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2019 USF Football Spring Practice Preview: Defensive Backs

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The group loses three cornerstones, but there’s enough returning talent to have some hope in the secondary.

East Carolina v South Florida Photo by Joseph Garnett Jr./Getty Images

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.

Defensive Backs:

Position Coaches:

Steve Ellis: cornerbacks (1st season at USF)

Bryan Hill: safeties (3rd season at USF, first as position coach)

Key Losses: Ronnie Hoggins (210 tackles, 8 INT, 31 PD in career), Mazzi Wilkins (110 tackles, 3 INT in career), Jaymon Thomas (157 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 2 INT in career), Chris Barr, Deangelo Antoine.

Key Returners: Mike Hampton, Vincent Davis, Nick Roberts, Bentlee Sanders, Mekhi Lapointe.

At times in 2018, the defensive backs looked fantastic. At times, they looked awful.

Unfortunately, the latter happened more than the former last season. The group that ranked third in the nation in interceptions in 2017 didn’t get back to that prowess last season.

This unit should be fairly revamped considering the coaching changes within the room. Blue Adams is gone (something, something don’t fight the players), and replaced by Steve Ellis and Bryan Hill. Ellis comes from Middle Tennessee State, where he coached for ten years, Hill was a quality control assistant with the Bulls.

USF graduated three defensive centerpieces in their secondary in Ronnie Hoggins, Mazzi Wilkins and Jaymon Thomas. Hoggins and Wilkins were solid outside contributors, while Thomas was a two-year starter at safety.

Losing that veteran leadership hurts, USF returns a couple of pieces that should provide some nice defense in the third level.

Junior corner Mike Hampton is the only upperclassmen of the group that played a significant amount of time (25 career games). The Hillsborough High product had a pair of interceptions and 43 tackles to go along with his team-high 18 passes defended. Nick Roberts showed flashes of what he could be for this team with three interceptions in 2018, but also was nearly unplayable down the stretch which culminated in multiple missed tackles in the Gasparilla Bowl against Marshall.

Bentlee Sanders, Mekhi Lapointe and Vincent Davis all got time at the safety spot along with Roberts in 2018. There could be a little bit of a competition for those positions coming into spring camp.

It seemed like a pretty fluid rotation of guys, before Lapointe got hurt midway through the season. Roberts seemed to be the only one getting consistent time. Eugene Bowman could be a newcomer to watch for after redshirting last season.

Redshirt freshman Jajuan Cherry has been moved to running back. (Find out tomorrow what other running back is on the move.)

One thing to note – USF will be with the services of McArthur Burnett, who signed with the Bulls in December after playing two years at Coffeyville CC. From Pahokee, the junior transferred from Florida (sound familiar, Jordan Cronkrite?) after redshirting his freshman season.

True freshmen Jayden Curry and Daquan Evans also enrolled early with Burnett and could jump right into the mix in the secondary.

Standing at 5’9”, Burnett fits perfectly into Ellis and Hill’s undersized secondary, but Burnett’s speed could ultimately make him a viable threat as a slot cornerback in nickel sets.

Position Battles to watch:

All of them except whatever side Mike Hampton is on.

Previous Spring Practice Previews: