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2009 South Florida Preview - Defense
South Florida CB Quenton Washington
South Florida CB Quenton Washington
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 27, 2009


CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - South Florida Bulls Defense

South Florida Bulls

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2009 USF Preview | 2009 USF Offense
- 2009 USF Defense | 2009 USF Depth Chart
- 2008 CFN USF Preview | 2007 CFN USF Preview | 2006 CFN USF Preview 

What you need to know: While new defensive coordinator Joe Tresey has an impressive résumé of his own, replacing the popular and successful Wally Burnham is a tall order. Fortunately, he’s inheriting a nice mix of talent from a defense that finished 10th nationally in total defense and 24th in scoring defense. He also gets to coach DE George Selvie, who passed on the NFL and will again be one of the country’s premier pass rushers. At Cincinnati, Tresey’s defenses were known for their ability to make game-changing plays, like turnovers and sacks. Hopefully for the Bulls, he’ll rub off on them because despite the lofty rankings, they had problems getting to the quarterback and getting many takeaways. There’s too much speed and experience for that to become a trend in 2009.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Jerome Murphy, 67
Sacks: George Selvie, 5.5
Interceptions: Jerome Murphy, 2

Star of the defense: Senior DE George Selvie
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore CB Quenton Washington
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore SS Jerrell Young
Best pro prospect: Selvie
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Selvie 2) Senior LB Kion Wilson 3) Senior CB Jerome Murphy
Strength of the defense: The defensive line, run defense, team speed
Weakness of the defense: Getting to the quarterback, creating turnovers

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: Rather than test the NFL, senior DE George Selvie opted to return to Tampa for one more year. The defensive coaches have yet to stop celebrating. One of the fiercest pass rushers in America, he commands constant double-teams and is capable of blowing up the other team’s gameplan. At 6-4 and 250 pounds, he has long arms and the sudden burst off the snap to completely embarrass his man. His numbers did free-fall last year to 43 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, and 5.5 sacks. Nagging injuries and a ridiculous amount of attention were factors in the decline in production.  

With so many blockers flowing to Selvie’s side, it’s time for 6-4, 260-pound senior Aaron Harris to capitalize on the good fortune. After a breakthrough sophomore season, he regressed in 2008, making just 23 tackles, 4.5 tackles and 1.5 sacks. However, he was miscast as an interior lineman, and will move back to defensive end, where his quickness and know-how should translate into a spike in production.

At defensive tackle, the program is giddy over the potential of 6-3, 306-pound junior Terrell McClain, who’s entering his second full season in the regular rotation. Tremendously strong, especially in the lower body, he’s also surprisingly quick and light on his feet for an inside guy. He had 32 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and three sacks last season, numbers he’s capable of dwarfing in 2009.

The biggest unknown along the line is the new nose tackle, 6-2, 289-pound redshirt freshman Cory Grissom. Slated to play as a true freshman, he hurt his ankle early on and opted to spend the season on the shelf. While still very raw, he does flash the get-off and intensity that the program demands from its defensive linemen.

Projected Top Reserves: Providing breathers to Selvie and Harris on the outside will be 6-5, 260-pound junior Craig Marshall, a probable starter in 2010. In his first season out of junior college, he played in all 13 games, starting two and contributing 19 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and a sack. He has the potential and athleticism to be an outstanding pass rusher, but needs to toughen up and improve on running downs.

The program got a major pickup this spring when superstar recruit Ryne Giddins chose USF. The 6-2, 235-pounder could've gone anywhere, including USC and Florida, but he's expected to be an immediate star on the outside with 4.55 speed and devastating closing ability. He's a pure pass rusher who could out-Selvie, Selvie by the time he's done.

Somehow, the Bulls need to find a way to get sophomore DT Keith McCaskill on the field and into the regular rotation. While only 5-11 and 263 pounds, he has the arms of a 6-5 player, which allow him to keep blockers out of his space. He’s also extremely quick off the ball, allowing him to beat the other guy into the backfield. As a reserve in 2008, he played in 12 games and had six tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and two sacks.

