USF freshman DBs will have chance this fall
Football updates? Another good sign that the season is fast approaching. I had the chance to sit down Thursday with USF assistants Walt Wells, Nick Sheridan and Ron Cooper and got updates on three key positions for the Bulls. We'll start our notes with Cooper, who has a very young group of corners that got younger with news that senior Josh Brown is out for the year with a torn Achilles tendon.
-- Brown's injury means it's all the more likely the Bulls will count on at least one true freshman to play this fall. There are four freshman defensive backs already in school -- Lamar Robbins, Johnny Ward, Hassan Childs and Nate Godwin -- and all will get a look in August. Robbins was the most decorated of the four, and at 6-foot-2, 181 pounds, has the best size. Childs and Ward are both 6 foot even, checking in light at 169 and 163 pounds, while Godwin is 5-10, 196.
"Right now, I'm giving everybody a chance," Cooper said. "I'm going to play the best guys. If we have to play all four, we're going to play all four. I do believe there will be some young guys in the mix. ... The guys have said they all have a lot of good to them. I talked to a couple of guys I consider leaders back there, and they said 'Coach, they're pretty good.' At least they think they're good, and that's part of the way."
-- Entering camp, USF's top two cornerbacks -- the guys to beat for the starting jobs -- would be sophomore Kenneth Durden and senior walk-on Brandon Salinas. Salinas is a good story if he can hold down the job -- played a fair amount on special teams in 2011 but wasn't on the team last year, rejoining the Bulls this spring and making a strong impression on the new staff.
"I'm very pleased with him," Cooper said. "Smart kid. You still play this game a little bit with your head. Coming out of spring, I was impressed by him as much as anyone."
Durden is one of the best athletes on the team and could make an impact on returns for special teams as well.
"He picked things up well. Our strength coaches are telling me he's having a good summer," Cooper said. "If he has a great summer, there's no telling how good he can be if he puts it all together. He's one of the most talented guys I've ever been around, talent-wise. He's got to continue to mature, but I'm pleased with him. He's working hard this summer."
-- Torrel Saffold, the junior college who joined the team in January, is pushing for the starting jobs and could be in line for the nickel spot, which will be a key position as USF as the Bulls will be in nickel and even dime packages plenty against pass-oriented schemes and downs. Saffold can play both corner and safety, so he can help out all over the secondary.
"The nickel has to be able to cover like a corner, and has to be able to blitz and pressure like a linebacker," Cooper said.
-- Another wild card is redshirt freshman Chris Bivins, who suffered a second ACL tear in November but is making good progress. Skip Holtz and his staff were leaning toward a second redshirt this fall to make sure his knee was healthy, but Willie Taggart has seen his recovery and is open to having him play -- perhaps even a key role -- this fall.
"Bivins, I hope, fits in enough to where I can look at Saffold at safety," Cooper said. "They say he's healthy, moving around. I watched him on last year's practice tape, and even on a gimpy knee, I thought he had talent. I've seen him enough to see he's got something to him. He's got the movement and the knowledge. We need him to step up."
-- The veterans of the secondary are certainly senior safeties Mark Joyce and JaQuez Jenkins, and those are the first names Cooper mentioned when I asked him for the leaders at the position.
"Mark, I thought, did really well," he said. "I hope he comes in in great shape, which he will. I'm not saying anybody else has anything else sewn up back there, to be truthful. I saw enough out of Jalen Spencer, saw enough out of JaQuez. Do we have a special freshman? I remember years ago, hoping and hoping at South Carolina, I found Ko Simpson, who was a Freshman All-America. Is there a Morris Claiborne showing up: 'Whoo, wow, look what I've got.' I'm hoping somebody may surprise me."