Preview 2007 - Defense
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What you need to know:
Like all teams from Florida, the USF defense pursues well and is
built on speed. Wally Burnham’s unit is well-coached, prevents
the big play and is vastly underappreciated and unnoticed on a
national level. That could change if the Bulls crack the top 10
in total defense in 2007, a distinct possibility. Next level
corners Trae Williams and Mike Jenkins allow the defense to sell
out on occasion, and the front four, led by sophomore rush end
George Selvie, returns seven linemen that started games in 2006.
Importing defensive line coach Dan McCarney and linebacker
Tyrone McKenzie from Iowa State were coups that’ll pay immediate
Chris Robinson, 7
Interceptions: Trae Williams, 7
Star of the
Senior CB Trae Williams
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior NT
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Chris Robinson
Best pro prospect: Senior CB Mike Jenkins
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Williams 2) LB Ben
Moffitt 3) Jenkins
Strength of the defense: The pass defense, D-line depth
Weakness of the defense: Depth in the back seven
There’s a, well, bullish feeling about a South Florida defensive
line that returns virtually intact from a year ago. With a nice
blend of young and old, inside power and outside speed, it’ll be
an elixir for a linebacker corps in transition. It wound up
being fate in 2006 that sophomore George Selvie stayed at
defensive end rather than filling a need at center. Out of
nowhere, he ransacked opposing offenses for 84 tackles, 14.5
tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks and four forced fumbles en route to
Freshman All-America honors. Selvie is on his way to becoming a
three-down lineman who can help stop the run on first and second
while pressuring the passer on third.
Injuries and academics have dogged senior Jarriett Buie
throughout his career, but he has one final chance to parlay all
of his speed and athleticism into one special season. After
getting a taste of action a year ago, he needs to evolve into
the kind of pass rusher that’ll take some heat away from Selvie.
Plagued by a nagging groin injury, senior nose tackle Richard
Clebert was in and out of the lineup last year. While not
especially big at 6-1 and 295 pounds, he’s experienced, very
strong and quick enough to get penetration and make plays in the
backfield. During the spring, he ran a 4.89, the fastest time
ever for a Bull lineman.
Next to Clebert will be Aaron Harris, a sophomore tackle
that flashed a lot of potential after injuries forced him to
remove his redshirt. An atypical interior lineman at just 255
pounds, he’s going to be too fast for most guards if he can
avoid getting tangled up in the trenches. With so much depth
inside, Harris is a candidate to move to end where there’s more
of a need.
Projected Top Reserves: Senior tackles Allen
Cray, Woody George and Tavarious Robinson have
35 career starts between them, a testament to just how deep the
Bulls are on the interior for 2007. While Cray won’t wow anyone
physically, he plays with great leverage and intensity, allowing
him to finish last season tied for third on the team with 5.5
sacks. He and Harris are nip-and-tuck for the top job. A
smaller version than Cray, George is an active and agile
defender who started 12 games and had 28 tackles in 2006.
Robinson is the most intriguing of the trio, a 6-4, 290-pound
player with the pass-rushing skills of an end. An academic
casualty last year, he has the size and athletic ability to be
one of this year’s unexpected contributors.
The depth at end is a far bigger concern, placing pressure on
redshirt freshmen Joshua Smiley and Brandon Peguese
to produce immediately. A couple of speed rushers in linebacker
bodies, if the kids aren’t ready, one of the quicker tackles,
such as George, could be moved outside.
Watch Out For…Harris to emerge as a borderline
all-league player this fall. With so much attention being given
to his linemates, he’s got the explosion on the inside to
frustrate plodding guards and get plenty of close-ups of
Strength: Tackle depth. If opposing offensive
linemen thought it was rough playing in sweltering Tampa in past
years, just wait until they have to face a Bull rotation that
can constantly inject fresh, quick legs into the huddle.