Watch Out For… the newcomers. South Florida did exceptionally well here in February, landing a pair of JUCO gems, 6-6, 265-pound end Jason Pierre-Paul and 6-3, 275-pound tackle Leslie Stirrups. Both were hotly pursued by SEC and ACC schools, and will get a chance to play right away. And, of course, there's Giddins, who should be a superstar.
Strength: Stopping the run. This group is outstanding at holding its ground, filling lanes, and making stops near the line of scrimmage. The Bulls bring back just about everyone from a unit that was No. 10 nationally against the run, while allowing less than three yards a carry.
Weakness: A consistent pass rush. When Selvie gets shut down, there just isn’t an outlet for the pass rush to lean on. Why shouldn’t opponents double and triple No. 95? After him, the most disruptive penetrator was McClain, who had only three sacks.
Outlook: Although a little more production from the non-Selvie pass rushers would be nice, this still shapes up as one of the top defensive lines in the Big East, if not the entire country. It’s a salary drive year for Selvie, and the talent surrounding him is good enough to make life miserable for opposing teams.  
Rating: 8.5

Linebackers

Projected Starters: With two former starters out of eligibility, 6-2, 235-pound senior Kion Wilson is ready to rise up and become the leader of this unit. He followed up a solid debut out of junior college with a stellar offseason, drawing rave reviews from the coaching staff. An instinctive, nasty tackler from the middle, he had 66 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss as an 11-game starter.

After serving as a reserve for the past three seasons and making 16 tackles last year, 6-3, 245-pound senior Chris Robinson is finally ready to grab a starting assignment at strongside. A natural pass-rusher and good all-around athlete, he’s actually played some defensive end in his career and delivered seven sacks as a freshman. He’s a good candidate on the blitz, but needs to prove he can also thrive on running plays.

At weakside, 6-0, 230-pound junior Sabbath Joseph held an edge coming out of spring. As a backup and a special teams performer in 2008, he appeared in a dozen games, making 19 stops, two tackles for loss, and an interception. An ace in pass coverage, the Bulls are hoping he can make strides this summer as a run defender.

Projected Top Reserves: At a minimum, 6-3, 222-pound senior Donte Spires will be the first linebacker to come off the bench. A heralded recruit coming out of junior college, he played some in 2007, but sat out 2008 to concentrate on academics. A quality athlete, who has shaken off the rust, he’s battling Joseph for the job at weakside.

Redshirt freshman Mike Lanaris is preparing this season as if he’ll be the heir apparent to Wilson in the middle. A stout and stocky 6-1, 230-pounder, he practices with intensity and has impressed the coaches with his work-ethic.

Watch Out For… Wilson. The stage is set for the senior to have a monster final season in Tampa. The graduation of Tyrone McKenzie clears a path for Wilson to be the leading man among the linebackers and rack up somewhere north of 100 tackles.
Strength: Range. All four of the primary linebackers slide well laterally and will make plays wherever they’re happening. The program has never had a shortage of good athletes at this position, with this year being no exception.
Weakness: Proven depth. Coming out of spring, none of the three backups played a single play last season. Not only does Spires need to be ready for action, but newcomers Jaquain Williams and Sam Barrington will be needed to contribute right away as well.
Outlook: It’s been a tough couple of years for the USF linebackers. Last season the unit had to be completely revamped, and this year,it must move forward without its leading tackler, McKenzie. The Bulls are set inside with Wilson, but they need the outside guys to deliver in their first season as starters.
Rating: 7

Secondary

Projected Starters: Considering the turnover at cornerback, the Bulls did a nice job of regrouping in 2008. They’ll look for similar results this fall with the insertion of two new starters. Senior CB Jerome Murphy returns for his second season as a starter, looking to build on his debut and catch the attention of NFL scouts. At 6-1 and 190 pounds, he has the size  and hops to cover bigger receivers and the speed to keep the play in front of him. An 11-game starter a year ago, he had 67 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and two picks.

