Spring practice begins on Tuesday 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.
Position Coach: Jeremy Darveau (First season at USF)
Key Losses: LT Eric Mayes (19 starts)
Key Returners: LT Donovan Jennings (Four starts), LG Demetris Harris (11 starts), C Brad Cecil (Seven starts), RG William Atterbury (27 starts), RT Marcus Norman (34 starts)
Let’s start with the good news. All five starters from the Gasparilla Bowl return and each have started games in college. There’s a new offensive line coach with Jeremy Darveau coming over from Valdosta State when Kerwin Bell was hired. Matt Mattox is no longer the OL coach.
Those are all good things.
Now the bad.
15, 18, 38. Those are the sacks allowed numbers for 2016, 2017, and 2018.
I think we can all agree the 2018 numbers are atrocious. The big question heading into last season along the offensive line was who would replace Cam Ruff at center. Michael Wiggs got the first crack at the job, but after six ineffective weeks he was replaced by true freshman Brad Cecil.
Cecil was the highest-rated center in the state of Florida coming out of high school in 2018 and he made his debut versus the UConn Huskies which was the last time the Bulls won in 2018. The lone senior on the last year’s team, Eric Mayes, battled injuries and ineffectiveness as was replaced by true freshman Donovan Jennings. Cecil and Jennings had their moments, but were true freshmen thrown into the fire out of desperation.
Looking ahead to this year, the Bulls appear to be better suited at the position and carry some depth along the line for the first time in a few seasons. Redshirt junior Jarrett Hopple is now eligible after sitting out 2018 after transferring from Virginia Tech. Although he’s a junior, he hasn’t seen any college game action.
Senior Hal Roberson made two starts in place of an injured Demetris Harris and could be a swing man on the OL. He did struggle blocking on special teams and was the cause of at least two blocked kicks.
Also in the mix for backup spots: Sebastian Sainterling (RG), Jean Marcellus (RT), John Waller, Jeremiah Stafford (was briefly kicked off the team in the offseason), Wiggs (C), Ethan Watson, and Christion Gainer.
The starting five is likely set, unless Hopple or someone else blows the coaching staff out of the water. Jennings and Cecil are cornerstone pieces along the line that USF can start for the next three years. The key for the Bulls this spring will be building back the confidence lost by everyone after the six game losing streak to end the year.
“Our goal this spring is to have the players confident in knowing the offense, finding out who our playmakers are, and what our strengths are as a unit,” offensive quality control coach Kade Bell told The Daily Stampede.
And it starts up front.