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USF’s Khalid McGee now built like a ‘backer

The converted safety is transitioning to full-time outside linebacker for the Bulls
USF defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary could have a deeper rotation up front this season. (JOEY KNIGHT | Times)
USF defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary could have a deeper rotation up front this season. (JOEY KNIGHT | Times)
Published Aug. 4, 2018

Two padless practices into the 2018 preseason, at least one solid conclusion can be drawn from veteran Khalid McGree's transition to full-fledged linebacker.

He looks the part.

A converted safety moved to outside 'backer in the 2017 season's final stretch, McGee said he entered preseason camp at 213 pounds — 18 more than he weighed at this time last year. Moreover, he insists the extra size hasn't cost him a step.

"My game speed is just so much faster," McGee said after Saturday morning's practice. "I'm talking to everyone, communicating and getting young guys right and it's feeling good to me."

McGee was moved inside the box the last four games of '17, and proved an effective neutralizer of UCF's speed (see Killins, Adrian), recording a team-best 10 tackles in the Bulls' 49-42 defeat. He had six more in the Birmingham Bowl against Texas Tech.

Now, he'll complement former WLB Nico Sawtelle, who slides inside Auggie Sanchez's middle-linebacker spot. With 177-pound senior Ronnie Hoggins replacing Deatrick Nichols at the nickel, the Bulls shape up as faster on the defense's second level if not quite as big.

"With him being closer to the line of scrimmage, he can run, he can cover," Coach Charlie Strong said. "You don't ever want to get at a disadvantage where if they have a…fast guy at running back, that you can't cover him. Khalid gives us that opportunity."

NUMBERS UP FRONT: At least initially, USF should be able to compensate for the loss of its veteran defensive line core with sheer quantity.

Seven guys up front — led by starting DE Greg Reaves — played in at least 10 games last season. Additionally, Duke transfers Brandon Boyce (tackle) and Marquies Price (end) are eligible after sitting out the 2017 season.

Toss in seven freshmen, and the NCAA's new redshirt rule allowing rookies to play at least four games without losing a season of eligibility, and the d-line rotation should be deeper despite the departures of Deadrin Senat, Bruce Hector and Mike Love.

"Because of the loss of two generational guys in Bruce Hector and Deadrin Senat, you want to make sure if you can't replace 'em with sheer ability that you can replace 'em with numbers where you can throw some waves of guys at 'em," defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary said.

"We felt like we did that. Obviously we still have to wait and see how they can handle the grind of camp and, when we get the pads on, the physicality of it. But we've been pleased so far, and those guys have the frames that they're gonna even get bigger through their careers here, so we've been pleased so far."

ODDS AND ENDS: After two workouts on the program's original practice fields, the Bulls move back to the Morsani Complex starting Sunday morning. All workouts are closed to the public. … Senior DE Kevin Bronson, from whom the Bulls could use a breakthrough season, said he has added roughly five pounds and currently is at 285. "All the great players, they're consistent," said Bronson, who enters his final season with 54 career tackles. "I'm working on it, you know, day by day. It's a process though." … Wharton High alumnus DeVontres Dukes, who briefly dabbled at safety in the spring, is in an offensive (white) jersey this preseason.

AUDIBLE: "The school they came from (Duke), they played a lot and they have some game experience, so we're hoping that's beneficial. But…we've got some really good numbers in those spots and they're gonna have to earn their way on the rotation." — Jean-Mary on Price and Boyce