March 9, 2009

Ground game a priority for South Florida in 2009

USF has started strong, then faded in each of the past two seasons. Quarterback Matt Grothe frequently is asked to do too much, meaning the first priority for the Bulls this spring is to work to develop a consistent rushing attack. The back seven on defense also needs work.

Here's a look at the Bulls as they prepare to open spring drills.

South Florida AT-A-GLANCE
Matt Grothe is one of only three starters on offense returning for South Florida.
THE BASICS
Coach: Jim Leavitt
Last Season: 8-5, 2-5 Big East. Beat Memphis in the St. Petersburg Bowl.
Spring dates: March 9-April 11
RETURNING STARTERS
Offense (3): QB Matt Grothe, WR A.J. Love, T Jacob Sims.
Defense (6): FS Nate Allen, T Aaron Harris, NT Terrell McClain, CB Jerome Murphy, E George Selvie, MLB Kion Wilson.
Special teams (2): P Delbert Alvarado, K Maikon Bonani.
Postions of strength

There is lots of skill-position talent back on offense, including players such as Grothe, running backs Mike Ford and Jamar Taylor, and wide receivers A.J. Love, Jessie Hester, Carlton Mitchell and Dontavia Bogan. The key is new coordinator Mike Canales taking advantage of their talent. Another strong area will be the defensive line, headed by George Selvie - an All-America in 2007 who saw extensive double-teams in 2008.

Help is needed

The offensive line must be overhauled with the loss of four starters. Coaches will rebuild it around Jacob Sims and returning part-time starter Zach Hermann. The linebacking corps and secondary also must be rebuilt. In addition, there are new coordinators on both sides of the ball, so there will be a learning curve.

Keep an eye on

RB Mike Ford: He arrived amid mega-hype after originally signing with Alabama. But Ford, a junior, has been only a bit player and needs to start living up to his high school hype. USF has struggled to run the ball consistently, and a revitalized Ford would help in that regard.

G Sampson Genus: He played some offensive line as a true freshman, was a reserve defensive tackle last season and now is back on offense. He will compete for a starting spot.

LB Sabbath Joseph: He has been a quality reserve who has learned the ropes. Now it's time for Joseph, a junior, to blossom; he has good speed and athletic ability.

His time is now

All eyes are on senior linebacker Chris Robinson. He was a standout as a redshirt freshman when he was used as a situational pass rusher. But since then, Robinson has been in the doghouse because of his poor work habits. The Bulls could use someone who can rush the passer to take some pressure off Selvie; if Robinson doesn't produce in spring practice, he might be forgotten once fall drills begin.

The buzz

A reworked coaching staff must jell quickly to keep the program moving in the right direction. The Bulls look to have the skill-position pieces in place to have a productive offense, but the line must be rebuilt and some playmakers must emerge to take some pressure off Grothe. Defensively, rebuilding the secondary will be the highest priority for new coordinator Joe Tresey, whose defenses at Cincinnati were known for creating turnovers.

Tom Dienhart is the national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.



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