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Big opportunity now for USF's Cliett, Williams



Wednesday's news of USF's first fall depth chart came with minimal interpretation from Skip Holtz, who wasn't available for interviews but acknowledged in a statement the "fluid" nature of the changes in his lineups.


We should get Holtz later today, but the two biggest developments in USF's two-deep tweeks are major potential roles for two talented sophomores: tackle Darrell Williams and strongside linebacker Reshard Cliett. In both cases, Bulls coaches seem willing to slide established starters to new positions to get talented young players onto the field.

-- Williams, who played sparingly as a true freshman last year, has essentially made a case he's a better starter than senior guard Damien Edwards, even if it means taking USF's starting left tackle, senior Mark Popek, and sliding him inside to left guard. If the move takes, it gives the Bulls a potential three-year starter at left tackle -- the Bulls would then have three sophomores starting on the line, along with center Austin Reiter and right tackle Quinterrius Eatmon. We'll have more on Williams, but he was one of the first players USF's coaches targeted after coming to Tampa, another Orlando-area standout in the team's future.

-- Cliett redshirted during Holtz's first season, then added weight and shifted from safety to linebacker, and his speed would allow USF to stay in a  three-linebacker set more in passing situations. Much like with Williams, USF's coaches have three players battling for two spots -- they could carry on with last year's primary look, with seniors Sam Barrington and Mike Lanaris literally at Sam and Mike (strong and middle), or they could slide Barrington inside and insert Cliett at strongside. Both moves would make the Bulls quicker and younger if they hold.

-- The other big star of the depth chart? The word "or," which appears 13 times on the depth chart, including nine times on offense alone. USF already hedges its depth chart by including 12 offensive starters, though the fullback is probably the easy cut to avoid a 5-yard penalty. Even without that spot, the Bulls show 30 players on an 11-spot two-deep, which illustrates the depth Holtz has been clamoring for, something you would say was missing from his roster in 2011.

You can make a good case now for at least five true freshmen playing this season, based on them showing up as top backups on the depth chart: receiver D'vario Montgomery, tight end Sean Price, defensive end Eric Lee, linebacker Tashon Whitehurst and cornerback Chris Bivins. Another freshman, Daniel Perry -- 6-foot-7 with crazy-long arms -- is listed on the depth chart, but once Julius Forte is healthy, he's probably a redshirt. Whitehurst is now the No. 2 weakside linebacker, even with senior Mike Jeune, who might be relegated to crushing people on special teams.

-- My question: Who lines up in the back seven of USF's nickel package right now? You can pencil in Barrington and Lattimore, as well as Webster, Joyce and Jenkins. That leaves two spots -- whoever emerges at the field corner, whether that's George Baker, Kenneth Durden or Fidel Montgomery -- and then the last spot, likely senior safeties Jon Lejiste or Ernie Tabuteau. If Cliett is in the base defense, there's less of a need to shift into nickel, but against a three- or four-receiver set, they'll want an extra defensive back on the field. Lejiste might be the biggest wild card - an established starter last year, one of the team's toughest hitters, but someone without a clear role on defense as it stands.

-- The class breakdown of the 57 offensive and defensive players on the depth chart? Pretty balanced. You have 18 seniors, 14 juniors, 11 sophomores and 14 freshmen. More notes to come this afternoon ...

[Last modified: Thursday, August 16, 2012 9:37am]


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