His new partner at corner will be 5-10, 183-pound sophomore Quenton Washington, who’s being promoted after making 15 tackles as a backup last season. He’s shown good ball skills early in his career, but better prepared as opposing quarterbacks look to his side rather than testing Murphy.

Back for his third season as a starter, 6-2, 205-pound senior Nate Allen has been a rock for the Bulls at free safety. More than just a big hitter, who’ll step up and deliver a knockout punch, he’s shown a penchant for making big plays and holding up well in pass defense. As offenses schemed to avoid him last year, his numbers fell off appreciably to 53 tackles, two tackles for loss, and a pick.

The new strong safety is expected to be 6-2, 205-pound sophomore Jerrell Young, one of the up-and-coming players in the defensive backfield. He came on late a year ago, finishing with 25 tackles and earning a start in the team’s bowl game. Purely in terms of physical ability, he possesses the size, speed, and pop to be real good, real soon.

Projected Top Reserves: While only a redshirt freshman, 6-0, 190-pound Jon Lejiste has already risen to No. 2 at strong safety, while earning the start in nickel packages. A hard worker and physical tackler, he showed surprising cover skills throughout the spring session. He’ll letter this season, and possibly take over for Allen at free safety in 2010.

Tyson Butler is only a sophomore, but he’s already the most experienced backup corner on the roster. That’s good for him, but a little unsettling for the defensive backfield. He played in 11 games, making five tackles and sticking his nose in on special teams. At 5-11 and 184 pounds, he has adequate and speed to stay with Big East receivers.

Watch Out For… a rebound year from Allen. He spent too much time in 2008 trying to assist the young cornerbacks, but with a little more stability at the position, can get back to playing centerfield and making big plays.
Strength: Physicality. All of the defensive backs can bring it, especially the safeties. Receivers better keep their head on a swivel at all times, because Allen and Young are liable to take it off with a wicked hit.  
Weakness: Cornerback, after Murphy. Murphy appears headed for an all-star campaign, but after him, Washington, Butler, and redshirt freshman George Baker are unknown commodities. If they’re not ready when September rolls around, quarterbacks will feast on their inexperience.
Outlook: Jim Leavitt and his staff continue to attract quality athletes to the secondary, which allows the program to withstand turnover. Although there’s some attrition to address, underclassmen, like Young and Washington, are prepared to step up and keep South Florida's pass defense among the league's best.
Rating: 7.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: A year ago, senior Delbert Alvarado pulled double-duty for the Bulls. This season, he’s concentrating solely on being the team’s punter. He has limited leg strength, averaging less than 40 yards a punt, but has improved as a directional kicker and rarely puts the ball in the end zone for a touchback.

Alavardo was relieved of his placekicking duties because of the development of sophomore Maikon Bonani. He took over as a true freshman after the first two games, finishing 15-of-21 on field goals and 31-of-32 on extra points. He did have three kicks blocked, however, and was only 3-of-7 outside 40 yards, so better consistency will be a goal in his second season.

Senior Theo Wilson is back to handle punt returns after taking one back for a score in 2008. Senior Jerome Murphy and junior Dontavia Bogan will share the responsibility of handling kickoff returns.

Watch Out For… Bonani’s progress. While he was better than expected right out of high school, he should be even more effective with that first season in the vault. The Bulls need more stability at the position after struggling with Alvarado for a couple of years.
Strength: The return game. All of that South Florida speed has been a boon to the special teams unit, especially the return game. Wilson, Murphy, and Bogan all have the jets to go the distance, showing big-play flashes a year ago.
Weakness: The coverage units. After finishing 87th nationally in punt return yardage defense and 92nd defending kickoffs, the Bulls need to plug holes in both areas before the start of the season.
Outlook: South Florida has the ingredients of one of the Big East’s better special teams units, provided Bonani can avoid a sophomore slump. Alvarado is a steady punter, and the return game is capable of taking a couple back for touchdowns.
Rating: 7