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Bulls wary of Hurricanes' big-play threats

Here are Tuesday's practice notes from Times correspondent Joe Polito ...

TAMPA - Coming off their best defensive effort against UConn, the Bulls used the off week to prepare for the dynamic playmakers of the Miami Hurricanes. Coach Skip Holtz said USF's defense will be cautious of Miami's big-play ability.

"When you try and swing for the fence, you're going to strike out," he said. "If you're trying to load the box and blitz them…you may make a loss yardage play, but you're going to give up that big play too … I think you definitely have to be careful if you're going to be aggressive against Miami's offense because they do have the potential to take the big play against you anytime you are aggressive."

Miami's freshman RB Duke Johnson has back-to-back games with runs of more than 50 yards. USF hasn't allowed a play of more than 50 yards all season, but did give up a 44-yard run and a 47-yard pass against the similarly explosive Seminoles.

Defensive backs coach Rick Smith said that if his players worry too much about Johnson, who totaled 368 all-purpose yards in Saturday's loss to Virginia, the backfield could fall victim to play-action passes. But Smith said once Johnson does have the ball, the defense will need to work quickly to corral him.

"He's a deep concern for us," he said. "We need to tackle him before we're chasing him, because if we end up chasing him, we ain't gonna catch him."

ESTENOR, POPEK AHEAD OF SCHEDULE: Senior offensive linemen Danous Estenor and Mark Popek participated in team drills at practice Tuesday. Both linemen had been sidelined with ankle injuries, but Holtz said he was surprised by how close they are to returning.

"Both of them really looked amazingly sharp," he said. "For guys that have been out as long they have, I didn't expect them to be that far along. They're still a little bit hobbled-we're going to need some time to continue to get healthy, but it was nice to see them knock some rust off it and have the opportunity to get back out there."

CHANDLER DOESN'T LIKE QUARTERBACKS: Bulls defensive tackle and Miami native Todd Chandler said disrupting Miami QB Stephen Morris' rhythm will be his top priority.

"He's got a good head on his shoulders, but at times he gets rattled," he said. "I know up front we're going to have to stay on him, put pressure on him … nudge him, bump him just to let him know that we're here at all times … I don't really like quarterbacks so, just do whatever you can to get to the quarterback."

Posted by Greg Auman at 3:13:39 pm on November 13, 2012