Not all of South Florida's offensive woes in recent years can be put on wide receivers -- it still takes two to create a pass completion, the thrower and the catcher -- but their inconsistent play certainly has been a factor.
Not since the 2008 season, when Jessie Hester had 54 receptions -- has a Bulls' receiver managed to get to the 50-catch level, and overall depth has been lacking.
Last year Andre Davis came close with 49 receptions, but that was more than the rest of the wide receivers had combined. Derrick Hopkins was the only other wide receiver in double figures in receptions with just 10 grabs.
Tight ends Mike McFarland and Sean Price and running back Marcus Shaw ranked 2-3-4 in receptions for USF, combining for 58 catches.
But that could change this season.
Two transfers, Eric Dungy from Oregon (the son of former Tampa Bay and Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy) and Rodney Adams from Toledo, along with a trio of freshmen (Ryeshene Bronson, Tyre McCants, and Stanley Clerveaux) have added enough depth to the receiving corps that coach Willie Taggart was able to move senior Chris Dunkley from wideout to the secondary.
Adams' ability to stretch the field could open up things for Davis.
Senior Deonte Welch also is back. He had only eight catches last year, averaging 15.4 yards per reception, but he is capable of much more. Davis hauled in 32 receptions as a redshirt freshman in 2011.
One thing that obviously can make a difference for the wideouts is the play of the quarterbacks.
Both sophomore Mike White, who finished the 2013 campaign as the starter, and junior Steven Bench had strong springs at the position, and they are continuing their tight competition in fall camp.
"We had some receivers making some big-time catches for us," Taggart said after a recent scrimmage, "and quarterbacks are throwing the ball where they need to be thrown."
SPOTLIGHT ON SEPTEMBER: USF faces a busy first month with five games on five consecutive weekends, the first four at home. The Bulls start by hosting Western Carolina on Aug. 30, and things toughen up after that. Games against ACC teams Maryland and North Carolina State follow the next two weeks, then the Bulls open AAC play on Sept. 19 in a Friday night game against Connecticut. They finish the month with their first road game, and it's a toughie -- at Wisconsin on Sept. 27.
KEYS TO SUCCESS: The offensive line is more experienced and deeper and looks to take a step up after surrendering 33 sacks last year. That should also be a boost for the running game. The receiving corps has more depth than in recent years as well. Linebacker has the potential to be an area of strength on defense.
AREAS OF CONCERN: The defensive front lacks depth and could force a shift to a 3-4 scheme. Defensive end especially took a hit in personnel losses. Quarterback play could remain a question until either Mike White or Steven Bench, who have looked good in practice, prove themselves in game conditions.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "This year I think you'll get every starter pushed. I think that's going to help our football team big-time from a competition standpoint." -- Coach Willie Taggart, on the difference from 2013 to this camp.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
HEAD COACH: Willie Taggart, second year at USF, 2-10 record at USF, 18-30 overall.
DRAFT PROSPECTS (includes 2015 NFLDraftScout.com rating as applicable):
WR Andre Davis (No. 36 wide receiver, 294t ovrall) -- Davis started off 2013 slowly but made came on strong as the season progressed. He finished with 49 catches, averaging 15.0 yards per reception. There's no reason to think he won't enhance his draft stock by improving on those numbers this campaign.
DE Elkino Watson (No. 32 defensive end, 436th overall) -- Watson (6-2, 291) moves from tackle as the Bulls look to add depth to the position. Staying healthy will be key. He was bothered by injuries that kept him out of one game and limited him in two others but still recorded nine tackles for loss last year.
OL Quinterrius Eatmon (No. 24 offensive lineman, 323rd overall) -- Eatmon has been a three-year starter for the Bulls, starting all but two games over that stretch. Though he has desirable size (6-3, 313) he isn't considered very athletic and will need to work on his skills to attract scouts. He has played tackle the last three years but has been moved to guard in 2014.
MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: WR Andre Davis -- The Bulls look in better shape at wide receiver than they have been in recent years, but Davis is the anchor of the unit and USF's biggest threat on offense. He has 95 catches over the last two seasons for 1,269 yards and eight touchdowns. His 735 receiving yards last year were a USF season record.
BREAKOUT STAR: LE Reshard Cliett -- After playing in the shadow of DeDe Lattimore and Sam Barrington, Cliett will be a key defender playing on the strong side of the defense. He finished with 56 tackles with seven for losses (one sack) in 2013, missing one game to injury.
NEWCOMER TO WATCH: S Devin Abraham -- The freshman enrolled in January but wasn't able to take part in spring drills because of shoulder surgery. But he has been impressive in the early going of USF's fall camp. He is the son of former Tampa Bay Bucs CB Donnie Abraham.
--Senior CB Chris Dunkley was moved from receiver to the secondary before the start of fall camp. He had seven receptions last year, giving him 11 in the two seasons he has played since transferring from Florida. He is expected to return punts, too.
--Senior DT Todd Chandler got notice on YouTube with over 1,000 viewers checking in to see him squat 700 pounds in late July.
--Freshman Nick Holman needs surgery after injuring his shoulder in practice. Taggart said "we'll see how it goes" when asked about his return.
--Senior TE Mike McFarland injured a knee the first week and is "rehabbing," according to the Tampa Bay Times.
--WR Rodney Adams, a transfer from Toledo, has recovered enough from a foot injury to return to practice.
--Senior DB Kenneth Durden has left the USF program. Durden was suspended in January following his arrest on a possession of marijuana charge and was not expected back after sitting out spring ball.
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