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2018 USF Football Spring Practice Preview: Linebacker

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Will Jimmy Bayes finally live up to his potential?

NCAA Football: Tulsa at South Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

If you missed the beginning of our spring practice preview series check them out here:

Spring practice begins next week so we will breakdown each position group as we gear up for football season. Note: We will not guess on what impact freshmen who are not on campus yet will have on the team. Except for quarterback because #BattleHive.

Linebacker:

Key Losses: Auggie Sanchez (84 total tackles, 10 TFL, two sacks, two interceptions, two TD)

Key Returners: Nico Sawtelle (54 total tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, two interceptions); Keirston Johnson (Seven tackes, one TFL, one interception); Jimmy Bayes (nine tackles, 12 TFL); Andre Polk (five tackles in three games, missed most of season due to injury)

The Bulls lost their middle linebacker with the graduation of Sanchez, who finished his career as the all-time leader in tackles and there’s not clear cut favorite to replace him.

Head coach Charlie Strong singled out senior Jimmy Bayes at the post National Signing Day press conference last month as a guy who needs to step up and live up to the hype that surrounded him after he signed with the Bulls in 2014.

“You won’t find a better looking player than Jimmy Bayes,” Strong said. “But, Jimmy’s gotta step up now that we’ve lost some guys.”

Lord knows we’ve gotten our jokes off about Bayes during his time at USF, but he was listed as Sanchez’s backup for most of the season. I wouldn’t hold my breathe he puts it together. Stanger things have happened though.

Sawtelle was solid as the weakside linebacker next to Sanchez and he is fast enough to stay there but he represents the most experience of the linebackers so Strong and defensive coordinator Brian-Jean Mary could decide he’s best suited to become the mike ‘backer.

Keirston Johnson was impressive in his limited time as a true freshman even though he missed time with a sternum injury in the middle of the season. Andre Polk Jr. is another guy that has the size and speed to play either position but it’s unclear if he’s fully recovered from the knee injury that forced him to missed the majority of the season.

We saw in the C. game as well as the Birmingham Bowl that BJM and Strong have no problems taking the linebackers off the field to bring in an extra DB to combat against spread offenses.

Strong said saftey Khalid McGee came to him and said that he could play linebacker and went out two of the best games of his career after the move. He totaled a career high 10 tackles and two TFL on Black Friday and six tackles and two QB hits in the bowl game.

He could throw a wrench into everything if Strong decides to move him to linebacker full time.