and skills. He hits like a safety at 6-0 and
200 pounds, and could move over if needed. If he's not USF's fastest
player, he's number two. There's not a receiver in the Big East that he
can't run with.
- NB Carlton Williams, Soph. - 66 tackles, 2
interceptions, 3 broken up passes
Williams stepped in when Danny Verpaele went down last season and ended
up being the team's fourth leading tackler. At 6-3 and 205 pounds, he's
a huge presence in the secondary and has good enough speed to play any
of the four spots. He'll be a key defender in a nickel back role and
- FS Tyller Roberts, Soph. - 9 tackles, 4 broken up passes
Roberts saw significant time as a true freshman both on defense and
special teams. While he has mostly been a corner so far, he'll move to
free safety to see action behind Danny Verpaele and use his strong
tackling ability in a better spot.
- CB Courtney Denson, Jr. - 1 tackle
Originally a quarterback, the former Auburn Tiger will back up Mike
Jenkins at right corner. He's a fantastic athlete who has seen a little
time in his USF career as a receiver.
- SS Jeremy Burnett, Sr. - 4 tackles
Part nickel back, part safety, the 6-1, 190-pound Purdue transfer is
mostly a special teamer who'll see a little time on defense. He has good
quickness, but he hasn't shown off any hitting ability in his limited
The kicking game is a major, major question mark with no one
to rely on at either spot. On the plus side, the return game should be
fantastic with Jackie Chambers handling all the duties after averaging
11.6 yards per punt return and 18.5 yards per kickoff return. The
coverage units should be fine, but nothing special.
The key to the unit: Get the kicking game in order.
Is Ilia Petrov really going to be the starting punter? Can Mike Benzer
be a quality placekicker after a disastrous start to last season?
Special Teams Rating: 5.5
- PK Mike Benzer, Soph. - 0-3 FGs. 2-3 extra points
Benzer will have to replace the steady Kyle Bronson who hit 11 of 16
field goals last season. Benzer is only 5-8 and 185 pounds, but he has a
big-time leg and should show off a little more range than Bronson.
However, he missed all three of his field goal attempts last season
getting the first three shots as the starter last season. However, they
weren't all his fault with some bad snaps contributing to the problems.
Ilia Petrov, RFr.
Petrov has a tenuous hold on the starting punter job looking to replace
Brandon Baker, who put a whopping 21 kicks inside the 20.