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Departures lead to defense-by-committee approach


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DEPTH is our strength this year.

Departures lead to defense-by-committee approach

Posted By Scott Carter at Aug 17, 2010 at 03:26 PM

Updated Aug 17, 2010 at 03:39 PM


The Tampa Tribune

VERO BEACH – Late Monday night at around the same time the USF football team was wrapping up the second session of a two-a-day practice here inside quiet Holman Stadium, former Bulls defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul blew around veteran offensive lineman Damien Woody to sack Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez.

The Giants fans at sold-out New Meadowlands Stadium roared in approval of Pierre-Paul’s first NFL sack in his first preseason game. They sounded convinced at least for one play that New York’s first-round pick is something special. Meanwhile, more than 1,100 miles south, first-year USF coach Skip Holtz pondered life without Pierre-Paul and his fellow defensive end from last season, George Selvie.

“We don’t have the two dominating players like we’ve had in the past, but I think we’ll probably be a whole lot better,’’ Holtz said. “We’re going to have to get it done by committee.’’

There are many questions entering Holtz’s first season, but perhaps none raises as many concerns as how the Bulls will replace six starters from last year’s defense, five of whom are currently on NFL rosters.

USF’s defense played a key role in softening the blow of losing senior starting quarterback Matt Grothe to a season-ending knee injury in the third game of last season. In freshman quarterback B.J. Daniels’ first career start at Florida State, Pierre-Paul and Selvie combined for two sacks and five tackles-for-loss, and as Daniels learned game-by-game, a veteran USF defense that finished third overall in the Big East (321.8 yards allowed per game) often came to the rescue.

But gone are Pierre-Paul, Selvie, linebackers Kion Wilson and Chris Robinson, and defensive backs Nate Allen and Jerome Murphy. In their places, players such as David Bedford, Craig Marshall, Jacquian Williams, Sam Barrington, Mistral Raymond and Kayvon Webster must take on larger roles if the Bulls have any shot at a sixth consecutive bowl trip.

“Of course, we’re going to miss those guys,’’ said Barrington, in competition with Michael Lanaris to replace Wilson at middle linebacker. “Put it like this: those positions are filled. Once these players develop, they can be these talked-about guys sent to the NFL in a couple of years. The coaches are recruiting great guys, so it’s a process.’’

First-year defensive coordinator Mark Snyder agrees with Barrington’s assessment. While he would welcome Pierre-Paul back with open arms if he could, Snyder has seen enough in fall camp to have confidence in his young group despite the loss of six of USF’s seven leading tacklers from a year ago.

“I like the retention we have,’’ Snyder said. “We’ve got a lot of competition going on, which is a great thing. Along with the competition, they’re encouraging each other. That is very encouraging to me, to hear the guys coaching one another, even guys they are competing against.

“When you get that kind of mojo, you’ve got something special.’’

Defensive tackles coach Kevin Patrick beamed after practice recently when talking about the competition among his group, especially the battle between reserves Anthony Hill and Luke Sager. It’s the kind of competitive spirit that many say didn’t exist in recent seasons due to a lack of depth behind the starters.

Patrick isn’t concerned about a significant drop-off from last year’s defense because of that new-found depth.

“We did lose a lot of great players, but we’ve got a lot of guys who can play a lot of ball,’’ Patrick said. “I guarantee that we’ll be better than a lot of people think we’re going to be. I’m confident in that.’’

Senior linebacker Williams, who at 6-foot-4, 222 pounds is perhaps the Bulls’ most physically gifted athlete, is one player Snyder will rely on heavily. Williams said the reason USF’s defense has a chance to actually be better, not worse, is because the players arrived at camp knowing jobs were available.

In his case, Williams spent much of the summer focused on becoming a better run-stopper, something he admits has not been his strength in the past.

“I usually don’t set goals,’’ he said. “I did this year. We had a lot of older guys leave. I definitely knew I had to step up and be a leader. We’ve got some guys who can step up. I’m pretty sure we can do it. One thing we really didn’t have last year, in my opinion, was depth. We’ve got depth now. We’ve got guys who can roll in and out.’’

Said Snyder: “We’ll play a lot of people. The good thing is, on our side of the ball, if we get a guy or two dinged up, I think we’re going to be able to continue do what we do.’’

So, while the names may not be as well-known as in recent seasons, the production could be greater if everyone plays their role. Senior linebacker Sabbath Joseph is the team’s leading returning tackler with 48 last season.

“We’ve got a lot of guys who care about the game,’’ Barrington said. “For instance, Mike Lanaris is very emotional about the game. Once you can fill a guy like Kion’s shoes with a guy like that, you are replacing somebody.’’

Since Barrington is competing with Lanaris to start at middle linebacker, it sounds like this defense-by-committee approach is for real.

Reporter Scott Carter can be reached at (813) 259-7928. Follow him on Twitter @TribuneScott or TBO_USF_Bulls.


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Guest Scherdin

Let me be there first to say this...


Go Bulls!!

For a program as young as ours is...to be able to say this (at least on one side of the ball) it pretty cool...

We've been a school known for D...looking forward to the day we can say the same about our O guys too.


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