First scrimmage, as I (didn't) see it ...
It's an odd thing, writing with authority about a scrimmage you aren't allowed to see.
USF held a 115-play scrimmage, just under three hours, on Saturday morning, with some interesting news coming out of coach Jim Leavitt's postpractice comments. The Bulls only have one more full scrimmage, Wednesday night, then a half-hour scrimmage for Fan Appreciation Day on Saturday, so this first live action was a significant evaluation period for young players and position battles. USF has plenty of both of them.
QB: The newest wrinkle is Pat Julmiste's back, which acted up just before midway into the scrimmage. Leavitt said he went to Julmiste and told him that he knew what he could do, so he had him sit out the rest of the practice rather than turn something sore into something worse. Offensive coordinator Rod Smith told me the injury shouldn't limit him in the long term: "I don't think it's (anything) serious." Leavitt praised all three of his top quarterbacks, saying Grant Gregory's play surprised him most, but later reiterated that he has a two-man race. Of redshirt freshman Matt Grothe, he said he had an "absolutely outstanding day" ... Smith called it a "real tremendous job." Does that mean he's ahead of Julmiste? Leavitt wouldn't say Saturday, but he's certainly closer.
RB: Redshirt freshman Moise Plancher is "clearly our No. 1 guy," Leavitt said, but what speaks even more to me is what followed: "I thought Walt Smith ran very well, I thought Colby Erskin ran very well. I thought Keeley Dorsey ran well. Aston Samuels had a real nice run. Shawn Cannon had some real nice runs. B. Williams did some things. Those guys are good ... Ponton did some good things."
Something's up with Ponton. How else do you explain a coach praising SEVEN other running backs, including four walk-ons, before awkwardly remembering to mention him? You remember guys in their third week before a guy in his third year, the only back on roster that has a single carry in Division I football? Very strange to me.
WR: Leavitt said if he had four starters at receiver, it'd be Ean Randolph, Marcus Edwards, Taurus Johnson and S.J. Green. So veterans Amarri Jackson and Jackie Chambers are in the second group, with freshman Carlton Mitchell, sophomore Jessie Hester and others close behind. Leavitt expects big things of Randolph, yet another walk-on who's earned a scholarship and a major role.
TE: He called it a "vicious battle" between Will Bleakley, Cedric Hill, Ben Busbee and walk-on Devin Gordon, who has been praised consistently by Leavitt this fall. I'd expect a lot more catches from the position than a year ago ...
OL: There are basically seven guys competing for five positions -- center Nick Capogna and tackle Marc Dile seem locked in, with Jared Carnes ahead at the other tackle and Danny Tolley a question mark because of his pelvic injury. Two of three guards -- Matt Huners, Jake Griffin and Walter Walker -- will start. Huners and Walker have both seen time at tackle as well. Leavitt said the decision on whether to redshirt Thed Watson (who's not in that seven) could come down to whether Tolley's healthy enough to play or not.
DL: Leavitt spoke highly of redshirt freshman George Selvie, but did not mention Josh Julmiste and Jarriett Buie, who had generally been seen as the next two ends in the mix. Instead, he mentioned walk-on Treco Bellamy, a converted linebacker who played special teams last year. This sounds to me like Leavitt trying to motivate some guys -- when he says something about a depth chart, he has his own motives in mind more than just letting the public know where everybody's lined up. "We're still trying to find our other d-end," he said, also throwing a plug in for true freshman Aaron Harris. Again, he's told Julmiste he's going to be a leader on the defensive line this fall, so I think he's trying to get some guys fired up here.
LB: Same deal here. The three starters are as solid as USF has, with Brouce Mompremier as the lone backup Leavitt has confidence in right now. I'd thought they'd work transfer Marvin Peoples on the outside, but right now he's the No. 3 middle, with Sam Miller and Chris Robinson on the second unit.
DB: Cornerbacks are set, but safety should be interesting -- Danny Verpaele, Carlton Williams, Jeremy Burnett and Louis Gachette are competing for three jobs, with freshman Nate Allen showing great promise behind them. Mike Jenkins sat out the scrimmage with stitches in his chin.
Special teams: Mike Benzer will be the kicker, with Anthony Severino as holder and Ryan Bordeau as long snapper. Punter is still up for grabs, with Ilia Petrov ahead right now.
A walk-on update: tight end turned defensive end Quincy Okolie suffered an ankle injury, Leavitt said, and he was carted off with receiver Amp Hill, who looked awfully dejected leaving the field. Leavitt said Hill's injury was only a low-degree sprain, shouldn't sideline him for more than a few days.
Two weeks and one full scrimmage to go, with still a lot of questions to be answered ...
Some very big numbers coming back from USF basketball in Italy, the latest a 115-51 win against "Giants Marghera." I'm wondering about the level of competition they're facing, as a team with one walk-on for a bench has outscored its three opponents by a combined score of 291-158. Senior Melvyn RIchardson, for instance, had 30 points in Friday night's game; in 16 games in the Big East last year, he scored a total of 18. I'm sure he's improved in the offseason, but still ... Coach Robert McCullum, as if anticipating this question from half a world away, offers this quote from USF's release: “I told the team to treat the first three games as exhibitions,” he said. “The final two games we will approach like the regular season. The competition will improve significantly.”
Men's soccer, by the way, has not allowed a goal in three exhibition wins, the latest a 2-0 win at a ranked St. Louis squad. Junior Rodrigo Hidalgo has made the watch list -- and it's a lean list at just 25 players -- for the Missouri Athletic Club's Hermann Trophy, given to college soccer's top player. Unless women's basketball's freshmen make a huge impact, George Kiefer should have the best team on campus, with a good chance of bringing back USF's first Big East championship.