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Four reasons to feel good about USF in 2019

The Bulls should possess more leadership, and stability at key positions, than they did last year

TAMPA ― We get your renewed verve, which dissipated with each halfback dive last fall. The potential potency and variety of new coordinator Kerwin Bell’s system has restored your zeal over USF’s offense.

But set that aside momentarily. Take a wide-lens view of the ’19 Bulls, who kick off preseason camp with their first practice Friday evening. You’re likely to find other reasons for guarded optimism, if not giddiness.

Bottom line, this club appears more stable in significant areas than it did this time last year. Here are a few:

Veteran leadership

Odds are, Charlie Strong won’t have to dust off last fall’s steady refrain about the lack of assertive voices in his locker room. Twelve projected first-teamers on the 2019 preseason depth chart have started at least 10 games.

By contrast, last year’s 41-15 loss to Tulane featured 13 first-year starters. We’re hypothesizing that a steady leadership presence ― by exhortation or example or both ― will arise from the likes of right tackle Marcus Norman (34 career starts), tight end Mitch Wilcox (28), defensive ends Kirk Livingstone (25) and Greg Reaves (25), or another veteran.

Quarterback

Twelve months ago, quarterback Blake Barnett was trying to get his small family settled into a new environment, cramming to learn Sterlin Gilbert’s offense and competing for the starting job.

Today, he’s the unquestioned starter with seven full months invested into the Bell system. He also has added roughly a dozen pounds to his 6-foot-5 frame (he’s around 225 now) thanks to the help of a nutrionist. After playing for three different schools the previous three years, Barnett now can focus on making his way instead of finding it.

RELATED: Four questions with bulked-up USF quarterback Blake Barnett

Place-kicker

Remember the sprawling place-kicking derby last August, where seemingly everyone except the ghost of Garo Yepremian got a crack at the job? Don’t expect a repeat this August; junior Coby Weiss is the guy.

Though the Tennessee State transfer attempted only two field goals of 40 or more yards last season (missing both), he was 15-for-16 on the rest of his tries, making his last nine. Oh sure, someone will be there to push Weiss this preseason, but at least coaches have the assurance of a proven entity on the roster.

RELATED: Four Bulls on preseason watch lists

Offensive line

Granted, this unit didn’t exactly shine in the spring game, but such contests hardly serve as a solid barometer.

The five guys who started the Gasparilla Bowl are back including Norman and right guard Billy Atterbury (27 career starts), who experimented at left tackle in the spring. Coaches are enamored with 341-pound Gaither High alumnus Donovan Jennings’ potential, and sophomore Brad Cecil could anchor the center spot the next three seasons.

Experience, however, doesn’t necessarily equate to excellence. The Bulls allowed 2.92 sacks a game (110th nationally) in 2018 and must shore up their pass protection. That’s where new line coach Jeremy Darveau comes in.

His 2018 Valdosta State squad allowed 18 sacks (in 14 games), half the number allowed by the Bulls (in 13 contests).

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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