Weakness: Pass rush. Less than half of last
year’s 35 sacks came from a defensive line that isn’t going to
get as much support from the linebackers as it has the past two
years. Selvie is money, but he’s going to require some help in
order to avoid constant double teams.
Outlook: The Bulls will be very strong up front
and in the secondary, easing the transition for two new starting
linebackers, while making life miserable for opposing
Projected Starters: You know a program is headed
north when it loses all-timers like Stephen Nicholas and Pat St.
Louis, yet doesn’t have to completely rebuild the following
year. The Bulls will retool at linebacker with senior Ben
Moffitt anchoring the middle, talented Brouce Mompremier
and Chris Robinson flanking him on the outside and some
really good newcomers creating competition on the second unit.
The undisputed leader of this crew, Moffitt enters his fourth
season as a starter with 231 career tackles, 29 tackles for loss
and a bunch of individual honors. While not the best athlete of
the unit, he’s a warrior that wraps up his tackles and is
ultra-effective as a run defender.
Robinson’s starting job at strongside was actually earned in
2006 when he erupted for 28 tackles, nine tackles for loss,
seven sacks and four forced fumbles as a redshirt freshman.
Lightning fast at 6-3 and 240 pounds, he’ll also be effective as
a stand-up rush end when South Florida goes to a nickel
First dibs on St. Louis’ weakside job goes to Mompremier, a
junior who’s primarily played on special teams the last two
years. Arguably the fastest of the linebackers, he’s a 6-1,
225-pound dynamo that reads and reacts very quickly.
Projected Top Reserves: The NCAA granted
Iowa State transfer Tyrone McKenzie a hardship waiver,
permitting him to play in 2007 rather than sit out a year.
That’s a huge win for the defense which gets a slippery junior
that notched 129 tackles and 9.5 tackles for loss for the
Cyclones last fall.
Moffitt’s understudy will be sophomore Marvin Peoples
who’ll be soaking up the knowledge and auditioning for the
full-time role in 2008. A Maryland transfer, he’s itching to
prove that Georgia Tech, West Virginia and Notre Dame were spot
on for offering him a scholarship two years ago.
One of the studs from the Class of 2006, Alonzo McQueen,
is ready to make his debut after spending last year on the scout
team. Following an impressive spring, he’s now on the verge of
passing Peoples into the No. 2 hole behind Moffitt.
Watch Out For… defensive coordinator Wally Burnham
to use McKenzie much the same way he did Nicholas, lining him up
at strongside on running downs before sliding him over to
weakside when the defense goes to its nickel package.
Strength: Run defense. Led by the example Moffitt sets,
all of the Bulls fly to the football, creating that swarming
effect which makes them so difficult to run on with any
Weakness: Weakside inexperience. Mompremier is
bubbling with potential, however, he’s still very green and
those players trying to take his job are even less experienced.
Outlook: Normally, you don’t get better by losing
Stephen Nicholas and Pat St. Louis, but with Ben Moffitt
surrounded by the next generation of baby Bull linebackers, the
corps should be stronger than ever.
Projected Starters: From the moment cornerbacks
Mike Jenkins and Trae Williams opted to bypass the
NFL and return for their senior years, South Florida knew it was
going to have one of the country’s most air-tight defensive
backfields. Jenkins is the headline act and a legitimate
All-America candidate if voters are paying attention. At 6-0
and 200 pounds, he has safety size to go along with outstanding
closing speed and cover skills. If you want to pass on the
Bulls, you better have a real good No. 2 receiver because the
top guy won’t do much against Jenkins. Of course, that No. 2
will have to lock horns with Williams. Quarterbacks learned
last year that picking on him had consequences, such as a
conference-best seven interceptions. While not quite the total
package that Jenkins is these days, Williams isn’t lagging far
Junior Carlton Williams and sophomore Nate Allen
form a physically imposing safety tandem. At 6-4 and 205
pounds, Williams is shifting to strong safety, where he can best
use his superior size and physical attributes. As a part-time
starter a year ago, he had 43 tackles, a number he should soar
past this season.
