2010 South Florida Preview - Defense
South Florida LB Sam Barrington
CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - South Florida Bulls Defense
Preview 2010 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: All five of last year's all-stars, two linemen, a linebacker, and two defensive backs, have departed, marking a new era on defense at South Florida. Yes, there will be voids left by the likes of George Selvie, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Nate Allen, but the cupboard is hardly empty for first-year coordinator Mark Snyder. The former Marshall head coach has inherited a ton of elite athletes, with next-level ability, needing to coach them into a cohesive and stingy group. Unlike the past few seasons, the Bulls are light on sure-fire all-stars heading into the season. That does not, however, mean there aren't household names bubbling beneath the surface. You probably don't know names, such as DE Ryne Giddins, LB Sam Barrington, or CB Kayvon Webster. You could by early December, as a new wave of defenders begin earning significant playing time.
Star of the defense: Senior DT Terrell McClain
Tackles: Sabbath Joseph, 50
Sacks: Craig Marshall, 4
Interceptions: Multiple, 1
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior DE Craig Marshall
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Sam Barrington
Best pro prospect: Junior CB Quenton Washington
Top three all-star candidates: 1) McClain, 2) Washington, 3) Senior LB Sabbath Joseph
Strength of the defense: Depth up front, overall team speed, pass defense
Weakness of the defense: Creating turnovers, proven pass rushers, lack of star power
Projected Starters: Yes, there were defections. No, the cupboard is not bare. Good player development and recruiting, especially at the JUCO level, ensures that South Florida can regroup quickly on the defensive line. Looking to fill the void at defensive end now that George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul are gone is 6-5, 260-pound senior Craig Marshall, entering his third season out of Pearl River (Miss.) Community College. After living in the shadows, yet still having 10 tackles for loss and five sacks in two years, he has the opening and the pass rushing skills to attract attention from NFL scouts in his final season.
In terms of experience, 6-5, 245-pound senior David Bedford will get the first crack at starting opposite Marshall on the other side. Another junior college import, he earned three starts in 2009, yet was only able to produce 10 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and a sack. If he's going to stay atop the depth chart, he'll need to start turning that quick first step and all of that athleticism into production.
The anchor at the nose is 6-3, 302-pound senior Terrell McClain, a three-time letterwinner and starter in each of the last two seasons. A powerful lineman, with a solid base, he's also quick enough to shoot the gap and make stops behind the line of scrimmage. After making 25 tackles, a career-high five tackles for loss, and a sack, he could be in line for All-Big East recognition.
Joining McClain on the interior is 5-11, 269-pound junior Keith McCaskill, one of the Bulls' more unique physical specimens. Despite his modest height, he possesses the reach of a 6-5 player, allowing him to keep blockers from locking on. Extremely quick off the ball and tough to contain, he started five games last season, making 23 stops and breaking up three passes. He's going to be a nuisance for opposing teams.
Projected Top Reserves: Behind McCaskill at defensive tackle is 6-2, 300-pound sophomore Cory Grissom, a promising player who's had a tough time staying healthy. Ankle injuries shut him down as a rookie and an assortment of ailments limited him to eight games and 11 tackles in 2009. If he can remain off the trainer's table, he has the size and strength this line needs in run defense.
When 6-2, 240-pound redshirt freshman DE Ryne Giddins chose to play in Tampa, it was one of the highest-profile signings in South Florida history. The explosive pass rusher, with the 4.55 speed and uncapped confidence, fielded offers from 70 schools, including all of the Big 3 in the Sunshine State. An ankle injury, however, limited him to three games, three tackles, and a pair of sacks, whetting the already insatiable appetite of Bulls fans.
Watch Out For .... recent signee Claude Davis. Yup, another heralded JUCO transfer is hoping to channel Pierre-Paul by turning Tampa into a launching pad to the NFL. A 6-5, 260-pound defensive end, with a history of creating pressure, he's starting from behind, but has the skills to make up ground in a hurry.
Strength: A deep rotation of ends and tackles. The new staff's first reaction to this unit was absolute delight over the depth of talent it inherited. In Greenville, Skip Holtz liked to keep his linemen fresh throughout the year, a luxury he'll absolutely be able to continue in Tampa.
