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USF still mum on starting QB, but Kerwin Bell says o-line changes are coming

CCC alumnus Billy Atterbury is moving back to his natural spot at right guard
USF guard Billy Atterbury (78) talks with Sebastian Sainterling offensive lineman (70) during the second half of the game at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Saturday, September 1, 2018. [JONES, OCTAVIO   |  Tampa Bay Times]
USF guard Billy Atterbury (78) talks with Sebastian Sainterling offensive lineman (70) during the second half of the game at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Saturday, September 1, 2018. [JONES, OCTAVIO | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Sep. 11, 2019
Updated Sep. 11, 2019

TAMPA ― While it remains uncertain if USF will have a new starting quarterback Saturday, the Bulls definitely will unveil a new-look offensive line.

First-year offensive coordinator Kerwin Bell, whose unit has managed one touchdown in eight quarters and is averaging 3.8 yards per play, announced Wednesday sophomore right guard Donovan Jennings and fifth-year senior left tackle Billy Atterbury will swap positions Saturday against Division I-AA South Carolina State.

The switch moves the two back to their old positions. Jennings, a Gaither High alumnus, started four games at left tackle last season. Atterbury, a Clearwater Central Catholic graduate, made 23 consecutive starts at right guard in 2017 and ’18.

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“We made that move because we thought Donovan could be a big, powerful guard in there with Demetris (Harris) at guards, and Billy we thought could get it done out there (at left tackle),” Bell said.

"And (Atterbury) played okay, but I think the big thing is, Donovan just was so raw in there playing guard. He’s never played a lot of football, and what he did play in high school was left tackle.

“So now we want to put him back at his comfortable position. And Billy really with his footwork, he’s really fundamentally sound in there. So when we do run plays inside, we’re not missing people and we’re not leaving people free.”

Elsewhere, Bell added Virginia Tech transfer Jarrett Hopple ― a 6-foot-7, 325-pound junior ― continues battling fifth-year senior Marcus Norman at right tackle, where Norman has made 36 career starts.

Meantime, Bell hinted the QB competition between redshirt freshman Jordan McCloud and senior Blake Barnett could be decided within the next day. Whether a starter is announced before Saturday evening’s kickoff is unclear.

“We’ve given 'em both the same amount of reps, and I tell you what, they’ve both accepted the challenge,” Bell said. “They’re both playing really well in practice. Jordan’s really pushing Blake, and Blake’s really picked up his game this week in practice.”

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Stifled by a lack of protection and virtually no run game, Barnett (25-for-50, 188 yards, two INTs) has failed to engineer a touchdown drive in two games.

McCloud, who replaced him late in the second half of Saturday’s 14-10 loss at Georgia Tech, went 4-for-5 for 90 yards with a 20-yard TD pass to Johnny Ford.

“We’ve been keeping all the stats that we can keep to try to make sure that we go with the right guy,” said Bell, whose unit has managed 119 rushing yards in two games.

“But again, it’s more than just that. We’ve got to get our running game going.”

Defensively, coordinator Brian Jean-Mary said junior middle linebacker Andrew Mims (three tackles, one for loss) will get his first career start Saturday in place of Patrick Macon.

An Oklahoma State transfer with a team-high 20 tackles, Macon must sit out the first half after being ejected for targeting in the waning moments of the Georgia Tech defeat.

“(Mims) played a little bit in the first two games and has done well, so we’re very, very confident in him,” Jean-Mary said. “And then obviously we’ll have some other guys that have been playing the weakside linebacker spot, they’ve been repping this week at the middle also.”

Jean-Mary added senior middle linebacker Nico Sawtelle, sidelined with what is believed to be a recurrence of the neck and shoulder injuries that sidelined him the second half of last season, still hasn’t returned to practice.

“He’s gonna see a specialist I think during the bye week, and we should get some more information on him after that,” Jean-Mary said.

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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