Depending on one’s perception, the release of USF’s inaugural 2023 depth chart is a portrait of gamesmanship, prudence, paranoia or a combination of all three.
But regardless of the impression created by the chart’s lack of clarity, it’s exactly how Bulls first-year coach Alex Golesh wants it entering Saturday afternoon’s opener at Western Kentucky.
“For the most part, it’s intentional,” he said Tuesday.
Sixteen of the 22 offensive/defensive positions don’t list a clear first-teamer. That includes quarterback, where the chart lists 2022 opening-night starter Gerry Bohanon, or transfer Bryce Archie, or heralded sophomore Byrum Brown, or freshman Israel “Izzy” Carter as the starter.
Similarly, the starting tailback is listed as senior Kelley Joiner or University of Florida transfer Nay’Quan Wright, or senior Michel Dukes or junior K’Wan Powell.
“After the first two drives of the game it will be out there,” Golesh said. “But you’d like to have any sort of advantage you can — similar to what most people do. Western (Kentucky) essentially just issued a list of guys that will play; really smart by them.”
Indeed, the Hilltoppers — an overwhelming pick to win Conference USA in a poll of league media — issued a numerical list of offensive, defensive and special-teams players, with no indications of who starts at each position. In fact, senior quarterback Austin Reed — the Football Bowl Subdivision’s top returning passer — is listed fourth numerically on the WKU depth chart.
“I don’t know why you would give anybody any sort of advantage at any point,” Golesh said.
Among the few Bulls apparently entrenched as starters are sixth-year left tackle (and Gaither High alumnus) Donovan Jennings and right tackle RJ Perry, a Tennessee transfer who essentially followed Golesh from Knoxville. The other solidified starters: top returning receiver Sean Atkins, senior linebacker Jhalyn Shuler and cornerbacks Aamaris Brown and Ben Knox.
Brown and Shuler transferred from Kansas State and Coffeyville (Kansas) Community College, respectively.
“Donovan has been awesome,” Golesh said. “We didn’t have Donovan in the spring; he was still coming off the ankle (injury), and we missed him. ... I think that he thinks he can play anywhere on the line, I think we think he can play anywhere on the line. So the fact that he’s out there at tackle for us is huge.”
Equally huge, Jennings indicated, is the presence of Perry — well ingrained in the Golesh system after spending the three previous years at Tennessee — on the opposite side.
“He knows this offense very well,” Jennings said.
“He’s very smart, very fast on his feet, very powerful in the run game. He can redirect and withstand those bull rushes, and he’s a great player. I’m happy to have him on this team, and I’m happy he chose us besides any other place because he’s a real great addition to our offensive line and we definitely needed him.”
The other positions will be sorted out by Saturday afternoon, when Golesh makes his debut as a head coach, at any level. The 39-year-old Russia native will attempt to be the fifth Bulls coach to win his opener and will attempt to lead USF to its first road season-opening triumph since 2017.
“I talk to the guys about playing with emotion, but not emotionally,” Golesh said.
“You’ve got to have controlled, intentional aggression within the white lines, and I’ve got to do my best of putting our guys in positions to go play, so I hope they are more amped up and juiced up than I am.”
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