Weakness: Star power. A year ago, the Bulls had a couple of O-line magnets in Selvie and Pierre-Paul, who commanded attention from blockers. Who eats the blocks now? Marshall, Bedford, and Giddins have very high ceilings on the outside, but none has a proven track record that makes him worthy of double-teams.
Outlook: Assistants Vernon Hargreaves and Kevin Patrick have an interesting task ahead of them. The line coaches have access to as much raw talent as they've ever coached, yet still must replace a couple of next-level pass rushers. If they can maximize the abilities of the current Bulls, it's possible this unit will not skip a beat in 2010.
Projected Starters: Not unlike the defensive line, the linebackers have some rebuilding to do, losing leading tackler Kion Wilson and starter Chris Robinson. The lone holdover is 6-0, 230-pound senior Sabbath Joseph, the starter at weakside. In his best season as a Bull, he had 50 tackles, four tackles for loss, four pass breakups, and three forced fumbles, continuing to play well in pass coverage. There's a need for a leader of this group, which he plans to fill.
South Florida can't wait to fully turn loose 6-3, 220-pound sophomore Sam Barrington, a second-year player with a considerable ceiling. The choice in the middle for the Bulls, he debuted with 41 tackles and a couple of tackles for loss, quickly validating his high school hype. A terrific all-around athlete, he'll eventually become a perfect fit at the position once he fills out a rangy frame with a little more muscle.
The staff is also excited about the potential of 6-4, 222-pound senior Jacquian Williams, who's about to be promoted up the ranks at strongside. In his first season out of Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College, he played in every game and tallied 28 tackles, only scratching the surface of his potential. Considered by those closest to the program to be the fastest linebacker in USF history, he'll make plays all over the field and can be used as a rush end in certain situations.
Projected Top Reserves: It has been a long and winding road for 6-3, 222-pound senior Donte Spires, who first signed with the program five years ago but has yet to contribute as a Bull. He's missed the last two years to concentrate on academics and personal issues, but will still have a chance to be the backup at strongside if he can shake off the rust and recapture his wind.
In the middle, 6-2, 231-pound sophomore Mike Lanaris is preparing as if he'll get the call at any moment. Mostly a special teams performer last season, he impressed the old regime with his intensity and work ethic during practices and in the weight room.
Watch Out For .... Barrington to blossom. He played well beyond his years as a freshman, and that was in a secondary role. Now that he has a season in the vault and the green light in the middle, he's about to take the first big step toward eventually becoming an all-conference defender.
Strength: Range. Boy, can South Florida attract speed on defense or what? Lateral quickness and sideline-to-sideline speed has never been an issue for the Bulls, which have three starting linebackers who'll cover a lot of grass this season as run stoppers, pass defenders, and pass rushers.
Weakness: Proven backups. Sure, Spires is a great study in perseverance, but when your first player off the bench hasn't suited up in almost three years, it's an issue that won't be easily addressed. The Bulls need some of the kids, like DeDe Lattimore to chip in, and can ill-afford to lose Spires for another season.
Outlook: Again, not unlike the defensive line, the linebackers are flush with potential, but the key will be to go out and realize it. Joseph brings steady, veteran leadership, while Barrington and Williams are a little more mysterious and poised to surprise a lot of people around the Big East in 2010.
Projected Starters: The Bulls are losing their best cornerback and safety to the NFL, creating a bit of an uneasy feeling around the defensive backfield. Replacing Jerome Murphy and Nate Allen, a pair of playmaking all-stars, will require some heavy lifting. At corner, 5-10, 183-pound junior Quenton Washington is ready to become the program's best cover guy. He had 29 tackles and a couple of fumble recoveries in his starting debut, yet would like to get his hands on the ball more often this season.
At the other corner spot, 5-11, 184-pound sophomore Kayvon Webster has pulled away from the competition during the offseason. A six-game starter and member of the Big East All-Freshman squad, he displayed excellent speed and a consistent bounce in his step, making 30 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and a pick. He has a great future with the Bulls.
One-time walk-on Mistral Raymond was one of South Florida's biggest surprises on defense a year ago, starting four games and making 40 tackles. The 6-1, 185-pound senior and favorite at free safety is one of the hardest workers on the team, quickly leaving the secondary to fill lanes in run defense.
Nudging ahead in the race at strong safety is 6-2, 198-pound junior Jerrell Young, who's like having another seasoned vet in the rotation. Hampered by a dislocated elbow early last year, he rebounded to start six of nine games, making 21 tackles and breaking up a couple of balls. He has the best size among the safeties and enough speed to make it difficult to keep him on the sidelines.
