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Ten observations from 10 USF spring practices

Spring practice is nearing an end at USF, but the Bulls' quarterback derby apparently isn't.
CHRIS URSO   |   Times
USF's Elijah Mack, center, runs the ball during practice at the school Monday, March 5, 2018 in Tampa.
CHRIS URSO | Times USF's Elijah Mack, center, runs the ball during practice at the school Monday, March 5, 2018 in Tampa.
Published Apr. 4, 2018|Updated Apr. 4, 2018

Though Bulls coach Charlie Strong has limited what the media can observe this spring (typically the last 15-20 minutes of practice), we nonetheless have seen, heard and sensed enough to deduce a few things.

With that limited window in mind, here are 10 observations through 10 USF spring practices.

1. A starting quarterback won't be named any time soon. Even if the coaches know who the No. 1 guy will be (and we don't think they do), they're not going to announce it (Why should they?). During the portion of practice open to reporters, Brett Kean and Chris Oladokun typically split reps with the first-team offense. If the season began tomorrow, we'd probably give the nod to Kean, based simply on a couple of solid scrimmages (so we're told). But we wouldn't be stunned if a starter weren't announced until a few days before the season opener.

2. Florida transfer Jordan Cronkrite is the odds-on — but not overwhelming — favorite to win the starting tailback job. For the second consecutive spring, redshirt freshman Elijah Mack has turned heads, busting loose for a 70-yard run during situational third-down scrimmage work Tuesday. Wouldn't shock us a bit to see a Cronkrite-Mack or Cronkrite-Trevon Sands rotation in 2018, with Hillsborough High alumnus Duran Bell providing a periodic change of pace as a scatback.

3. Coaches don't seem as worried about the d-line departures as one might presume. Defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary believes he has "quality depth" at end (led by veterans Greg Reaves and Kirk Livingstone), while the interior is gradually developing it. Sophomore tackles Kelvin Pinkney and Kevin Kegler continue progressing after promising rookie seasons (26 combined tackles), redshirt sophomore Mi'Cario Stanley is coming along, and veteran Kevin Bronson has been un-blockable at times (functional phrase: at times). "(Bronson) has got all the talent in the world," Jean-Mary said. "We've just got to get it on a more consistent basis." To fortify inside depth, Jean-Mary recently slid redshirt freshman Darrien Grant from end to tackle.

4. Tyre McCants still is a beast.

5. So is fellow receiver Darnell Salomon.

6. Safety is the area of greatest concern. Senior FS Jaymon Thomas, the only returner from last season's two-deep chart, has missed most of the spring with a sprained ankle, leaving the bulk of the reps to rookies and even project players (i.e. converted WR DeVontres Dukes, converted CB Naytron Culpepper). On the flip side, the door is wide open for a youngster such as redshirt freshman Mekhi LaPointe (Armwood) to break out.

7. If safety is No. 1 in the concern category, kicker is 1A. No one has been especially consistent during the open portions of practice, though John Carroll University transfer Jake Vivonetto has had some nice moments (including 40- and 45-yard field goals Tuesday). Who knows, maybe the starting kicker isn't even on the roster yet.

8. Barring injury, redshirt sophomore Michael Wiggs will replace Cameron Ruff at center. An aspiring orthopedic surgeon (and a class president all four years at Lake Gibson High), Wiggs has the smarts and size (6-foot-3, 298 pounds) required for the job. He was seriously contending for a starting gig last year before getting hurt in the preseason.

9. Redshirt junior Marcus Norman, once one of the shyest people on the team, has emerged as a strong candidate to fill the leadership vacuum created by the departures of Quinton Flowers, Auggie Sanchez, etc. "He was my first roommate in college…and super quiet," TE Mitch Wilcox said. "But now he has trimmed down weight (listed at 301 pounds) and he's lighter and he's more vocal, and he's getting older. He's kind of like myself, I'm more vocal now."

10. Speaking of Wilcox, he appears destined to be targeted far more than he was in 2017 (17 catches, 158 yards). The Tarpon Springs High alumnus practically has been a possession receiver during some open portions of practice, catching four TD passes in one day. Of course, we've said this about Bulls tight ends before.


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