Warp Speed 2012 USF Football Preview - Defensive Line and Linebackers

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 03: Tyler Eifert #80 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish is pursued by Sam Barrington #36 of the University of South Florida Bulls at Notre Dame Stadium on September 3, 2011 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/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.

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DEFENSIVE LINE

USF's defensive line includes a potential breakout player, a fixture at defensive tackle, and a couple of new starters.

The anchor of the defensive line is fifth-year senior Cory Grissom (6'2", 316 lbs., LaGrange, GA Troup County), who recovered from a broken bone in his ankle suffered during spring practice to regain his spot at the top of the depth chart at defensive tackle. Grissom, nicknamed "Pork Chop," started all 25 games the last two years and will again be called upon to take on double-teams in the middle of the line and slow down opponent's running games. Lining up next to him will be junior Luke Sager (6'3", 297 lbs., Niceville), who has 24 games worth of experience but who will make his first collegiate start on Saturday.

In the rotation, backing up Grissom, will be sophomore Elkino Watson (6'2", 293 lbs., Miami Booker T. Washington). Watson played in all 12 games as a true freshman, making him the only true freshman on defense to play in a game in 2011. Elkino played well in limited duty, recording 33 tackles and nine TFL as a backup, and he looks ready to step in as a starter in 2013. Luke Sager's backup is redshirt sophomore Todd Chandler (6'0", 312 lbs., Miami Northwestern), who has had his share of issues in the two years since he became Skip Holtz's first signing-day steal. He redshirted in 2010, then was sidelined last year because he had dropped a class the year before and became ineligible in the process. When Chandler lines up across from the ball, it will be his first collegiate action.

One player not listed on the two-deep who may also see time at defensive tackle is true freshman James Hamilton (6'2", 324 lbs., Orlando Olympia), who got some extra practice reps when some of the regular tackles were banged up. He's the largest player on USF's defense, but while his size is intriguing, he may be held back unless he's absolutely needed so his eligibility doesn't go to waste.

While Aaron Lynch's longshot waiver request was denied, forcing him to sit out this season as a transfer from Notre Dame, there's still quite a bit of talent at defensive end. Getting the majority of the attention at first will be redshirt junior Ryne Giddins (6'3", 266 lbs., Seffner Armwood), who started all 12 games and showed some flashes of dominance, especially in a three-game stretch in midseason. Against UConn, Cincinnati, and Rutgers, Giddins recorded 26 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, a recovered fumble, and a pass breakup. Giddins begins the season on the 2012 Lombardi Award watch list.

Opposite Giddins will be Tevin Mims (6'3", 245 lbs., Navarro JC), who was originally a Texas recruit and played for the Longhorns' Big XII title team in 2009, but ended up in junior college. The rest of the defensive end rotation will include junior Julius Forte (6'2", 260 lbs., St. Petersburg Boca Ciega), who has appeared in 21 games as a reserve, plus true freshman Eric Lee (6'3", 240 lbs., Daphne, AL), who forced his way on the field with a terrific fall camp.

LINEBACKERS

All three of USF's starting linebackers in 2011 return this year, making it maybe the strongest single unit on the team. The depth is a bit questionable, but there is some experience on the second unit.

The returning starters are junior weakside linebacker DeDe Lattimore (6'1", 232 lbs., Athens, GA Cedar Shoals), fifth-year senior middle linebacker Michael Lanaris (6'1", 242 lbs., Lake Mary), and strong-side senior linebacker Sam Barrington (6'1", 230 lbs., Jacksonville Terry Parker). Lattimore, Lanaris, and Barrington were USF's three leading tacklers and started 35 of a possible 36 games -- Lanaris did not start against Cincinnati, but only because the Bulls opened up in with five defensive backs. Lattimore also led the team with 13 tackles for loss and seven sacks. If there was a weakness among the linebackers, it seemed to be Lanaris at times. Pittsburgh targeted him with Ray Graham and had huge success, while several teams were able to beat him in pass coverage. On the other hand, he had a heads-up (literally) interception against Notre Dame to stop an early second-half drive when the Irish had momentum.

At one point during fall camp, sophomore Reshard Cliett (6'2", 223 lbs., Thomasville, GA Thomas County Central) was listed as the starter at strong-side linebacker, with Barrington moving to middle linebacker. We're still likely to see Cliett in the game at times, along with senior Mike Jeune (6'0", 222 lbs.), who was Barrington's former teammate at Jacksonville Terry Parker before going to Independence CC and later arriving at USF. The true newcomer on the two-deep at linebacker is Ruben Garcia (6'0", 242 lbs., Plant City Durant), a redshirt sophomore who hasn't seen much time on defense. There are several other candidates to get the occasional rep at this position, including several redshirt freshmen from the 2011 recruiting class.

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