USF football practice: Observations from Vero
I'm back here in Tampa for two days before driving over to Vero Beach and back on Saturday for the Bulls' open scrimmage -- should learn a lot from that -- but want to share a few thoughts after watching a week of football practice on campus and in Vero. ...
-- The freshmen are as talented as advertised. Lots of buzz about newcomers in Vero on both sides of the ball -- receiver Andre Davis getting the most on offense, with cornerback Kenneth Durden drawing praise as well. They're probably the two most assured of playing this fall, but there could be a lot more -- the injury to Jeff Hawkins moves Tye Turner up a slot at tight end (though walk-on Jake Carlton caught a ton of passes) and the departure of Brandon Wilkinson puts Clavion Nelson one notch higher on the depth chart.
At one point Tuesday, there were five true freshmen working on the No. 3 defense -- Nelson, DT Elkino Watson, LBs Corian Hamilton and Zack Bullock and Durden at corner. Again, being on the No. 3 defense just means you're close to being on the No. 2 defense, which makes a compelling case to shed the redshirt and jump in this fall. It won't take much to get true freshmen on the second-team offensive line -- we saw Brynjar Gudmundsson and Darrell Williams working on the second line this week -- the guys they displaced, Tony Kibler and Darren Powe, hardly have more playing experience than the true freshmen do.
-- Of the receivers, Victor Marc seemed to turn heads every day -- consistently making catches and being physical enough to go across the middle. He's been all over in two seasons at USF -- quarterback, safety, running back, but he looks at home at receiver, and Todd Fitch is using him in an H-back role where he starts in the backfield and can flare out to the slot. He seems in position to establish himself in that second tier behind the known veterans like Evan Landi, A.J. Love and Sterling Griffin.
-- Consistently saw Curtis Weatherspoon working as the first-team strongside linebacker, and Mark Snyder said that was as much to get him extensive reps, because Weatherspoon can play a bunch of different roles this fall. He could play a standard Sam linebacker, but seems ideal for blitzing the quarterback, and his speed allows him to line up almost anywhere. Weatherspoon got his feet wet last season, not unlike the way another junior college transfer, Jacquian Williams, did his junior year before making a big splash as a senior. To be fair to Weatherspoon, it's unlikely he'll do as much as Williams did on the way to being drafted, but the opportunity is there for him.
-- If walk-on Ernie Tabuteau continues to work as a second-string cornerback -- and he was there with George Baker at last practice I saw -- you wonder whether he'll earn a battlefield promotion and be placed on scholarship this fall. Tabuteau may have to prove himself on the field first, but his emergence this spring has bailed out the Bulls at a crucial position, and he remains the top option after starters Quenton Washington and Kayvon Webster. He's this year's Stephen Bravo-Brown, as the walk-on that has surprised and solidified a spot in the rotation to start the season.
-- We wrote Wednesday about Julius Forte and the big role he could have for the Bulls, but the other options for backup defensive ends run the gamut. You have a bigger guy in Anthony Hill, a converted DT, and a smaller, quicker one in converted LB Antoine Pozniak. The wild card might be senior Claude Davis, who had promising flashes in the spring game but has been limited by a hyperextended left elbow. He wore a brace on the elbow the last few days in Vero, and if healthy could provide a spark in a bench role spelling the regular rotation guys.
-- Among the fans watching on Tuesday in Vero was former Bulls receiver Colby Erskin, a one-time walk-on who kept playing through multiple knee injuries, the last coming in two-a-days last fall. Erskin has started working in modeling -- he's stayed in football shape -- and is considering a try at acting as well.
-- Speaking of life after football, was pleased to find former Bulls tackle Jake Sims on Twitter on Wednesday. Sims, who got married this summer, also has a blog he's writing -- a little TV critic, a little sports, a little bit of everything, but a fun read for sure. His graduation hit the Bulls hard in the big-hair department, but the cupboard isn't bare, with walk-on fullback Chris Breit and defensive tackle Luke Sager leading the way.