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USF Football Spring Practice Preview 2023: Linebackers

A fresh, fresh start is much needed for the Bulls linebacking corp

NCAA Football: Central Florida at South Florida Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Spring practice begins on 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.


Position Coach: Todd Orlando (DC and Inside LBs) & Chad Creamer (Special Teams and Outside LBs)

Key Losses: Dwayne Boyles (Graduation) and Antonio Grier (transfer)

Key Returners: DJ Gordon, Mac Harris, Davon Hicks, Jhayln Shuler

Key Additions: N/A (Yeah, that worried us too)

A position group that was anchored by two standout players for what felt like an eternity is now searching for a new identity at USF. The linebacker corp had been highly touted thanks to cornerstone players Dwayne Boyles and Antonio Grier putting in the service and work over the last 4 seasons. Between them, 15 all-conference accolades across multiple networks, 550 career tackles, 14 career sacks, 56.5 career TFLs, and 16 career turnovers forced must be replaced.

That’s a whole lot of production to replace, but that’s business, baby.

In comes new defensive coordinator Todd Orlando, who is looking to overhaul a defense that finished the season dead last out of 131 FBS football programs in total defense. Many Bulls fans will agree that offensively the team played well, but when the defense was asked to step up and make a stop, they rarely did. It became a running joke within The Daily Stampede slack channel that the opposing QBs/WRs/RBs would almost assuredly be the AAC offensive player of the week when they played USF (note: 8 players were honored with AAC weekly honors during the 2022 season when they played against USF).

With the shift back to a ‘multiple’ hybrid 3-3-5 defense, Todd Orlando and Chad Creamer should be able to find unique ways to use the depth available to them, albeit some of the depth is rather inexperienced.

DJ Gordon IV exploded onto the scene for USF after transferring in from Minnesota, the Plant City native was the second leading tackler, with 66 tackles and 6.5 TFLs. Davon Hicks saw extensive playing time in his 2nd full season with the Bulls, gathering 33 tackles and 3.5 TFLs. The experience drops off rather suddenly after with the next leading tackler being Mac Harris with 11 tackles, Jhalyn Shuler with 8 tackles, Brian Norris with 3 tackles, and CJ Ross with 3 tackles on the year. Redshirt freshman DeAunte Hunter was one of the highest ranked recruits out of the class of 2022 and will look for more playing time in the new system under Todd Orlando as well.

With how Todd Orlando wants to run his defense, the linebackers become hybrid players with specialty roles. Some will be pass rush specialists, some are coverage, some clog run gaps, but all will need to come together to improve a defense that is in drastic need of an immediate turnaround.