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USF 2014 Football Preview: Defensive Backs

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Things are looking mediocre for the secondary this year. Which is probably good enough.

Joe Robbins

So USF's 2013 secondary was a huge improvement over the year before. It was probably not the weakest part of the 21st-ranked defensive unit, recording eleven interceptions and stopping third down conversions 61% of the time. The secondary wasn't out there losing games or anything; it was fine, and that's ok for now. This year's defense is made up of a new group of inexperienced, young players who look poised to be . . . not bad.

Watching from the sidelines and praying to see the field on anything but special teams will be six freshman DBs, including Devin Abraham, who is the son of former Buccaneer pro-bowler Donnie Abraham. Junior Tyler Robb will also get some playing time as a nickelback and/or on special teams. You will probably also see senior Chris Dunkley (erstwhile wide receiver) line up at cornerback too, as he has recently switched to defense.

Safety:

Junior Jamie Byrd and sophomore Nate Godwin are the apparent starters here. Byrd is a JUCO transfer who was brought in to lend some experience and leadership to this young group. He is a local player, from Pasco High School, and did some great things on the field at community college up in Iowa. A hard hitter and a tough player, he transferred in January and has practiced with the Bulls all spring, so he will probably start most games.

Remember last fall when we were beating UCF by four points with just six minutes left and we got an interception that (just about) sealed the victory? Well, Nate Godwin was the true freshman back who grabbed the ball out of the air for the Bulls.

He was also the guy who returned the blocked field goal for a touchdown against Cincinnati. Anyway, this kid is good. He can tackle, he gets to the ball and he disrupts the offense. He definitely has the talent to play safety, so hopefully he will develop more this year.

Backing up these two guys will be Hassan Childs, a sophomore who is a pretty skilled open field tackler. You may remember Childs when he helped us salvage some dignity in last year's Miami game by snagging an interception late in the fourth quarter. He also kept us in the SMU game with two interceptions.

Trevon Griffin will definitely see a lot of time playing safety this year, too. He's one of only four upperclassmen in the secondary and will be someone to rely on when the defense needs to keep a cool head. Griffin has played in 21 games as a Bull, mostly on special teams, but occasionally at safety.

Cornerback:

This is the year for senior Torrel Saffold and sophomore Johnny Ward to shine. Saffold was a JUCO transfer who came in last year and played a lot of nickelback. In eleven games, he managed to get ten tackles. As an experienced senior, a starting cornerback position seems to be his to lose, so if he's going to have a breakout season, this will be it.

Johnny Ward played DB in every game last year and took part in what may have been the season's high point, remember? We were thwarting McNeese State's every move, we were up by five points and they were stuck in their own territory and tried a long pass on 3rd and 21 . . . picked off by Johnny Ward! The Bulls looked great and the Willie Taggart Era was off to an outstanding start. Too bad there were three more quarters yet to play. Nevertheless, Ward is a great young player who has a talent for breaking up passes. He will probably start most games at cornerback unless Jalen Spencer turns into something really special.

Spencer will begin the year at backup cornerback and seems to have the full confidence of the coaching staff. Spencer was a real high school star in Pensacola, and was looking to make an impact as a true freshman last year, but his season was ended by an injury in the McNeese State game. His only weakness is that unfortunate lack of experience, but we will certainly see him on the field this fall, where he will be chomping at the bit to prove himself.

Also at backup is sophomore Lamar Robbins, whose 6-2 height is a welcome addition to the defensive corps. Robbins played in eleven games last year and has a lot of potential. You may remember him from last year when he pulled in a tipped pass from Blake Bortles and stumbled forward for a seven-yard interception return.

So the DB's are ok, but not great. As long as they give enough time for our front seven to get to the passer, that's probably enough.