Projected Top Reserves: While 6-0, 197-pound sophomore Jon Lejiste may not be imposing, he still one of the hardest hitters among the defensive backs. The backup at strong safety, he played in every game a year ago, making 29 tackles and earning a start versus Connecticut. He still needs to show a little more discipline in coverage, but will compensate by wrapping up on tackles and throwing his weight around on running plays.
In the battle for reps at cornerback, 5-11, 186-pound junior Tyson Butler is playing from behind after missing the final five games of 2009 and all of spring with a knee injury. Prior to getting hurt against West Virginia in late October, he'd made 11 stops and a pick as a reserve, showing enough potential to contend for a spot in the rotation.
If Butler is slow to recover, it'll surely mean more playing time for 5-11, 170-pound sophomore George Baker, who played in a dozen games on defense and special teams, making nine tackles. Although he has world-class speed and can leap out of Raymond James Stadium, he'll hold up much better in pass defense when he adds a little more muscle.
Watch Out For .... the competition at safety and cornerback to be intense right through the summer. A new staff means an entirely new set of eyes to evaluate the defensive backs. Plus, Young and Butler, when completely healthy, are good enough to unseat one of the current favorites sitting atop the depth chart.
Strength: Cover skills. Yeah, it'll get tougher without Murphy and Allen, but the Bulls are regrouping from a point of strength after leading the Big East in pass efficiency defense. Plus, Washington is a returning starter at cornerback and Webster is one of the program's rising defensive stars.
Weakness: Turnovers. For all of the talent South Florida harbored in last year's secondary, it only picked off 13 passes, ranking fifth in the eight-team Big East. More interceptions are needed from a collection of playmakers that breaks well on the ball and knows what to do when it catches it.
Outlook: Throughout Jim Leavitt's tenure, South Florida had few problems attracting talented athletes to play in the secondary. The Bulls have enough depth and athleticism to navigate a schedule that features just a few thorny challenges, Florida's John Brantley in September, Cincinnati's Zach Collaros in October, and Miami's Jacory Harris in November.
Projected Starters: South Florida has a tight battle brewing at placekicker involving sophomore Maikon Bonani and senior Eric Schwartz. Bonani was the starter in 2008, making 15-of-21 field goals and all but one extra point, but missed 2009 recovering from a 35-foot fall at an amusement park. Healthy again, he's about to be pushed for the job he held two years ago.
Schwartz took over for an inconsistent Delbert Alvarado last October and finished 11-of-16 on field goals, with a long of 50 yards. Most of his accuracy was relegated to chip shots, however, an issue that'll have to be addressed if he's to hold off Bonani.
Alvarado was also the team's punter, a position that now needs to be filled. The heavy favorite is sophomore Justin Brockhaus-Kann, a 6-3, 221-pounder, with the size and the leg drive to improve the team's distance and hang time in this area. He left high school as one of Florida's top punter, but has no experience at this level.
Last year's top kick returner and punt returner, seniors Dontavia Bogan and Faron Hornes, respectively, are back with an eye on keeping those jobs. Neither was among the Big East's best, which will open up the competition in the summer.
Watch Out For… the battle at placekicker to go unresolved until the summer. During the spring, Skip Holtz waffled on who'd be his primary kicker, an indication that this competition will be too close to call for a while. Bonani has a little more pop and accuracy, but needs to show that he's all the way back from last summer's harrowing accident.
Strength: Two experienced kickers. Last season proved that an extra kicker waiting in the on-deck circle can be a real luxury. When Alvarado began the year 1-of-5, the Bulls were able to turn to Schwartz. With Bonani returning from injury, the program has access to the starters from the last two seasons.
Weakness: The coverage units. South Florida has been pretty miserable in this area for the last few seasons. While improvement was shown on kickoffs, the Bulls still finished last nationally on punts, allowing more than 21 yards a return. Breaking in a new punter is a new challenge this fall.
Outlook: South Florida doesn't do any one thing exceptionally well, which will be an offseason challenge for special teams coach Vernon Hargreaves. The competition should be good for the placekickers, but Brockhaus-Kann needs to deliver as the punter, and more help is needed from the return game and coverage teams.
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