The USF Bulls are a week and a half away from their home opener, which means we are also a week and a half away from seeing how the Bulls will fill the holes left by last years 10-2 team. While the quarterback battle was a hot topic at the start of fall camp, there was also uncertainty with leadership, offense, and running backs.
USF Has Talent, But Do They Have Leadership?
USF lost 25 seniors last year, but the recruiting by Charlie Strong and even former head coach Willie Taggart have those positions filled talent-wise. It’s the leadership roles that had many questioning how USF would handle this year.
“You want your program in a position now where if you do lose players, someone else can step up. We have those guys, it’s their turn,” Strong told the American Digital Network at the start of fall camp.
The Bulls lost the leadership of former QB Quinton Flowers, former LB Auggie Sanchez, former OG Cameron Ruff, former DT Bruce Hector, former RB D’Ernest Johnson, former RB Darius Tice, and many more.
“The only thing that concerns me is that I had 25 seniors last year. And so that senior group, for three years they were the force of the program,” continued Strong to the American Digital Network.
Camp observations showed two guys emerging as leaders. WR Tyre McCants and former walk-on Greg Reaves are showing talent on the field and off the field. McCants was selected by Strong to attend the AAC Media Days alongside CB Ronnie Hoggins, DE Kirk Livingstone, and OL Eric Mayes. Reaves earned major respect after earning a scholarship during the 2017 preseason followed by a standout year.
— USF Football Video (@USFVideo) August 17, 2017
Sterlin Gilbert’s Offense Is Coming Together
We saw a glimpse of what offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert could do last year with Flowers. Now the former Texas O.C. has three quarterbacks fighting for his attention and an offense growing in strength.
“Those guys (QB Brett Kean, QB Chris Oladokun, and QB Blake Barnett) have been steady. They’ve all been what we want them to be, who we want them to be,” Gilbert said to USF Athletics.
Whoever wins the starting QB position will be set behind a big offensive line that will likely consist of LT Eric Mayes, LG Demetris Harris, C Michael Wiggs, RG Billy Atterbury and RT Marcus Norman.
“Those guys are really honed in on it, focused in on it and our middle group has really gotten a lot better, along with the returning starter-type guys,” Gilbert said of his offense.
— USF Football (@USFFootball) August 18, 2018
One thing is for certain, USF fans can expect to see a lot of options for the quarterbacks. Alongside veteran McCants (who has pretty much secured the slot position), six other wide receivers are making it tough for second-year receivers coach Charlie Williams to choose wideout options.
“We’re competing every day,” Williams said told Joey Knight of the Tampa Bay Times. “We have some really stiff competition, really, at all spots at wideout.”
Redshirt freshman WR Randall St. Felix is making it even stiffer for the older guys. Each day he is turning heads at practice coming up with big plays.
“Anything close to him, he’s gonna make the play or he’s gonna really do the best he can to make the play. He got better and better as the spring went on, and then he just carried that over through the summer,” Williams said to Knight.
— USF Football (@USFFootball) August 18, 2018
Of course, it’s not just the wide receivers bringing stiff competition. While many are focused on the quarterback competition, it’s been the wide receivers and running backs getting overlooked.
Bulls Set With Their Running Back Depth
With the exit of former running backs D’ Ernest Johnson and Darius Tice, USF had yet another hole to fill. Luckily running backs coach Shaun King has many options for the Bulls.
“The characteristics of a really good program, or a program that’s becoming a consistently elite program, is when you have a lot of competition,” King told USF Athletics. “That’s what we have in the running back room.”
Throughout the spring and fall juniors, Jordan Cronkrite and Trevon Sands, sophomore Elijah Mack and redshirt freshman Duran Bell Jr have been putting in work to move the chains. King hasn’t named a starter in anticipation that the running back competition will heat up even more. With the amount of talent on display at practices, it won’t be a shock to see a number of backs being used this season.
"Has our physicality risen since the last time we talked? Absolutely it has!"
— USF Football (@USFFootball) August 21, 2018
King’s running backs will also take their turn in the backfield on special teams. Last year we saw a lot of Johnson, A.K.A. the “junkyard dog, on returns but that now leaves an opening for one of the younger guys to step in.
“I told my guys, special teams is important to me, so it better be important to them,” King said to USF Athletics. “We won’t have a running back that gets a lot of carries here that doesn’t contribute on special teams. That’s just something I believe in.”
It’s not just the coaches checking out the Bulls’ new talent. According to USF Athletics, a Green Bay Packers scout watched USF’s scrimmage last Saturday and another Packers scout attended Monday’s practice. Scouts from other NFL teams making appearances at camp included the Bengals, Bills, Browns, Chargers, Chiefs, Cowboys, Falcons, Giants, Lions, Packers and Rams.
USF will hold their third scrimmage this afternoon.