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USF Spring Practice Preview 2023: Defensive Backs

Hope springs eternal for this secondary with a lot of experience and a new scheme.

Morgan Tencza / The Daily Stampede

Spring practice began today 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 Coach: Defensive Passing Game Coordinator & Safeties Coach James Rowe, Cornerbacks Coach Matt Birkett

Key departures: DB Mekhi LaPointe, S Vincent Davis

Key returnees: DB’s Aamaris Brown, Daquan Evans, TJ Robinson, Jayden Curry, and Jaelon Stokes. Safeties T-Mac Simpson, Logan Berryhill, Will Jones II, Christian Willians, and Matthew Hill.

Key additions: DB Jarvis Lee Jr.

The defensive backs unit had a rough go in the 2022 football season, beginning when standout fan-favorite Vincent “Smoke” Davis announced he had to miss the entire season due to a neck injury and step away from the game of football. That was a harbinger for a season in which the USF defense was near the bottom of every major defensive category including 131st (out of 131 teams) in YPG with 516.6 and a whopping 7.42 yards per play.

Giving up less than 6,199 total yards will be a tall task for new defensive coordinator Todd Orlando, but the secondary will return nearly the entire production from last year outside of graduating Mekhi LaPointe and Davis who entered the transfer portal and will look to play one more season elsewhere. New defensive passing game coordinator James Rowe returns to USF where he played baseball in in the early 00’s leaving a job with the Chicago Bears to help set the back-half of the secondary on the right track. In a year where coaches are leaving college for positions in the NFL, convincing Rowe to return to his alma mater was a huge coup for the former Broyles award finalist. Cornerbacks coach Matt Birkett comes from James Madison where the Dukes were in the top ten in total defense during his four-year tenure.

Turning the page to the 2023 spring season, head coach Alex Golesh will trust Todd Orlando’s aggressive “multiple” defensive unit will pair perfectly with his aggression on offense. Replacing LaPointe’s veteran leadership and 53 total tackles will be no easy task, but USF will have a lot of experienced talent and some new faces to transition into the new defense. Coach Jeff Scott hit the transfer portal to fill much of the secondary the last three seasons and you can see that in the majority of the two-deep being filled with players who transferred in.

Kansas State transfer junior Aamaris Brown had a breakout year being named to the All-AAC Fourth Team by Phil Steele in ‘22 with 27 total tackles, five passes defended, and two interceptions in 11 games. Senior T-Mac Simpson (Eastern Michigan) played in all 12 games with 44 tackles and junior TJ Robison (Rutgers) had 37 tackles in nine games.

Junior Will Jones II (Kansas State) finally made his USF debut in 2022 playing in all 12 games at the safety position with 32 total tackles, one tackle for loss, and two passes defended. Senior Christian Williams (Miami (FL)) returns with 40 total tackles, two tackles for loss, and one fumble recovery and Clemson transfer Ray Thornton III saw limited time with three tackles and one pass defended in three games. Senior Matthew Hill (Auburn) will also bring game experience to the safeties room.

Junior Jayden Curry broke out with 40 total tackles, one interception, and two fumble recoveries on the season and will look to expand on his role in the new defense. Senior Daquan Evans and juniors Ben Knox and Logan Berryhill will also compete for playing time in the new system. Highly touted Freshman Jarvis Lee, Jr. is also on campus for spring practice as the three-star from IMG Academy was Golesh’s third highest rated recruit in the 2023 class.

With a new scheme and whole new coaching staff - spring practice will be focusing on the type of talent that is on campus and how to best utilize their skill sets. Continuity in the secondary will play a huge part in helping a defense that was 130th in pass efficiency and 124th in passing yards allowed.