Leavitt warns players: Recruits are coming
Of all the messages USF coach Jim Leavitt has reiterated in post-practice interviews this spring, the most consistent has been steady talk of "an influx of players this summer like we've never seen."
Leavitt has tossed out big numbers, both in the total number of players coming in -- as much as 35, counting invited walk-ons -- and the number of newcomers he believes could play this fall, as much as 20, a figure likely inflated with the hope of motivating returning players to improve themselves this spring.
On Tuesday, Leavitt ran through a list of individual players who have had good springs, but expressed a general disappointment that others have not stepped up in anticipation of competition from recruits coming in this fall.
"We have some really good football players. We're not a very good football team right now," Leavitt said. "It's evident of all the seniors we lost in the last year, losing about 24 seniors, and it's going to be interesting to see as we go through all this ... I want as many of these guys to come along as they can this spring, because if it's even, we're going to go after the guys coming in this summer. This will be a very young football team in the fall. It'll be a talented team. I don't know if it'll be a good team or not."
Leavitt hopes to avoid the up-and-down nature of the past two seasons, when the Bulls have opened strong, rising into the top 10 in the national polls before an October collapse that has taken USF out of the polls and out of contention for a Big East crown. A lack of depth has factored in those second-half collapses, so Leavitt wants to address that before the upcoming season.
"The last two years, we came out like gangbusters and had dead slides after getting up to No. 2 in the nation and 10 in the nation," Leavitt said. "It shows we've had some talent around here. Both years we've had some guys injured, and the guys that came in to play weren't ready to play. It showed we had to develop more depth, and I think we'll start to see some of it with the recruiting class we have coming in. But it's really important that some of these guys realize that in the fall there's not going to be as much patience -- if you're not at the top of your game, boom, all the sudden, you might not see the field again. That's the reality right now."
Leavitt was particularly unpleased with the offensive line, which lost four starters and has had its top two returning players, Jake Sims and Zach Hermann, limited by a hand injury and concussion, respectively. With Jeremiah Warren out while focusing on his academics, the Bulls have often gone without their top seven linemen from last season, and Leavitt hasn't been impressed by what was left after that.
"There's nobody on the o-line that I think is good enough to play for us right now today," Leavitt said. "We've got a lot of work to do there. Tight end we don't have anybody yet that I think is good enough to really go after it. We've got some competition there, but losing Cedric (Hill)."
-- Here's Leavitt's explanation for why defensive end George Selvie won't play in Saturday's spring game: "I know what he can do. Wouldn't we all feel ridiculous if he plays in the spring game and something happens to him? What would y'all say to me? What would be the first comment: 'Why are they playing George in the spring game?' right?"
Leavittt played Selvie in last year's spring game -- he had three sacks -- after a season in which he was a consensus All-American, but Leavitt said he wasn't in the game long, as has been the case with other established Bulls stars.
"I don't know -- did we? I don't think (we did) much," Leavitt said of Selvie last spring. "It's like Andre Hall, I pulled him early. I remember one coach was mad at me, because they were up by a lot and I pulled Andre and they ended up losing. George was a sophomore last year. Does George need the spring game? You always need to practice and get better, but we're not going to have him."
-- Senior Chris Robinson has spent the spring listed as the starting strongside linebacker, but that doesn't necessarily mean he'll have a major role on the defense this fall. The Bulls might as well count the nickel package as its base defense, as often as they face spread offenses, and Robinson comes off the field in the nickel, with Kion Wilson and Sabbath Joseph as the starting linebackers.
Asked about his overall linebacker play Tuesday, Leavitt didn't mention Robinson at all.
"Our middle linebacker (Wilson) is good. He can play," Leavitt said. "Sabbath is pretty good. We've got Donte Spires back out, and he's been going to school right now, academics, but he has a chance to be really good. We've got a junior college linebacker (Jaquian Williams) that's really good, a kid out of high school (Sam Barrington) who turned down Miami that's really good. And with more people playing so much with five DBs, because of those spread offenses, you almost are only playing two linebackers. If that's the case, we've got some strength there."
-- Leavitt mentioned signee Steve Jacques on Tuesday as a possibility to play this fall, the only incoming linemen he mentioned in that context after junior college transfers Carlos Savala and Jamar Bass. "He's physically strong enough, benching about 420 right now, has good strength," Leavitt said. "He's about 310 pounds, about 6-4, real good wrestler, has leverage. I think he might have a chance as a freshman to play a little bit as a backup. (At guard?) Probably, but we're going to snap him (at center) a little bit."