As Camp Winds Down, Position Battles At USF Continue

At final scrimmage, still so much to be determined

TAMPA – Cloud cover accompanied by a slight breeze that made for what must have seemed like a windchill when compared to Mother Nature’s overheated wrath that has accompanied the USF during most of “fall” camp was undoubtedly welcomed by each and every player during Wednesday’s scrimmage. (It was welcomed by reporters as well.)

It was the Bulls’ final scrimmage before they begin to prepare in earnest for their September 1 opener against visiting Elon. Believe it or not that is little more than a week away, though coach Charlie Strong said there is still enough time when it comes to settling position battles, including what has been a three-way quarterback competition.

“We are still nine days out and I have not made a decision yet on the quarterback,” he said. “But there are still some positions that are up for grabs and we still have enough time that we can we can get it fixed before the next game.”

Redshirt junior Blake Barnett, a graduate transfer from Arizona State, redshirt junior Brett Kean and redshirt sophomore Chris Oladokun are taking their battle down to the wire.

“They have done a really good job and they respect one another,” said Strong, in his second season at USF. “They have been given enough reps and it has been evenly distributed, so now we have to go make a decision on what guy it is going to be.”

Whoever wins the job should have a healthy Mitchell Wilcox among his targets. The redshirt junior from Tarpon Springs, who caught 17 passes last season, has been held back due to what Strong said Saturday was an upper body injury.

“Mitch could have practiced today and he’s ready to go,” he said Wednesday. “He’s going to be a big threat for us.”

The hope is at least one big threat emerges at running back. Carries were understandably sparse behind D’Ernest Johnson and Darius Tice last season. Much like at quarterback, experience is limited.

By far the most experienced running back is Florida transfer Jordan Cronkrite, who ran for 302 yards and four touchdowns in two seasons with the Gators before sitting out last season after announcing he was leaving Gainesville.

Redshirt freshman Duran Bell, Jr., sophomore Elijah Mack and junior Trevon Sands are among others seeking carries. Same goes for freshman Brian Norris, Jr., who checks in at 6-foot-2 and 228 pounds. That is in contrast to fellow freshman Johnny Ford, who at 5-foot-5 and 168 pounds could offer something the others cannot.

“We have a bunch guys that are really good players,” said Strong. “We can rotate them in there. Mack is a big power runner for us. Norris is a big back, Sands is a big back and Johnny Ford gives us something a little different than the rest of them. So, you have a lot of options there.”

The other side of scrimmage is rounding into shape nicely thanks in no small part to a line that has developed plenty of depth and plenty of experience.

Among those on the outside are of redshirt juniors Greg Reaves, one of the American Athletic Conference’s top returning players, and Kirk Livingstone. Reaves piled up 14 tackles for loss with four sacks a year ago while Livingstone, despite battling shoulder problems, recorded 5.5 tackles for loss and a pair of sacks.

Along with Reaves, a healthy Livingstone could be a key driving force for the unit.

“The thing Kirk has really done is he has come into this season as a totally different guy,” said Strong. “I told him that. I said that, “I didn’t see this out of you last year.’ His whole work ethic and how he goes about it now (have changed.)”

Fifth-year senior Kevin Bronson and Kevin Kegler, who appeared in every game as a freshman last season, are among those lining up inside.

“If you look at our d-linemen it is probably a position where we have a lot of numbers,” said Strong as he rattled off about 10 names and complimented the work of freshmen Tyrone Barber and Rashawn Yates. “Since we have a lot of numbers we will be able to rotate guys and keep them fresh.”

That will be no small detail when Georgia Tech’s triple-option comes to town for what is sure to be sweat bath starting at noon on September 8. For now, the opener against Elon is coming into focus and so too will the quarterback and running back positions.

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Tom Layberger has been a sports writer, reporter and editor since 1990. Among the companies he has worked for are Comcast, NBC and The Topps Company. In addition to being a contributing writer for sportstalkflorida.com, Tom also writes for forbes.com and globalsportmatters.com. A native of the Philadelphia suburbs and a USF grad, Tom is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the National Football Foundation. He resides in Tampa.