Allen began the spring on the second team, but that didn’t last
very long. A quarterback when he arrived in Tampa, he quickly
shifted to safety, a position that’s going to bring out his
combination of speed and keen instincts in a 6-2 frame.
Projected Top Reserves: While the starters are
terrific, the second unit isn’t too shabby either. Five backups
earned letters in 2006 which will help in 2007, but really pay
dividends in 2008 when Jenkins and Williams are gone.
Junior Tyller Roberts is the team’s top reserve corner
and the first player off the bench in nickel packages. A
quality athlete at 6-1, he chipped in with 25 tackles in his
first extensive action a year ago and will be treated as the
heir apparent for next season.
Sophomore Jerome Murphy appears at cornerback on the
depth chart, but he hits like a big safety. Like Roberts, he’ll
be a key member of the second string for one more year before
getting a promotion next fall.
Former Oregon Duck Ryan Gilliam brings senior leadership
and 4.3 speed to the secondary. After getting most of his reps
on special teams in 2006, he’ll be an insurance policy in the
event Roberts or Murphy regress in their development.
Junior Louis Gachette is the only experienced safety now
sophomore Danny Verpaele has been declared ineligible for
the 2007 season. A former scout team quarterback, Gachette has
terrific size and athleticism, but still needs more seasoning on
defense before he can crack the first unit.
Watch Out For… even more blitzing from coordinator
Wally Burnham. South Florida likes to attack offenses from all
angles with its speed, and the presence of two lock-down corners
dramatically lowers the risk of selling out.
Strength: The corners. Jenkins and Williams are
pro-caliber cover men playing against college receivers, but the
good news doesn’t end there. The reserves are also solid,
giving the program one of the best collections of corners in
Weakness: Turnovers. It’s grasping, but aside
from Williams’ seven picks last year, the defensive backs only
had six interceptions and two fumble recoveries, numbers that
are not indicative of their big-play ability.
Outlook: After Louisville’s Brian Brohm, the Big
East has no truly top-notch passers. That reality combined with
this secondary will land the Bulls among the nation’s top 10 or
12 teams this year in pass efficiency defense.
Projected Starters: Few areas of the 2007 Bulls
are going to give the coaching staff more headaches than a
special teams unit that was bad last year and shows no signs of
making a U-turn. Sophomore kicker Delbert Alvarado
nailed a 56-yarder last year, but he also missed 3-of-4 from
inside 40 yards, making most of his appearances an adventure.
Strangely, things were even less stable at punter, where four
different players got in the act at one time or another for one
of the country’s worst net punting units.
Junior Justin Teachey is the incumbent after averaging 38
yards a punt last and rarely get enough hang time to warrant a
fair catch. A rugby style kicker, he also handles kickoffs for
USF is hopeful that junior Taurus Johnson can add a spark
to its kick returns and a viable punt returner out of junior
Marcus Edwards and sophomore Colby Erskin can be
Projected Top Reserves: Alvarado actually had the
punting job to start last year, but couldn’t hold it through
September. He’s back again, looking to do double duty this fall
if Teachey doesn’t make considerable strides.
Watch Out For… Alvarado. The results were mixed
in 2006, but it should be noted that he was only a true
freshman. The leg strength and technique are there, so if
someone can coach him to greater consistency, the Bulls could
solve half of their special teams problem.
Strength: Alvarado’s distance. When Alvarado
kicked that 56-yarder against Syracuse last November, it set a
Big East record and opened up a few options for the South
Florida offense when it bogs down in enemy territory.
Weakness: Consistency. Shanked punts. Missed
extra points. Hooked field goals. It all adds up for a Bull
program that plays a lot of games decided by a few points and a
couple of pivotal plays that are the difference between a W and
Outlook: Offense. Check. Defense. Check.
Special teams. Check, please. Facing a tough schedule, South
Florida will lose at least one game that’ll be directly
attributable to a missed kick or poor field position