Smith: Tabuteau would start in nickel defense
TAMPA -- USF expects to play much of its defense in a nickel package with five defensive backs this season, and secondary coach Rick Smith said former walk-on safety Ernie Tabuteau is in the team's starting nickel, just 12 days before the Bulls' season opener.
"I'm very comfortable with that group," said Smith, who would have senior cornerbacks Kayvon Webster and George Baker and junior safeties Mark Joyce and JaQuez Jenkins in his nickel package. "Hasn't always been that way."
USF coach Skip Holtz said he plans on putting Tabuteau on scholarship -- the transfer from tiny Miles College had impressed coaches last year but was shelved for much of the season with back problems. He's in the nickel package ahead of senior safety Jon Lejiste, who has started all 25 games under Holtz, totaling 90 tackles over the past two seasons. Lejiste is expected to rotate in and play regularly at safety.
Smith said he's "still keeping his fingers crossed" with Baker, who was beaten on some plays in key losses last season, but he's played well enough to stay ahead of redshirt freshman Kenneth Durden, who Smith said is a talented athlete still working to stay focused on every play.
Smith said true freshman cornerback Chris Bivins, who has been mentioned as a candidate to play immediately this fall, has been limited as he recovers from ACL surgery last winter and might be best served redshirting.
"Right now, I think we'd doing him an injustice," Smith said. "Now maybe a week from now, if he takes a few days off and comes back before the first game and does well, Coach (Holtz) might ... we have a few weeks before we have to decide on him."
THIS AND THAT: USF practiced twice Monday and will try for a single session Tuesday, though storms are expected for much of the day. The Bulls are scheduled to practice twice Wednesday, once Thursday, then will have their final preseason scrimmage Friday before beginning normal game-week preparations for the Sept. 1 opener against I-AA Chattanooga.