Preview 2009 - Defense
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2009 USF Defense
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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.
George Selvie, 5.5
Interceptions: Jerome Murphy, 2
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
pro prospect: Selvie
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
partner at corner will be 5-10, 183-pound sophomore
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.