USF announced today that linebackers Nigel Harris and Tashon Whitehurst would be suspended for the first two games of the 2015 season due to a violation of team rules in the spring. Harris, the likely starter at weakside linebacker, was indefinitely suspended toward the end of spring practice, but this is the first we've heard of any violations from Whitehurst.
These are not small losses. Harris had a breakout season as a sophomore in 2014 with 77 tackles, 10.5 TFL and a remarkable six forced fumbles, and emerged as a defensive leader in the offseason. Whitehurst had by far the best season of his career in 2014, with 49 tackles, 5 TFL and a pair of sacks. The rangy senior was likely going to be the odd man out of the starting lineup in USF's new 4-2-5 defense, but he had a strong spring and was once again in line for serious playing time.
All that said, this is not going to alter the trajectory of USF's season one way or the other. The Bulls' first two games feature an almost sure win (Florida A&M) and an almost sure loss (at Florida State), so the loss of two of their top defensive players is not as devastating as it could have been. Let's hope that Harris and Whitehurst resolve whatever issues are keeping them on the sideline, and that young players like Jimmy Bayes and Danny Thomas can get valuable reps in their stead.
Willie Taggart said today that Bayes, a highly-touted redshirt freshman, the true freshman Thomas, and senior C.J. Garye will get the first shots at the weakside linebacker job for the FAMU and FSU games. Auggie Sanchez will be starting in the middle.