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.
Position Coach: Glenn Spencer (First season at USF)
Key Losses: Patrick Macon (67 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles), Nico Sawtelle (DNP in 2019, 112 career tackles)
Key Returnees: Dwayne Boyles, Tony Grier, Andrew Mims, Demaurez Bellamy
The linebacker group, despite only losing one player who contributed in 2019, is going to be a unit with a few question marks going into the 2020 campaign.
Patrick Macon was denied a 6th season of eligibility, even though he sat out the entire 2018 season with a foot injury. The former JuCo defensive player of the year was second on the team with 67 tackles but missed the last three games of the season with another foot injury.
Nico Sawtelle, who was once the heart and voice of the defense, looked poised to return in 2019. However, his injury proved to be much worse than expected, and as such, spent the entire year cheering and coaching his fellow linebackers.
But in stepped Dwayne Boyles, who exploded in production during the 2019 season, leading the team with 74 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, and two pass breakups.
Even once Macon went down with an injury, the defense saw contribution out of the rotation of Tony Grier (57 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 4 sacks), Demaurez Bellamy (20 tackles, 1 sack), and walk-on Andrew Mims (31 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 sack).
Running backs Dave Small and Brian Norris made transitions to linebacker last season to help with some much needed depth, and both contributed lightly with 18 total tackles between the two converts. Additional depth will include Randal Copeland, Tae’Aviion Gray, Dakota Trice, and AJ Franco, who all mostly saw time on special teams.
During our TDS Film Room breakdown of the schematic possibilities we saw during Spencer’s time at FAU, we saw that there are times that FAU went into a 3-3-5 defense, a 4-2-5 defense, and a traditional 4-3-4 defense, meaning that USF will need to have Grier, Bellamy, or Mims step up into a WILL (weak-side linebacker) or MIKE (middle linebacker) role, as it’s expected that Boyles will stay at SAM (strong-side linebacker).
When Head Coach Jeff Scott hired Spencer, he noted that “Glenn will bring a physical, intense and aggressive style to our defense and a veteran presence to our staff”, and with four experienced linebackers to utilize, the linebacker group should see a new star rise up this year.