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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
OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times 
USF place kicker Coby Weiss (24) celebrates scoring the extra point with holder Kyle Trina (17) during the second half against Georgia Tech at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Saturday, September 8, 2018.
OCTAVIO JONES | Times USF place kicker Coby Weiss (24) celebrates scoring the extra point with holder Kyle Trina (17) during the second half against Georgia Tech at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Saturday, September 8, 2018.
Published Jul. 31, 2019

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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  1. Former USF tight end Mitch Wilcox speaks after the 2019 USF spring game. [ALLIE GOULDING  |  Tampa Bay Times]
  2. Connecticut's Jalen Gaffney (0) and South Florida's David Collins (0) battle for a loose ball during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020, in Storrs, Conn. (AP Photo/Stephen Dunn) [STEPHEN DUNN  |  AP]
  3. USF guard Laquincy Rideau drives to the basket between Houston's Nate Hinton, left, and Fabian White during a game on Jan. 26, 2020, in Houston. [MICHAEL WYKE  |  AP]
  4. USF athletic director Michael Kelly (left) and first-year football coach Jeff Scott have confirmed the Bulls' spring football game will remain on campus. [JOEY KNIGHT | TAMPA BAY TIMES] [Joey Knight]
  5. USF coach Brian Gregory's club dropped its third consecutive game Thursday, falling 65-55 at Wichita State. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
  6. Florida Gators running back Lamical Perine (22) smashes into LSU Tigers safety John Battle (26) in the second quarter. (Bronte Wittpenn, Times) [Times]
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Florida Gators wide receiver Trevon Grimes (8) catches the ball near the end zone in the third quarter in a game against LSU at Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at the University of Florida in Gainesville on Saturday, October 6, 2018.  [Times]
  8. USF defensive back Mike Hampton (7), returning an interception during the 2018 season opener, will help lead the Bulls through what could be the American Athletic Conference's toughest schedule in 2020. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
  9. USF wide receiver Randall St. Felix (84) and the Bulls have only one open date in the 2020 season. USF's complete 2020 schedule was finalized Tuesday. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
  10. Former USF coach Charlie Strong (left), greeting Alabama coach Nick Saban at a 2017 summer football camp on the Bulls campus, reportedly has joined Saban's staff in an analyst role. [Joey Knight]
  11. Connecticut's Megan Walker, left, drives past USF's Shae Leverett during the second half of the Huskies' 67-47 triumph Sunday at the Yuengling Center. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson) [MIKE CARLSON  |  AP]
  12. Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma brings his team to the Yuengling Center for the final time as an American Athletic Conference member today. [SEAN RAYFORD  |  AP]
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