USF spring report: defensive position swaps continue

Naytron Culpepper, who started the Bulls' final two games at cornerback last season, now is playing safety.
While some of his peers are playing at new positions this spring, USF's Mazzi Wilkins, right, is staying put at corner.  [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times]
While some of his peers are playing at new positions this spring, USF's Mazzi Wilkins, right, is staying put at corner. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]
Published March 22, 2018

The defensive lab work continued in earnest Thursday morning at USF, with sophomore Naytron Culpepper at the center of the latest experiment.

With veteran FS Jaymon Thomas nursing a twisted right ankle and fellow senior Khalid McGee sliding down from strong safety to outside linebacker, Bulls coaches are giving Culpepper a try at both safety spots. Culpepper started the final two games at corner last season, finishing the year with 12 tackles and two pass breakups.

"He has really good range and can find the football," coach Charlie Strong said.

Ranked the state's No. 8 cornerback from the Class of 2017 by out of Miami Carol City, Culpepper said he also dabbled at safety for the Chiefs, who won the Class 6A state title his senior year.

"Actually, when I first got here and I was playing cornerback, (secondary) Coach Blue (Adams) always told me, 'I see you as a safety,'" Culpepper said. "I always told him I'm versatile … so it's really nothing different to me."

With Culpepper sliding back for now, Plant High alumnus Mazzi Wilkins appears a lock at one cornerback spot, with former Hillsborough standout Mike Hampton and converted WR Chris Barr among those competing at the other.

Junior Ronnie Hoggins, who started 11 games at cornerback last season, for now has slid into the nickel-back spot vacated by Deatrick Nichols.

"(Culpepper) is a headhunter," Wilkins said. "He's very aggressive and he definitely stepped in well. … (Hoggins) is so smart and quick, he's definitely making a lot of good plays."

ODDS AND ENDS: TE Mitchell Wilcox didn't suit up Thursday but was wearing no brace or cast. "Mitch got hit the other day," Strong said. "Saturday he may be back, and if he isn't, I know by Tuesday he will." … The first-team offensive line in the final scrimmage portion of Thursday's practice featured LT Grant Polk, LG Demetris Harris, C Michael Wiggs, RG Billy Atterbury and RT Marcus Norman. … Junior Trevon Sands, among a handful of players vying for handoffs at running back, broke off a nice dash up the middle in the scrimmage portion open to reporters. … Though Saturday's closed practice is listed as a scrimmage day on USF's schedule, Strong indicated actual scrimmaging may be limited. "We're gonna come out and practice some, and then we'll just see where we are with the scrimmage," he said. "Right now it's just too early to just put the ball down and let 'em go play."

AUDIBLE: "When he was at safety his nickname was Muscles, so we always knew he could hit and he always was an awesome tackler. … We have a little bit more security and feel comfortable with him down there, because he was a DB, so we know he can cover as well. It's an awesome chance for him." —Wilkins on McGee's move from safety to linebacker.