Position breakdown: Offensive line
It's now 27 hours before the season kicks off, and I still have the entire defense to break down by position -- and special teams -- so I'm not sure if I should cram them in, or run things over to next week.
USF's offensive line has five starters with at least 13 career starts each, but there's limited depth beyond those five, so the unit's effectiveness could be closely linked to its health this season. With four seniors starting, there's a strong desire to rotate younger players in this season, both to protect the starters' health and make sure the cupboard isn't too bare for 2009.
THE STARTERS: Senior tackles Ryan Schmidt and Marc Dile (left) each have 20 career starts, though Schmidt makes the transition from All-Big East guard to tackle, where he'll protect Matt Grothe's blindside. If there's a theme to the line, it's how they've trimmed their weights this summer, losing more than 100 pounds combined. That's with an eye toward more of a power running game, with linemen on the move and continuing to block defenders downfield. Center Jake Griffin, selected as a game captain for the opener, is a vocal leader and one of the team's strongest players; he and guard Matt Huners have both been held out of drills some this preseason to preserve them for the season ahead. Huners played sparingly last season after recovering from a torn ACL in the '07 spring game -- before that, he was considered the Bulls' top lineman. The young one of the group is sophomore Zach Hermann, who was quietly consistent last season, starting every game at right guard.
NEXT IN LINE: Sophomore Jake Sims (left), a former walk-on who entered August as the team's starting right tackle, is essentially the backup at all five spots, though he's listed on the depth chart at center. He's in ilne to take over for Griffin there in 2009, and will get regular snaps during games with an eye toward that. Next most likely to play is redshirt freshman Jeremiah Warren, who got as big as 340 pounds in preseason, unable to work much because of an ankle injury. He had a strong week and is expected to play as well. The only true freshman expected to play is tackle Danous Estenor, who opened drills at defensive tackle but was shifted to offense, where he started three years at Palm Beach Central. The young lineman who showed the most progress this fall might be redshirt freshman Mike McGowan, who was originally tagged for a grayshirt when he signed with USF last year. He came in with the rest of the class last fall and has gone from tight end to center to tackle, where he's now listed as the No. 2 on the left side. Battling for a second-team guard spot are walk-ons Chaz Hine and Joe Herzhauser -- Hine, an opera singer, has followed Sims' path as a walk-on missed by other programs, and Herzhauser is one of the team's oldest players at 24, having spent two years in the Air Force before joining the Bulls.
THE REST: For much of the summer, Jim Leavitt had high praise for incoming freshmen Mark Popek and Damien Edwards, expecting them to push Sims for a starting tackle position. The transition to college is tough for a lineman, however, and both have been headed for redshirts since the first week of preseason drills. Popek could still wind up as a starting tackle in 2009. Another scholarship freshman, guard Josh Garvin, will redshirt as well. Center Kevin McCaskill, like his brother Keith on defense, is fighting for a spot on the two-deep, and junior Danny Tolley is likely sidelined until at least October as he recovers from an ACL tear on the last day of spring drills. A new freshman walk-on, Sean Hirlinger, is 6-7 and will use this year to add size to his frame. Offensive line will be a major part of the incoming recruiting class, with as many as six scholarships -- some likely from junior college -- going to address a position that will have significant turnover in the next year.