Bulls fans, it's less than a week before the Bulls take on the San Jose State Spartans. Please welcome Allison Leslie from SportsTalkFlorida.com to TheBullsPen.com for some Q & A on the Bulls 2017 season.
Allison Leslie is a University of South Florida graduate with a bachelors degree in Mass Communications. She joined Genesis in 2016. With a passion for sports, Allison has interned with 620 WDAE, Pewter Report, Trifecta Team: St. Petersburg Bowl, Bullscast, and many other publications. Being a native to the Bay Area, she has followed and supported Tampa Bay teams her whole life. You can follow Allison on Twitter at @AllisonLeslie93.
Allison, thanks for joining us to take part in a Q and A. Let's get right into it.
With the change in coaching, everyone is expecting a change in the Bulls defense. What have you seen that leads you to believe it will be improved?
Bringing in a defensive-minded coach was the best thing USF could have done. Charlie Strong has been very focused on improving the defense all through spring practices and fall camp. While last year's Bull Shark Defense wasn't spectacular, the pass defense wasn’t as bad as many people thought. Strong has been really focusing on the fundamentals, the building blocks. Remember eight months is not long enough to completely rebuild a defense, but fans should expect to see better tackling, which was a huge struggle for the Bulls last year, and less penalties.
Certainly, it will take some time. Staying with the defense, have you seen the defense playing any more physical or aggressive than what you saw last year?
The defense and the offense are playing more physical and aggressive than last year. In fact, some of the guys, including MLB Auggie Sanchez, noted that this was one of the hardest camps and even QB Quinton Flowers noted that the coaches have really been pushing them as soon as they step foot on the field. The defense will definitely be playing more aggressively at the line of scrimmage.
On the offensive side: Quinton Flowers has received a lot of publicity from major media outlets, what have they missed about the senior QB?
Media outlets have done a great job giving Quinton Flowers the publicity he deserves. Being a quarterback for a Group of 5 team often means not getting as much media attention, but the media isn't shying away from Flowers after having a record season last year. At this point, everyone knows Flowers is a dynamic quarterback with his arm strength and speedy legs. However, what most people don't get to see is what we get to see behind the scenes. Flowers is a natural leader. You can see it on the field during practice and even during interviews. He is the guy that comes over to answer questions only after having shaken each reporter's hand and asking how everyone is. Heading into his senior campaign the Miami native is also wanting to get better. With the success he had last year many wonder how can he get any better? With OC and QB coach Sterling Gilbert's new veer-and-shoot offense expect to see a few tweaks in Flowers' game, including getting the ball out quicker.
With Marlon Mack and Rodney Adams in the NFL and the offense changing under Sterlin Gilbert, what key things should we look for at San Jose State University?
The season opener at San Jose State is actually a bigger game for the Bulls than many think it is. This game will be a first test of the new offense and defense against a team everyone expects USF to easily beat (that right there can get you into trouble). Watch for a faster offense (yes I said faster). The up-tempo offense Sterlin Gilbert has been working on will get to see real action. Look for less time between snaps and more down field throws. A lot of fans are worried about the success of the offense without running back Marlon Mack and wide receiver Rodney Adams, but I think this game will show fans that the Bulls have plenty of other options. D'Ernest Johnson won't miss a read and will step into Mack's spot to lead the running game just as well as the former Bull did. Flowers will have a lot of options down the field, especially with Marquez Valdes-Scantling. The N.C. State transfer played his first season of eligibility last year for USF and showed just a glimpse of his talent and speed, which might be slightly faster than Adams. At 6'5", 207-pounds, the senior should emerge as Flowers new favorite target.
On the ground, there is a lot of talk about Tice and DJ. How does the depth chart fill out at the running back position at this point?
To me the depth chart at the running back position isn't bad. Charlie Strong talked a lot about adding depth to every position is always the goal. So could there be more depth at the RB spot? Sure. But is the depth the Bulls have now going to threaten their success this year? No. D'Ernest Johnson, who according to SB Nation’s own Bill Connelly was slightly more efficient than Marlon Mack (44% to 40%), will be the lead back. Also having Darius Tice back has been a blessing in disguise for the Bulls. Not only does he seem to be quicker than last year, he's also a veteran who can help out the young RB's competing for the third and fourth spot on that depth chart. Elijah Mack (no relation to Marlon) had a strong spring performance. Between him, Trevon Sands and Duran Bell the Bulls will have no issues at the running back position.
Staying on offense a little while longer, do you think we’ll see Elkanah Dillon and Mitchell Wilcox on the field together often? Is one leading the other camp right now?
Elkanah Dillon and Mitchell Wilcox are important tight ends for USF. Dillon dropped to second string behind Wilcox after suffering from an injury last year but is a player to watch on the offense this year. Dillon had nine receptions, 208 yards, and two TD as a freshman and should have big numbers this year. With Rodney Adams gone USF has the potential to use Dillon and Wilcox to their advantage. With first team skill positions including Marquez Valdes-Scantling, sophomore Darnell Salomon, and senior Chris Barr (slot) I'm not sure how much we will see Wilcox and Dillon on the field together. But as it is right now Dillon is setting himself up to have a spectacular year. Both tight ends ware among the best in the AAC and will have a big year with USF.
With a bigger offensive line and a couple of smash mouth runners do you expect what do you expect the run/pass ratio to be most games? Will USF lean heavier on RBs this season?
The competition on the offensive line has been intense this fall. Grant Polk, a transfer from Virginia, took over junior Eric Mayes' spot at left tackle. Sophomore William Atterbury is training at guard but can also still be used as a tackle if needed. According to Tampa Bay Times' Joey Knight's calculations if the offensive line stays put as is they'll average 317.8 pounds across the front. That does open up a lot of run-pass options for Quinton Flowers and D'Ernest Johnson. USF is loaded with speed at the receivers position so while the offense can lean heavily on Johnson's, Tice's and even Flowers' legs, there's a good chance there will be a lot of deep passes with Sterlin Gilbert's likely veer-and-shoot offense.
We can't leave out the Special Teams. How is the punt return game looking and who do you expect to settle in as the every game punt returner?
The punt return game is something that can be quite dangerous for USF's opponents. D'Ernest Johnson has shown he can be an important piece in punt returns and will likely remain the punt returner of every game. But he could see some relief as senior safety Tajee Fullwood is likely to join in returning punts this year.
Thanks for your time Allison, we appreciate reading your insights and hope to read more from you at SportsTalkFlorida.com and hopefully back here at TheBullsPen.com. Before you go, dare to predict a score for the season opener at SJSU?
I would love to predict this score. However, like many other sports fans I am superstitious so instead of predicting a score I'm just simply going to say this: If USF comes into this game and doesn't overlook SJSU as just an easy win, they will win by double digits.
Thanks again Allison!