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Five position battles to follow as USF football plans for its return Friday

Barring an 11th-hour complication, the Bulls begin preseason camp on Friday
Oregon transfer tailback Darrian Felix (2) participates in USF's first and only spring practice in March.
Oregon transfer tailback Darrian Felix (2) participates in USF's first and only spring practice in March. [ Times ]
Published Aug. 4, 2020

USF’s quarterback derby will command considerable attention when the Bulls kick off preseason camp Friday (cue the crossed fingers), and we intend to track it as closely as our virtual access allows.

But several other starting jobs appear wide open, which stands to reason in the wake of a forgettable 2019 season and staff overhaul.

Here’s a look at five other positions where the depth chart — to elicit a 2020 phrase — remains a fluid situation.

Tight end

Former Northern Illinois tight end Mitchell Brinkman, a USF graduate transfer, should seriously contend for the Bulls' starting job in 2020.
Former Northern Illinois tight end Mitchell Brinkman, a USF graduate transfer, should seriously contend for the Bulls' starting job in 2020. [ MARK HUMPHREY | Associated Press ]

New position coach Joey King has no shortage of viable candidates to fill the starting role vacated by Mitch Wilcox, best tight end in program history. Berkeley Prep alumnus Jacob Mathis (6-foot-4, 237 pounds) had 13 catches last fall and seemed the favorite for the first-team job before the arrival of Northern Illinois graduate transfer Mitchell Brinkman.

A brawny Iowa native (6-3, 250) who totaled only 11 catches his first three seasons at NIU, Brinkman had a better statistical year than Wilcox (34 catches, 445 yards, three touchdowns) in 2019. Speaking of breakouts, junior Frederick Lloyd is way overdue for his first reception in a Bulls jersey.

Sophomore Chris Carter, who experimented on defense a year or so ago, also will be in the room with lanky 6-4 freshman Holden Willis, for whom the coaches have enormous long-term hopes.

Wide receiver

USF's Randall St. Felix (5) runs through drills during spring practice.
USF's Randall St. Felix (5) runs through drills during spring practice. [ Times ]

Called out publicly by former coach Charlie Strong last fall, this group — which had no one among the American Athletic Conference’s top 10 in receptions per game — presumably enters the preseason shouldering the team’s largest chip.

Wideout Randall St. Felix (22 receptions) and slot receiver Bryce Miller (21) are the unit’s top returning pass catchers, but Jeff Scott will have myriad options. Keep an eye on former Tennessee signee (and ESPN four-star recruit) Latrell Williams; who could be the Bulls’ fastest player if kick-return extraordinaire Terrence Horne doesn’t re-claim that title.

Veteran Eddie McDoom (13 catches in 2019) also has bust-out potential. Another possible sleeper is lean sophomore Xavier Weaver, who had 12 receptions last season. Currently, Johnny Ford is listed as a running back but we wouldn’t be shocked to see him continue to log snaps in the slot.

Running back

USF sophomore Kelley Joiner Jr. (10) is the Bulls' top returning rusher from 2019 (71 carries, 364 yards).
USF sophomore Kelley Joiner Jr. (10) is the Bulls' top returning rusher from 2019 (71 carries, 364 yards). [ CHRIS O'MEARA | AP ]

Though hardly bellcow-type backs, Ford (5-5, 180), sophomore Kelley Joiner (5-9, 175) and Oregon transfer Darrian Felix (5-11, 197) bring a wealth of speed — and some pass-catching chops — to the backfield.

Related: Limited Big 12 football schedule further endangers USF opener at Texas

That said, the previous staff raved over Polk County native Josh Berry, sidelined last season with a knee injury. If Berry (6-foot, 185) can live up to his pre-injury hype, the backfield suddenly becomes multi-dimensional and should improve on last season’s meager production (161.3 rushing yards per game).

Defensive end

New USF defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer generally employs a scheme featuring three down linemen and tons of movement in the back.
New USF defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer generally employs a scheme featuring three down linemen and tons of movement in the back. [ Times ]

Veteran bookends Kirk Livingstone and Greg Reaves, two of the program’s most respected citizens, have departed after combining for 74 starts. So has Darius Slade, who made a decent impression (32 tackles, two sacks) in his lone season.

Whether new coordinator Glenn Spencer replaces them with traditional ends or hybrid edge rushers remains to be seen. Spencer, a stickler for defensive takeaways, generally operates with three down linemen in his “30 Float” scheme, which calls for constant shifting in the back of the defense to create confusion.

If and when he employs a conventional end, his options include heralded sophomore Jason Vaughn (14 tackles, three for loss), junior Darrien Grant (eight tackles, one for loss), and former Tennessee signee Ryan Thaxton, who barely made an imprint after a late arrival from junior college last season.

Defensive tackle

Defensive tackle Kevin Kegler (90) celebrates a defensive stop during a 2018 game against Georgia Tech.
Defensive tackle Kevin Kegler (90) celebrates a defensive stop during a 2018 game against Georgia Tech. [ Times (2018) ]

Spencer, who appeared to employ a traditional nose tackle last season at FAU, has some veteran options including seniors Kevin Kegler (12 tackles, 4.5 for loss in ’19) and Blake Green (23 tackles, one for loss).

Junior Rashawn Yates, who had a pair of sacks last season, also will be in the rotation. Transfers Bo Peek (Stanford) and Thad Mangum (Wofford) have been added to the depth chart. Bottom line, this unit is loaded with bodies, just not a lot of proven ones.