In Vero veritas: How the Bulls are lining up
Watching a USF football practice here in Vero is an exercise in observation -- for two hours, you're constantly writing down numbers, searching for insights into this year's Bulls, looking for telling answers to who will line up where when the games start in 25 days.
It reminds me at times of the back page of Highlights magazine as a kid, where the challenge was to find all the things that were out of place. Only instead of a snowman turned upside-down, it's something subtle, like a second-string player with the first unit, or vice versa. Is it significant, or just coaches trying something different? Is it a result of one player playing well, or another not so? Or more simply, a short-term injury?
-- Middle linebacker Sam Barrington was held out of drills Tuesday night as a precaution with a shoulder injury, giving fellow sophomore Mike Lanaris significant time with the top defense. On production last year, Barrington would be well ahead -- he had 41 tackles as a true freshman, while Lanaris had just one tackle, playing mostly on special teams. Saturday's scrimmage should be a key test to establish a starting unit. The front seven on defense might be USF's deepest area, with both promise and experience on the second string.
-- The first defense in full-squad work Tuesday night had six seniors on it. Three on the line, in Craig Marshall and David Bedford at end and Terrell McClain inside, with Sabbath Joseph and Jacquian Williams at outside linebacker and Mistral Raymond solid at safety. The rest are Cory Grissom at the other tackle, Lanaris in the middle, Quenton Washington and Kayvon Webster at corner and Jerrell Young at safety. In almost every instance, the most experienced, established player is the starter, with the younger challengers on the second team.
-- Nearly half the second-team defense Tuesday were freshmen of one kind or another: Ryne Giddins and Luke Sager on the line, DeDe Lattimore at linebacker, JaQuez Jenkins and Terrence Mitchell in the secondary. It will be interesting to see how quickly the talent signed in the last two recruiting classes can find its way onto the field. Filling out the second defense: Keith McCaskill, who is neck-and-neck with Grissom at tackle, and at end, Patrick Hampton, who has newcomers Claude Davis and Julius Forte pushing him. Donte Spires was the other outside linebacker, with Armando Sanchez stepping up as the second middle with Barrington out. George Baker was the other corner, with Jon Lejiste the other safety and a challenger to Jerrell Young for the starting nod. The nickel spot logically would go to Lejiste based on experience, but the Bulls might want to find a way to get Mitchell on the field.
-- The two receivers who impressed me Tuesday are more than a foot apart in height -- 6-foot-6 T.J. Knowles, who hasn't looked much like a newcomer and continues to come up with catches, and 5-foot-5 Derrick Hopkins, who we knew had quickness but has shown some moves in traffic as well. Senior Dontavia Bogan is still clearly the leader of the group, and Lindsey Lamar has a gear few people on the team have -- the challenge will be in finding creative ways to get him the ball in the open field. USF needs Evan Landi at receiver, and my hunch is that he'll get to stay there -- in the worst-case scenario that something happened to B.J. Daniels, Landi could step in on the fly and still handle himself ably. Normally, you'd think if freshman Deonte Welch can put himself in the top six at receiver, he'd play this fall, but with A.J. Love and Sterling Griffin potentially coming in by midseason, he might have to establish himself a little higher. Lots more to come. ...