Last season, USF ranked No. 21 in the NCAA in rushing yards allowed per game.
Now, without Bruce Hector and Deadrin Senat, two former USF lineman who went on to play for the Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons, respectively, lineman coach Sean Cronin and the Bulls’ defensive line is looking for players to step up quickly with the season beginning on Sept. 1 against Elon.
“I like the way we’re working, but I don’t like where we’re at right now,” Cronin said last week. “Our guys are really competing because there’s a lot of jobs with those two guys (Hector and Senat) gone, everything is wide open. So our depth chart is starting to change almost daily and we just have to compete. Competition makes everybody better.”
Senior Kevin Bronson totaled 12 tackles in 10 games last season, which pales in comparison to his 29 tackles from 2016. He brings experience to the line as a veteran.
“Every day is a work in progress,” Bronson said. “Coach Cronin teaches us to have effort and technique, but it’s still a work in progress.”
Joining Bronson as a staple to the line is sophomore Kevin Kegler. He totaled 10 tackles in 12 games his freshman season.
Bronson and Kegler will potentially play a lot of snaps this season, but a leader on the line has yet to emerge.
“That (leader on the line) is to be determined,” Cronin said. “I think a lot of the ends are showing up, but my guys are so young that it’s kind of day-to-day. I would like some guys to rise up and be more consistent…as a group they’re working, as a group they’re improving, but we’ve got a long way to go.”
Cronin added that the freshmen on the team will end up playing a substantial role on the line this season.
“It’s not common that you ask a true freshman to play at defensive tackle,” Cronin said. “But that’s going to happen this year.”
Of the nine defensive tackles on USF’s roster, four are freshmen. Tyrone Barber, Devin Leacock, John Waller and Armon Williams are all competing for a chance to play in the starting defensive rotation.
“It gives the message that the best man is going to play,” said Kegler, who played on the defensive as a freshman. “It’s really exciting.”
With the Bulls’ season opener just 11 days away, there is a sense of urgency to get the defensive line — veterans and rookies alike — ready to compete at a high level.
“I think they all have great potential,” Cronin said. “If we were going and recruiting again, I’d take every one of them again. I think they’re all going to be very good players, but we need them to become great players sooner rather than later.”