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As season nears, USF defense battling depth issues, Glenn Spencer says

The Bulls' first-year coordinator addressed several topics during a media session Tuesday
USF defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer talks with his players during the Bulls' lone spring football practice in March.
USF defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer talks with his players during the Bulls' lone spring football practice in March. [ Times ]
Published Aug. 25, 2020

TAMPA — New USF defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer’s roll call of concerns is getting longer than a Springsteen set list: depth, injuries, missed tackles, mental toughness.

The silver lining to that apprehension? It must mean USF is close to playing an actual game.

On Tuesday, 18 days before the Bulls’ first scheduled contest against The Citadel (Sept. 12, Raymond James Stadium), Spencer addressed several topics with reporters. Here are excerpts from the session (edited for brevity):

Related: As Notre Dame reports swirl, USF's Jeff Scott says Bulls poised for 'big-time games'

What’s your reaction to playing The Citadel, which typically employs a unique (triple-option) offense?

“It’s just different, I guess advantages and disadvantages, right? The disadvantage is, you have to kind of change because it’s such a dramatic change that you have to get into some scout looks earlier, some service-team looks earlier, which kind of takes away from some other practice. But you’ve got to dedicate yourself to it. The advantages I think outweigh that; it forces you to work on it now. If we want to do what we want to do in this conference, we have to do well against a similar opponent (Navy) in conference. So it forces you to work on some base thoughts, some base schemes, playing off low blocks, playing off different football fundamentals that are different preparing for them than anybody else.”

How is the defense coming together at this point?

"We came off a disappointing first scrimmage as far as what I feel, and then all of the sudden you had another scrimmage and kind of another half-scrimmage since then, and we have made gains since then. I've spotted out a couple of different guys that, without naming them, we think are trying to build some depth in a couple of positions. I still think we're extremely thin in a couple of spots, and the biggest thing I guess negative, or that we have to work on and we have to really stomp on the gas is, just develop more of a toughness (throughout) the group. Fighting through some pain and fighting through some fatigue, we're just pushing 'em to do that. Any great defense I've ever been around, you have that element, and that's something you have to work on constantly and something we're working on right now."

What has it been like working with defensive line coach (and former Buccaneer) Da’Quan Bowers?

"Great. He's got a lot of energy, relates to the kids well. ... We've got to find some more guys that can contribute and more guys that can push themselves beyond three or four plays. It's a long season and there's long drives that happen, and in a position where you don't have a lot of depth, those guys that are out there, you really have to get them to bust through barriers and bust through mental blocks and ceilings that they have. That's what we do as a coach; you have to take them places that they don't want to take themselves. And obviously I think Coach Bowers is doing that."

Can you speak to the general progress of your linebackers?

“Again, it’s a depth issue. I’ve had a couple of guys that have been playing steady in (Dwayne) Boyles and (Antonio) Grier. They’ve had good camps, shown me some good things. And then Andrew Mims has come up; he’s gonna have a bigger role than he had here previously. The other one that’s got the ability, he’s been hampered by some injury ... is (Demaurez) Bellamy, who’s another one that has shown me he’s got the physical tools to do it. ... He’s got some catching up to do; we’ve got to get him right mentally and assignment-wise. ... I’d be foolish to think you can go through the season with just those guys. So I’ve got two or three others that I’m trying to find out, trying to put ‘em under the fire a little bit and see how they respond.”

Has the transition to USF been easier having (former Florida Atlantic peers) Wes Neighbors (safeties coach) and Charlie Weis Jr. (offensive coordinator) join you in Tampa?

“No doubt. When Coach (Jeff) Scott let me have some input as far as who we could bring in, Coach Neighbors was my No. 1 pick. You guys will find schematically that we do things a lot different; it’s very unusual, very unique. So it’s been able to help me immensely to have a guy that knows the system that I didn’t have to take that time to re-teach. ... And then just the grind in a camp of kind of working with an offensive coordinator. I’ve been at places where it was just totally closed off and separate and every day was a guessing game, and it was always just offense trying to get the defense or defense trying to get the offense. ... I think we’re getting things done at a more rapid rate because we don’t have to have some of those barriers that happen sometimes in camp, especially with two new coordinators going against each other with pride and egos and guys just trying to shine and make themselves look good.”

It just sounds like, based on this conversation, across-the-board depth is your biggest concern. Accurate?

“I’ve got a lot of concerns, yeah. Last scrimmage, we had way too many missed tackles, too many (missed assignments), and depth. I’m an eternal pessimist ‘til we’re celebrating in the locker room after a game, and then after about two hours I’m a pessimist again ‘til the next week. We’ve got to get some guys that are banged up back out there, and we do have to improve creating some depth at some positions, ‘cause it does bother me a lot.”