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Spring practice begins Monday 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.
Key Losses: Deadrin Senat (66 total tackles, 10.5 TFL, six sacks); Bruce Hector (38 total tackes, 13 TFL, seven sacks); Mike Love (28 total tackles, 11 TFL, 5.5 sacks)
Key Returners: Greg Reaves (52 total tackles, 14 TFL, four sacks); Josh Black (18 total tackles, three TFL); Kelvin Pinkney Jr. (16 total tackles, three TFL, 1.5 sacks); Kevin Kegler (10 total tackles, one TFL, one sack); Vincent Jackson, Jr. (three total tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1⁄2 sack); Juwaun Brown (nine total tackles, five TFL, three sacks); Kirk Livingstone (16 tackles, 5.5 TFL, two sacks)
The key ingredient for the USF turnaround defensively in 2017 (besides having a defensive coordinator with a pulse) was the defensive line. The four starters of Love, Senat, Hector, and Reaves combined for 49.5 TFL and 22.5 sacks and wrecked havoc on nearly every down. Those four alone were responsible for nearly half of all tackles-for-loss and over 60% of all sacks.
Defensive coordinator Brian-Jean Mary and head coach Charlie Strong, along with DT coach Sean Cronin and DE coach Damon Cogdell now have to replace a lot of production and veteran leadership for 2018.
Who starts opposite Reaves?
There are plenty of options: Jackson, Jr., Livingstone, Brown, Black, and Duke transfer Marquise Price should all be in the mix for starts.
Livingstone returns the most career production of the group but he was beat out by Reaves in the fall after starting all 13 games in 2016. At 6’4”, 266 lbs he is the biggest returning DE, not accounting for Bronson who cross-trained at both positions in 2017.
Jackson and Black were likely done a disservice by the former coaching staff by moving them to DE instead of staying at linebacker, as our friend Ryan Smith points out:
I still hold to it that USF had a really impressive class of linebackers a few years back (Jackson, Brown, Black), and moving them all to edge rushers created a depth vacuum at LB and a whole lotta average defensive ends.— Ryan T. Smith (@RyanSmithWrites) March 2, 2018
Brown has done the most with the opportunities that have been given to him over the last two seasons and he may excel as an edge rusher. He has 26 tackles over the last two seasons, with nine TFL, 5.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries, one of which was a scoop-and-score versus C. in 2016.
I think Livingstone and Brown share time at DE in 2018 with the others just sprinkled in here and there.
Now to replace the interior defensive line.
Kegler and Pinkney combined for 26 tackles as true freshmen and they appear set to gain more playing time in 2018. Pinkney was the choice to replace Senat when he was ejected twice early in the season. Pinkney recorded a career-high six tackles in the season opener.
Bronson, as mentioned above, split time inside and outside in ‘17. He is the elder statesman of the unit, but was basically relegated to a reserve role last season after the emergence of the two freshmen. He needs to have a good spring.
DT Marlon Gonzalez, who missed the last ten games of the season after an injury at San Jose State, had an impressive spring and fall camp before succumbing to the injury. If he’s fully healthy, he can easily lock down one of the two starting positions.
Duke transfer Brandon Boyce’s status with the team in up in the air. We hope to find out more on Monday when the team begins camp.
DE: Reaves and Livingstone/Brown
DT: Gonzalez and Pinkey.