Linebackers: Woodie seeking depth, competition
Two more positional breakdowns to catch up on -- still have running backs and linebackers, and we'll start with the latter, with Raymond Woodie in his first year after working under Willie Taggart for three seasons at Western Kentucky.
USF looks to going into the season with two fairly clear-cut starters in senior DeDe Lattimore and junior Reshard Cliett -- Lattimore will quarterback the defense as middle linebacker and the most experienced player on USF's roster. Cliett, a converted safety, really emerged last year, going from five tackles as a freshman to 40 as a sophomore starter.
Who can help the Bulls beyond those two? They need a third starter in non-nickel situations, and the only two with significant college experience are at strongside -- sophomores Tashon Whitehurst (15 tackles) and Zack Bullock (7 tackles).
"You try to teach the older guys that they have to be a model for these younger guys who are following," Woodie said in his office last month. "That's what we're hearing. When they come up and talk, they say 'Such and such helped me today,' and that makes you feel good as a position coach. ... Those guys have had a really positive spring. I've seen improvement from every last one of them."
-- USF has a class of young linebackers that were barely able to get on the field last year -- four nonredshirting linebackers (Chris Garye, Antoine Pozniak, Hans Louis and Corian Hamilton) combined for one tackle, including special teams. Garye and Pozniak had regular roles on special teams, but Louis and Hamilton combined to play in one game. Walk-ons like Ruben Garcia and Kalin Hall had larger roles on the team.
"Honestly, when I looked at the evaluation part, I could put all of them in a bag, and basically looking at the level of improvement, it's been the same across the board," Woodie said.
Does a junior college transfer like Rahmon Swain move in ahead of those four? Could a true freshman like Nigel Harris show enough to not redshirt, as all four of them did? Louis might be in the best position, entering the fall as the backup middle after Garcia's knee injury at the end of spring. One consolation for players who had small roles in 2012: Woodie doesn't care.
"We wanted to let these guys know everyone gets a fair shake, from a guy who started several games to the individual who really didn't play a whole lot based on last year," he said. "We weren't here last year. We can't control what happened last year. We want a bunch of guys competing for positions."
-- Expect even more cross-training that USF had with Chris Cosh, who tried to get every player trained at two of the three linebacking spots. "I try to teach them all three," Woodie said. "One thing Coach (Chuck) Bresnahan wants us to do is teach these guys different positions -- you're just one play away from not having the depth you want."
-- Whitehurst and Bullock, battling for the strongside job, were both nicked up with injuries in spring, but Woodie said he liked the way both kept showing up. "They could have made excuses, but they were warriors. They came out every day competing," he said. Both are fine now.
-- Woodie's throughts on Harris and Mitchell Wright, his two true freshmen from Tampa? "Energy. Willing to learn, in the classroom and on the field," he said. "Always coming in the office, asking questions, hungry. The transformation for them was getting here, learning from the older guys. Talking to those guys, they're saying 'Coach, these kids are pretty good.'"