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Injured duo almost ready to make returns

Injuries kept cornerback Maurice Tucker and Huey Whittaker out of the Bulls’ season opener against Florida Atlantic, but the duo could be back in the lineup when USF meets Northern Illinois at Raymond James Stadium Saturday.

Tucker, a senior who started 10 of 11 games a year ago, was nursing a sore ankle and was held out of the matchup with the Owls.

Whittaker was the Bulls’ leading receiver in 2001 with 52 catches and 548 yards in his sophomore season. Whittaker came to USF in 2000 from Hudson Valley Community College and spent that season as a redshirt.

Whittaker’s been sidelined since Aug. 17 with a sprained medial collateral ligament, which he suffered on the fourth play of USF’s first fall scrimmage. Monday’s practice was Whittaker’s first action in more than two weeks so USF coach Jim Leavitt was cautiously optimistic at Tuesday’s media luncheon that Whittaker could be ready for action Saturday.

“They’ve got to work their way back in a little bit,” Leavitt said. “We don’t put them right at the top of the depth chart right away. We also don’t want to throw them all the way down to the bottom because of the injury.”

Elgin Hicks started in Whittaker’s spot as one of the Bulls’ two outside receivers and caught three passes for 23 yards. Although Tucker had been a starter for much of last season, the Bulls were going to start Ron Hemingway and D’Juan Brown at cornerback regardless. Brown, a redshirt freshman, made his first start and recorded a team-high six tackles.

“We’ve got Maurice Tucker back,” Leavitt said. “He’s been practicing so he’ll play. I don’t know where (defensive coordinator) Rick Kravitz will have him in the game, but he’ll play. Huey Whittaker practiced Monday, and if he can play, he will.”