Position breakdown: Linebackers
The biggest loss USF feels from last season is the graduation of outside linebackers Stephen Nicholas and Patrick St. Louis -- they'll be difficult to replace, both as leaders and as playmakers. That said, middle linebacker Ben Moffitt is arguably the team's most dependable returning player. Surrounding him with two reliable starters will be a major focus of August workouts, but there are promising options.
STARTERS: Moffitt has started 30 games in a row and led the team in tackles in each of the past two seasons. He knows Wally Burnham's defense and should be a first-team all-conference linebacker. Who starts next to him? We'll start with sophomore Chris Robinson, who shined as a third-down pass rusher last season, stepping in for St. Louis at linebacker in the final two wins. Leavitt still sees a hybrid role for Robinson, who could take over for Nicholas at weakside linebacker and move up to end in a nickel defense. His toughest competition at Will is junior Tyrone McKenzie, who ranked in the top 10 nationally in tackles last season, getting a ridiculous 129 at Iowa State. McKenzie started at middle linebacker for the Cyclones, but will shift outside at USF, perhaps as a starter at Sam. The wild card in this is sophomore Donte Spires, a transfer from Pearl River who was a tackling machine, but needs to show he can play at the major-college level.
POSITION BATTLES: Neither outside spot is sewn up by any means, and there are experienced returning players trying to hold off newcomers McKenzie and Spires. Senior Sam Miller and junior Brouce Mompremier haven't seen much meaningful action at linebacker though -- Miller has never had more than four tackles in a season; Mompremier's career high is five. A starting linebacker will get that in one game. They've had plenty of time at USF, but that hasn't translated to actual game experience, so both could end up continuing as leaders on the Bulls' special teams unit.
THE REST: Two redshirt freshmen, Alonzo McQueen and Sabbath Joseph, get their first look, with McQueen listed as the top backup to Moffitt in the middle. USF rarely took its starting linebackers off the field last year, but has better depth to allow the second-teamers to play more this fall. Sophomore Marvin Peoples, celebrated as a transfer from Maryland last year, got a hardship waiver that allowed him to play immediately, then made it into only two games and tellingly was discussed as a potential fullback during spring drills. There are two redshirt freshman walk-ons in Bradley Chancey and Josh Soto to help on scout team with no scholarship freshmen on roster. We know of one incoming preferred walk-on in Justin Thompson of Palm Bay Bayside, but he's expected to redshirt.
Questions? Thoughts? Your pick on the three starters against Auburn?