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Five position battles to watch for USF ...



Monday afternoon brings the first practice of football season, and in anticipation of that, the blog offers a closer look at five key position battles -- there might not be much more than that truly up for grabs in the next month. Here goes ...

1. STRONGSIDE LINEBACKER: A huge position to fill, with Tyrone McKenzie moving to the middle to take over for Ben Moffitt, who's now with the Houston Texans. At the end of spring, the Sam job looked to belong to Chris Robinson, who shined as a third-down pass-rusher as a redshirt freshman in '06 but was limited by an ankle injury last year. It seems like the momentum has shifted to sophomore Sabbath Joseph, who played primarily on special teams last year but brings an athleticism and speed and comparisons from Jim Leavitt to Stephen Nicholas. The third (but unlikely) option is juco transfer Kion Wilson showing enough in the middle to allow McKenzie to go back outside, but in talking to McKenzie, he seems to have embraced the responsibility of playing the middle and isn't likely to let that go ...

2. SECOND CORNERBACK: Junior Jerome Murphy seems to have locked down a starting job after learning for two seasons behind Mike Jenkins and Trae Williams. The opposite corner right now looks to be senior Tyller Roberts, based on his experience with 53 career tackles in 37 games. But redshirt freshmen Quenton Washington and Tyson Butler will push Roberts, in August and the rest of the way. All but one of the 2007 starting quarterbacks in the Big East are back this season, so cornerback will be a key position to shore up in the first month of the season. USF's depth and experience at safety should make the transition easier for a young, inexperienced corner such as Washington or Butler.

3. RIGHT TACKLE: With Walt Walker gone, former walk-on Jake Sims has not only emerged as the starter entering fall drills, but has earned a scholarship for his efforts as well. Sims has the respect of USF's coaches and is seen as someone who could take over as the starting center in '09 after Jake Griffin graduates. For now, the more immediate challenge is holding off true freshman Mark Popek of Plant City, who is two inches taller and 20 pounds heavier at 6-7, 305. Senior Marc Dile has the left tackle job covered, but if Sims is moving inside after this season, USF needs to find two starting tackles for 2009, so expect Popek and Damien Edwards to get a chance to show what they can do at some point as true freshmen.

4. KICK RETURNER: Definitely an opportunity for some new faces here. Murphy showed electric speed last season, even in blocking for Jenkins' 100-yard return for a touchdown against Cincinnati. But if Murphy is an every-down corner, will the Bulls want to use him on kickoffs as well? Taurus Johnson is another option and looks to have fully recovered from an ankle injury that limited him last season. Two newcomers -- cornerbacks George Baker and Theo Wilson -- have the game-breaking speed to get a long look here as well. Punt returner is another position to watch, as receiver Marcus Edwards was reliable but unremarkable last season, not totaling more than 45 yards in any game.

5. RUNNING BACK: It's the same dynamic as last season, with largely the same talented options. How will the Bulls divvy up the carries between Mike Ford, Ben Williams and Jamar Taylor? Coaches love Williams for his dependable play and hard work, and he's worked hard in the offseason to improve his ability to catch passes out of the backfield. Ford is (even) bigger and stronger after a promising true freshman season in which he led the Bulls in touchdowns and emerged as a 20-carry workhorse in the second half. Taylor has shown enough promise that coaches will want to integrate him into the offense as well, and the same goes for sophomore Richard Kelly. The offensive line has focused on downfield blocking and power running since spring, so the question is simply how the Bulls will find the combination that best utilizes a deep and talented backfield.

MORE QUESTIONS TO ASK: Can senior Matt Huners find a way into the starting lineup at guard if he's not practicing much to protect a surgically repaired knee? ... Who emerges as a breakout receiver -- Dontavia Bogan? A.J. Love? An amazing comeback from twice-injured Colby Erskin? ... Will true freshman quarterback B.J. Daniels take the field, or redshirt? ... Will sophomore David Bedford be able to unseat senior Jarriett Buie at end? Will Sampson Genus hold off Terrell McClain at nose tackle? Could this have just as easily been a list of 10 instead of five? ... And on special teams, can Delbert Alvarado hold on to the kicking and/or punting jobs? ... Are there any questions I've missed?

[Last modified: Thursday, May 27, 2010 12:39pm]


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