TAMPA, FL - NOVEMBER 19: Offensive tackle Mark Popek #74 of the South Florida Bulls sets to block against the Miami Hurricanes November 19, 2011 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. Miami won 6 - 3. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
This year, instead of rolling out a USF football preview that would last for weeks, if not months on end, I decided to pack it all into one frantic five-day stretch. This way all the information we provide you with is as current as it can be. Plus I'm a procrastinator, and this suits my style better. And besides, your professor's going to be calling the roll for like 30 minutes today, so why not dig in and read all this while you have some time?
TIGHT ENDS AND FULLBACKS
In Skip Holtz and Todd Fitch's two years in charge, the tight ends and fullbacks have been mostly anonymous and sometimes interchangeable. Except for senior Evan Landi (6'3", 236 lbs., Coral Springs Charter), a converted wide receiver who caught 28 and 29 passes in 2010 and 2011, no tight end has made a dent in the passing game. In fact, after Landi, the entire returning tight end corps has a grand total of 17 receptions, and 16 of those are by fifth-year senior Andreas Shields (6'4", 248 lbs., Tampa Wharton). That's why I listed the tight ends and fullbacks with the linemen. Those two positions do much more blocking than catching (although Landi is also a strong blocker on the edges). Jake Carlton (6'3", 233 lbs., Bradenton Lakewood Ranch) contributes on special teams, while Florida transfer Mike McFarland (6'5", 243 lbs., Tampa Blake) also appeared on the goal line last year as a redshirt freshman.
Then again, USF hasn't had a physical talent like four-star recruit Sean Price (6'3", 240 lbs., Citra) on the roster before this year. Like Landi, he is a pass-catching tight end, and he'll give B.J. Daniels another safety blanket when he's in the game.
The Bulls don't use fullbacks all that often -- many of their running sets are single-back with three wide receivers and a tight end. And for even more proof that fullbacks and tight ends are not set in stone, the starting fullback on the depth chart is Jeff Hawkins (6'4", 266 lbs., Ocala Vanguard), a fifth-year senior who had been primarily a tight end. He does have two true fullbacks behind him in Spencer Cavalieri (6'2", 239 lbs., Tampa Gaither) and Chris Breit (5'11", 229 lbs., Tampa Plant). But all of these players are here to block in short yardage and in other running situations.
This is the position that lost the most experience from the 2011 team. It started three fifth-year seniors last year (Jeremiah Warren, Kevin McCaskill, and Chaz Hine), and while there are some returning starters, there's also a lot of unproven talent and questions of depth.
The anchor of the line is fifth-year senior Mark Popek (6'7", 299 lbs., Plant City), who recently moved from left tackle to left guard to make room for a new starter at tackle. Another senior, Danous "Cadillac" Estenor (6'3", 307 lbs., Palm Beach Central) returns to start at right guard. And although he's only a redshirt sophomore, Quinterrius Eatmon (6'6", 301 lbs., Pritchard, AL C.F. Vigor) will return as the starter at right tackle, although he may be limited in the very early going as he recovers from a minor concussion.
Replacing Popek at left tackle is sophomore Darrell Williams (6'5", 292 lbs., Orlando Evans). Williams saw playing time last season as a true freshman, even though he was a bit undersized at the time. Since arriving on campus last year, Williams has added 45 pounds to his frame and the Bulls are ready to give him the most important spot on the offensive line -- protecting Daniels' blind side.
Austin Reiter will take over at center this season, and he is one of several underclassmen on the offensive line who have little to no experience. Reiter played in 10 games last year as a backup and on special teams Still, that gives him an edge over some of the backups along the line. Reiter's backup, Thor Jozwiak (6'4", 307 lbs., Eagle Lake Lake Region) is a redshirt freshman, and so are Estenor and Eatmon's backups -- Brynjar Gudmundsson (6'4", 304 lbs., Wellington) at right guard, and Max Lang (6'5", 282 lbs., Orlando Boone) at right tackle. It's rare for an entire starting offensive line to make it through the season intact, and the Bulls were lucky that that happened last year. If there are injuries at this position, there could be several untested players thrown into the fire, in a league that is not very forgiving if your offensive line isn't effective.