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Position breakdown: Tight ends

29

August

Few positions have taken a hit from graduation the way tight end has for the Bulls, with two senior starters gone after each of the last two seniors. Will Bleakley and Devin Gordon weren't huge contributors to the passing game last year, combining for 15 catches for 164 yards, but they were reliable, something Jim Leavitt hopes to get from this year's unit. FIrst-year position coach Larry Scott is a former Bull himself and has brought an offensive lineman's perspective to the position. As the Bulls work to establish a traditional running game, blocking from the tight ends will be key to USF's offense.

THE STARTER: With a 64-yard catch in last year's season opener, fans expected big things from Cedric Hill, but the 6-3, 240-pounder only had 108 yards in the remaining 12 games. He steps into a starting role this year, with a versatility that allows him to move out as a wideout, creating easy mismatches. This is a guy who had touchdowns of 61 and 74 yards in the same playoff game in high school, so his pass catching should make him a more prominent target for Matt Grothe this fall.

NEXT IN LINE: Sophomore Ben Busbee is the only other tight end with college experience at the position, having fought through a shoulder injury to play in 10 games last season. His only catch last year was a key one in the win against West Virginia, and he opens the season as the No. 2 tight end. The Bulls ran nearly 300 plays in a two tight-end set last season, but I'd be surprised if that were the case again this fall, just because the options for a fourth receiver or a two-back set seem more dangerous as offensive weapons than USF's choices for a second tight end. We really haven't seen Busbee healthy yet, so the rest of this position is largely too new to know what to expect.

THE REST: Scott has had three other players to work with, starting with redshirt freshman Andrew Ketchel. He's the smallest of the tight ends, with a background from the pass-catching side, with 32 catches as a high school senior. Sophomore Shane McElwain, the former junior hockey prospect, has bounced back and forth from defensive end to tight end, but he only played one year of high school football, so he remains an intriguing prospect, still learning the game. Leavitt has had good things to say about walk-on Quincy Okolie, who put on more weight in the off-season than any player on roster. His media-guide weight of 245 is way off, but even at 230 pounds, he's added considerable weight to his frame after redshirting his first year with a broken ankle. He's from Palm Beach Central, same as McElwain, and is another raw prospect, one who caught only five passes as a high school senior but presents potential mismatches because of his 6-foot-5 frame. The Bulls have pass-catching options but need to show this position can be physical in pass protection and downfield blocking for the running game. Thoughts?

[Last modified: Thursday, May 27, 2010 11:35am]

    

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