Linebacker is a bit of a question mark this season. With a strong defensive line, and new defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnehan preaching gap control, the linebackers are going to be expected to fly around and make plays in the new system this year.
After losing Sam Barrington and Michael Lanaris to graduation, the linebacking unit will be rebuilding this season after having loads of experience and depth last year. USF only has one returning linebacker with more than 10 starts, and only one senior returning. In fact, he's got more starts than the rest of the linebackers combined. While that one guy is ready to lead, who’s going to be there to follow? Let’s run down the linebackers for 2013.
DeDe Lattimore is the rock in the center of the linebacking crew. While he had six starts at both weakside linebacker and middle linebacker, with 36 total starts he has the most experience in the unit, so odds on he’ll stick at middle this season. He’s on the Bednarik watch list, having had 239 career tackles, and has led the team in tackles for a loss in each of the last two seasons. While his 76 tackles last season were a drop from the 94 tackles he registered 2011, pretty much everyone on the defense had a down year, so chances are he’ll bounce back.
Backing up DeDe is, well, who? You want to have a stout guy at MLB, but the Bulls only return three linebackers weighing over 230 lbs.: Lattimore, Corian Hamilton and Ruben Garcia. Garcia had all of one tackle last season, and mainly played special teams. Hamilton only played in one game last season. It’s more likely that redshirt junior Reshard Cliett will get some time in the middle should DeDe need a blow. But at 220 he might be a bit thin for this spot. Redshirt junior Hans Louis might also play some backup.
Reshard Cliett looks to have one of the two outside linebacker spots locked down, probably strongside. He started six games last season and garnered 40 tackles. At 6-2, 220, he has the length to challenge blockers and with three passes defensed last season, his improving coverage skills will help against tight ends and backs out of the backfield. He might also catch some time backing up Lattimore at middle linebacker.
Opposite Cliett is an open competition. Rangy sophomore Tashon Whitehurst (6-3, 198) is third among returning LB in tackles with 15, and had one start last year. He’s got the range and coverage skills to play outside, but I’m hoping he’s added some muscle to his frame.
JuCo transfer Rahmon Swain is an intriguing candidate. He had 83 tackles last season while leading Butler CC (Ka.) to the NJCAA national title game. He’s gotten a lot more playing time than anyone else competing, but this will obviously be a big step up from the JuCo ranks.
Zack Bullock should also figure in to the outside spots. Another lanky guy at 6-3 213, the redshirt sophomore played in nine games last season and should figure for a jump.
The big spring break out of the group is Hans Louis. The former walk-on surprised the new staff this spring, and is figuring into the rotation outside. He didn’t get into any games last season, but expect him to play a role outside, and also backing up at middle.
Down the depth chart
Redshirt sophomores C.J. Garye and Antoine Pozniak took part in special teams last season, as did Ruben Garcia. However, new special teams coach Stu Holt says he’ll have players higher on the depth chart on coverage teams, so how exactly these players will take part remains to be seen.
Freshmen Nigel Harris and Mitchel Wright don’t figure to get into the mix, especially Harris, who at 6-0 190 has more of a DB physique.