USF spring preview: Bulls try to revive offense, swagger

The Bulls begin spring workouts Tuesday
OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times 
USF quarterback Blake Barnett (11), slowed by ankle and shoulder problems in the second half of the 2018 season, appears healthy entering spring practice.
OCTAVIO JONES | Times USF quarterback Blake Barnett (11), slowed by ankle and shoulder problems in the second half of the 2018 season, appears healthy entering spring practice.
Published March 17, 2019|Updated March 17, 2019

TAMPA ― The page formally has been turned from USF’s season-ending six-game skid, and the house-cleaning that ensued. On Tuesday, the most critical spring of the Charlie Strong era begins on campus when the Bulls hold the first of 15 workouts. Over the next 3 1/2 weeks, new offensive coordinator Kerwin Bell will try to install his system (which promises explosiveness and diversity), while Strong will try to re-install some swagger. Here are some players, positions and staffers to watch in advance of the April 13 spring game.

In with the new

USF’s new assistants (and the guys they replaced):

Kerwin Bell, offensive coordinator (Sterlin Gilbert)

Jeremy Darveau, offensive line (Matt Mattox)

Steve Ellis, defensive backs (Blue Adams)

Bryan Hill, safeties (Tommy Restivo)

Paul Spicer, defensive line (Damon Cogdell)*

*-Veteran assistant Sean Cronin moves from defensive tackles to outside linebackers

Related: Kerwin Bell’s offense was perfected in Valdosta

Breakthrough Bulls

Some previously unheralded guys poised to make a splash

Cornerback McArthur Burnett, Jr. This juco transfer, who began his career at Florida, is among four early enrollees. He should immediately contend for the corner spot vacated by Mazzi Wilkins.

Left tackle Donovan Jennings, So. This Gaither alumnus, who started four games as a rookie in 2018, has a chance to evolve into USF’s highest-drafted offensive lineman since Kenyatta Jones (fourth round, 2001).

Quarterback Jordan McCloud, R-Fr. Our pre-spring choice to land the No. 2 job behind Blake Barnett. Coaches love this Plant High alumnus’ work ethic, and his arm is woefully underrated.

Wide receiver Eddie McDoom, R-Jr. The Michigan transfer, who ran his share of jet sweeps with the Wolverines, could have an instant impact in an area of need. Look for him to occupy the slot.

Positions to watch

Linebacker: With Khalid McGee graduating, Nico Sawtelle sidelined and Greg Reaves moving back to defensive end, this position appears wide open. WLB Dwayne Boyles showed flashes (20 tackles) as a freshman last season. Wouldn’t hurt if another youngster (Andre Polk, Antonio Grier) stepped up this spring. Speaking of youngsters, Charlie Strong signed three linebackers in December.

Receiver: The Bulls lost their primary threat in the slot (Tyre McCants) and one of their most dangerous outside guys (Darnell Salomon). Look for Admiral Farragut alumnus Zion Roland (five catches in ’18) to potentially have a breakthrough sophomore year. Also expect 5-foot-5 dynamo Johnny Ford, who ran for nearly 800 yards last season, to open spring camp with the receivers as possibly a new slot threat. On the subject of breakthroughs, keep an eye on McDoom.

Safety: The back of the Bulls’ secondary was in flux even before lanky veteran Jaymon Thomas graduated. An assortment of second-year players (Nick Roberts, Mekhi LaPointe, Bentlee Sanders) had varying degrees of success last year, but this position badly needs some consistency and continuity. Will be interesting to see what kind of impact the new coaches (Ellis, Hill) have on this unit.

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Injury update

Some Bulls who were limited or sidelined at the end of last season

Quarterback Blake Barnett (ankle, shoulder): The Bulls’ incumbent will enter camp healthier than he has been in months

Running back Jordan Cronkrite (unspecified): The returning 1,000-yard rusher isn’t expected to participate this spring

Wide receiver Terrence Horne (ACL): USF’s kick-return extraordinaire has started running again, but won’t participate this spring

Middle linebacker Nico Sawtelle (shoulder): The senior middle linebacker will be in a non-contact jersey

Spring factoids

* The Bulls will hold a public workout April 6 at 10:45 a.m. at Clearwater Central Catholic. The two-hour practice represents fans’ only chance to see the team until the April 13 spring game on campus.

* Fifth-year senior Mitch Wilcox, who briefly contemplated entering the NFL draft, heads into his final season three receptions shy of Sean Price’s school career record for catches by a tight end (75).

* All five offensive linemen who started the Gasparilla Bowl (Jennings, left guard Demetris Harris, center Brad Cecil, right guard Billy Atterbury, right tackle Marcus Norman) are back.

Contact Joey Knight at Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.