Unlikely players make key contributions

Before the season, Oracle Sports Editor Brandon Wright selected six players in the football preview issue for Bulls fans to keep an eye on. These weren’t South Florida’s “big names,” like quarterback Marquel Blackwell or Butkus Watch linebacker Kawika Mitchell. They were players whose names weren’t initially recognizable, but would be by the end of the season. In italics were his preseason comments, now let’s do a midseason check on their progress.

Chris Daley

“With only one career sack while serving as an apprentice behind Shawn Hay and Steve Hatley, Daley is poised to shine in 2001.”

This kid has been a terror for opposing quarterbacks in 2001, registering 7.5 sacks in six games. Against UConn last week, Daley racked up three sacks to go along with a fumble recovery that set up a USF touchdown. In addition, Daley is the team leader with nine stops behind the line.

Maurice Jones

“Jones, the fastest of the USF linebackers, has prototypical size and strength and is an exceptional pass rusher off the corner.”

Jones has been solid at strong-side linebacker for the Bulls, displaying his penchant for the big play. The sophomore leads USF with a pair of fumble recoveries, including a 52-yard return for a touchdown against North Texas that gave the Bulls a lead they would never relinquish. Jones also tops all Bull linebackers with three sacks.

Kenny Robinson

“Robinson, who had a 64-yard interception return for a TD last season against Austin Peay, a USF record, has big play capability …”

Robinson has only started one game for the Bulls after being hampered in the preseason with ankle trouble that has once again flared up. But Robinson’s season hasn’t exactly been a bust either. The sophomore cornerback has a forced fumble to his credit and got the Bulls’ first score last week when he returned a blocked punt for a touchdown.

Huey Whittaker

“Although Whittaker is not the featured receiver, he will see considerable time in the Bulls’ multiple-receiver sets … Look for Whittaker to physically dominate smaller defensive backs …”

While DeAndrew Rubin’s turf toe has been his loss, the unfortunate injury has been Whittaker’s gain. With Rubin sidelined, Whittaker has become Blackwell’s favorite target, hauling in a team-high 31 passes for 318 yards. However, the chiseled 6-foot-5, 225-pound sophomore, who towers over most defensive backs, has been underutilized around the goal line, resulting in no touchdowns. Whittaker’s best games are in front of him.

Clenton Crossley

“Although coach Jim Leavitt has maintained Derrick Rackard is the starting tailback, expect Crossley to be the go-to-guy sooner than later.”

In USF’s pass-happy offensive attack, Crossley has managed to lead the Bulls in rushing (179 yards) as well as receptions out of the backfield (10). Crossley had a pair of touchdowns against North Texas and has been especially effective in the open field following screen passes. Expect his output to increase as the season wears on.

Mike Snellgrove

“Snellgrove has the strength and footwork needed and will be counted on to protect Blackwell’s blind side.”

Snellgrove has been part of an offensive line that has rebounded from the loss of three of the five starters from last year. A converted tight end, Snellgrove is an excellent mix of agility and strength and, like most offensive linemen, has been an unsung hero in the success of the USF passing attack.

  • Brandon Wright covers football and can be reached at oraclebrandon@yahoo.com