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Wharton alum DeVontres Dukes latest to swap positions for USF

The rangy redshirt sophomore has switched from receiver to safety.
Former Wharton High star DeVontres Dukes (7) approached USF coaches last week about moving to defense. [JOEY KNIGHT | Times]
Former Wharton High star DeVontres Dukes (7) approached USF coaches last week about moving to defense. [JOEY KNIGHT | Times]
Published Apr. 3, 2018

Two-thirds of the way into spring practice, the Bulls' personnel experimentations continue in earnest, with third-year sophomore DeVontres Dukes the latest project.

A 6-foot-4 wideout from Wharton High, Dukes approached Bulls coaches last week about moving to safety, where a serious depth issue exists. Dukes played "very little" safety while at Wharton, Wildcats coach David Mitchell said Tuesday.

"He was torn," Bulls defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary said.

"He feels like he can be a big-time contributor on offense, but he saw an opportunity on defense and came out there, and he's progressing. He's a super-intelligent kid and athletic, so it's our job as coaches to get him caught up and kind of see where he would fit in the rotation."

The Bulls entered spring practice seeking to replenish on the back end with the departures of veterans Devin Abraham and Tajee Fullwood, and the move of Khalid McGee to outside linebacker. The unit took a further hit when senior FS Jaymon Thomas sprained an ankle early in camp.

With Thomas out for now, no safety from last season's two-deep chart currently is on the field.

"We told (Dukes) also (that) it's not a permanent move," Jean-Mary said. "He's such a good kid, you don't want to penalize a kid that's so much of a team-oriented guy. If the move doesn't work, he'll go back to wide receiver and I'm sure he'll pick up right where he left off."

'BACKERS HAVE 'BRIGHT FUTURES': Jean-Mary indicated he has been very impressed with freshman linebackers Antonio Grier and Dwayne Boyles, both of whom enrolled in January. Both appear to be getting extensive reps at the two linebacker spots, which are nearly interchangeable in USF's 4-2-5 scheme.

McGee and junior Nico Sawtelle — last year's starting weakside 'backer — appear entrenched on the first team at the weak side and middle, respectively.

"I think both (freshmen) have bright futures," Jean-Mary said. "Boyles, he really flashes a lot. For a kid that played with his hand down (at defensive rush end) in high school, you can see the makings of something special at linebacker."

Meantime, fifth-year senior Jimmy Bayes, taking a final shot at a breakthrough season, is "still a work in progress," Jean-Mary said.

"We still think there's more we can get out of him, but he's learning," Jean-Mary added. "He doesn't get as discouraged or down on himself as he used to. You can see that he's gotten better, but he still has a ways to go before we're gonna see where he really fits in in what we're doing on defense."

KICKER COMPETITION: Live place-kicking work was staged during Tuesday's practice session open to reporters, with walk-on Jake Vivonetto prevailing.

The senior transfer from Division III John Carroll University missed from 37 yards but was good on 40- and 45-yard tries. Redshirt freshman Marco Salani missed the longer two kicks but made his 37-yarder. P Trent Schneider, another early enrollee, made his 40-yarder but missed the other two.

As a John Carroll sophomore in 2015, Vivonetto made seven of nine field-goal attempts (with a long of 43 yards), and was 25-for-26 on PATs.

ODDS AND ENDS: Sophomore Hal Roberson lined up at right guard with the re-tweaked first-team offensive line during Tuesday's final scrimmage session, with Billy Atterbury sliding from guard to right tackle. The rest of the line featured LT Marcus Norman, LG Demetris Harris and C Michael Wiggs. Former Jefferson High star Jean Marcellus was working at backup center. … Third-year sophomore Elijah Mack burst up the middle for a run of approximately 70 yards during third-down situational scrimmage work. In that same session, McGee had a nice breakup of a Brett Kean throw over the middle for TE Mitch Wilcox. … Former Admiral Farragut standout Craig Watts took reps at nickelback Tuesday.

AUDIBLE I: "I think last spring we maybe had eight or nine plays in. And, like, now, we have maybe 25, 30 plays in. So it's been a huge jump." — DE Kirk Livingstone

AUDIBLE II: "I don't know about more plays in the playbook. We actually cut back, but if they feel that way I'll let 'em believe that." — Jean-Mary