Ten USF football questions for August ...
The start of fall practice is just eight days off, and it seems a good time to step back and visit the biggest questions USF will try to answer in four weeks of preseason drills and the first few weeks of the season. The Bulls have an odd mix -- some of the Big East's most established stars in Matt Grothe and George Selvie, but also some key areas with little experience and the potential for newcomers playing a lot. USF could be very vanilla in the first three games, so the answers might be in September or even October, but here are 10 questions, saving the bigger ones for the end ...
10. Which newcomers will make a splash and play this fall? Tackle Jamar Bass and cornerback Kayvon Webster are almost locks to play, but who else? Will track stars Lindsey Lamar and Derrick Hopkins get to show off their speed? Can Ryne Giddins and Julius Forte get on the field despite returning depth at defensive end? What position will wild cards Isaac Virgin and Victor Marc play at?
9. Which redshirt freshmen have fans forgotten about? There will also be impact from 19 redshirt freshmen who watched from the sidelines last season. Three are poised for starting roles -- tackle Mark Popek, defensive tackle Cory Grissom and defensive back Jon Lejiste -- and others should be prominent on special teams, like linebackers Mike Lanaris and Armando Sanchez. Could corner George Baker or receiver Daniel Bryant get one of the return jobs?
8. How can USF utilize backup QBs B.J. Daniels and Evan Landi? There's been talk of Landi moonlighting at receiver, and the athleticism of both makes them ideal for creative schemes like the Wildcat offense that was all over the NFL last season. If the first three games against lesser teams go as planned, both could see plenty of game action in relief of Matt Grothe as well.
7. Will the transition to Joe Tresey's defense be a smooth one? The terminology is new but it's still a 4-3 defense -- how quickly can the Bulls look natural on defense? Tresey has a reputation for defenses that force turnovers with aggressive play, something USF didn't do well last season but excelled at in 2007. The defensive line could be dominant, but the secondary and linebackers have big holes to fill.
6. How will the offense be tweaked with Mike Canales in charge? Leavitt has hinted at larger changes to USF's offense, with more downfield passing, less multi-tight end looks, while still maintaining a run-pass balance and using Grothe's ability to scramble and keep defenses guessing. Last year's offense had no problem piling up yards, but lacked big plays and couldn't convert in the red zone -- those are two areas where fans would like to see a big difference.
5. Will the injured offensive stars be fully recovered? Running back Mike Ford looked fine in spring, and Jamar Taylor is said to be healthy after missing spring with shoulder issues. Two of USF's best receivers are also question marks -- A.J. Love tore his ACL in the St. Petersburg Bowl in December, and Jessie Hester suffered a foot injury this spring. Both should be ready for the season opener.
4. Who will emerge at outside linebacker? Senior Kion Wilson is due for a 100-tackle season in the middle, but who will line up next to him? Junior Sabbath Joseph is probably the most prepared, but for the second straight summer, Leavitt is hoping that Chris Robinson can break out as the star he showed flashes of as a third-down pass-rush specialist in 2006. Can newcomers like Jacquian Williams or Sam Barrington get on the field? Can senior Donte Spires shake off the rust after a year off?
3. Can Delbert Alvarado handle both the punting and the place-kicking duties? Alvarado has been a consistent punter, but he needs the same dependability on field goals, where he's 25-for-42 in his career. His leg is unquestionably strong -- see a Big East record 56-yarder as a freshman -- but needs to make the routine kicks look routine. An improved red-zone offense would mean less worries about 30-yard field goals.
2. Will three first-year starters in the nickel secondary be a vulnerable spot on defense? With a ton of spread offenses in the Big East, USF's base defense will be the nickel, with five defensive backs. Three have little to no starting experience, in strong safety Jerrell Young, cornerback Quenton Washington and nickel Jon Lejiste. The secondary has two proven leaders in Jerome Murphy and Nate Allen, but how quickly can Joe Tresey and J.R. Reed get the rest to play like they're not new to the starting lineup? The first major challenge is probably Cincinnati's passing game on Oct. 15.
1. How quickly can the new offensive line become a cohesive unit? In replacing four senior starters, Leavitt has said this line won't be short on talent, but his concern is how quickly a chemistry can be forged. Jake Sims and Zach Hermann will be the veteran leaders as juniors, and left tackle Jamar Bass is getting rave reviews as having an NFL body. The novice starters look to be Sampson Genus and Mark Popek. They'll have to flip a switch from three easy games to an elite challenge in Florida State's defensive line.