Defensive depth paying dividends

USF coaches labeled depth of the defense as one of the team strenghs before the season even started.

“It started since camp. It’s something we’ve been talking about the whole season,” junior defensive end Patrick Hampton said. “It was everybody stepping up when people were getting hurt. Everybody has each other’s back. It’s worked out great because everybody prepared themselves for it since the beginning of the season.”

Gone is the star-studded cast (and now NFL impact players) that featured defensive ends George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul and Jerome Murphy and Nate Allen in the secondary.

However, the defense-by-committee approach implemented by first year defensive coordinator Mark Snyder has produced results in clutch situations.

“It’s paying off,” said Snyder, who’s seen his unit make key fourth-down stops to help preserve three straight conference wins. “We played a lot of guys Saturday. We had a lot of guys dinged up. A lot of guys had to step up and play.

“We need to get healthy. These next three games are going to be very physical. Our younger guys have to keep coming. We’re going to have to practice our depth because they’re going to have to play.”

Snyder used 24 players on defense during Saturday’s 24-21 overtime win against Louisville, with arguably the two best Bulls’ defenders, defensive end Craig Marshall and cornerback Mistral Raymond, out because of injury.

But USF coach Skip Holtz said he’s confident in his second-teamers, even his freshmen, who have been forced into action because of injuries.

Take freshman safety Mark Joyce, who made his first career start at free safety with junior Jerrell Young banged up. Along the defensive line, Hampton and redshirt freshmen Ryne Giddins and Julius Forte have excelled in expanded roles in Marshall’s absence.

Hampton had five tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss against the Cardinals, and Forte, who saw limited snaps in just five games, was in on 30 plays, Holtz said.

“We talked to the team Saturday before the game about the qualities and characteristics of a great football team – depth is definitely one of them,” Holtz said. “We’ve been talking since spring practice and fall camp. The threes got to become twos. The twos got to become ones. The ones got to keep getting better.”

“We got to get as many starters as we can because injuries are part of this game,” Holtz said. “They’re unfortunate, we all hate them.”

And while the Bulls still have plenty to play for this season, including a Big East title, building depth can also translate into a solid foundation for the future.

“It’s a critical part of any team that’s looking to have long-term success,” Holtz said. “You can’t just look at it and go, ‘I think our 11 are pretty good.’ Because it’s going to take … a village in order to get it done. It’s going to take everybody on this team, and right now, some guys are getting some opportunities and they’re stepping up and doing a nice job.”