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South Florida Fields Plethora of Returning Defensive Backs in 2016

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Deatrick Nichols and Ronnie Hoggins return to create even more havoc plays for USF's secondary this season.

Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

If there are two positions that South Florida head coach Willie Taggart has stocked up on during his tenure in Tampa as if they're going extinct, it's wide receiver and defensive back. The switch to the 4-2-5 in 2015 saw the unit make a significant jump in making game-impacting plays for the defense as a whole and now fourteen of those players return to action this season, including a first-team all-conference corner.

Wreaking Havoc

The implementation of the aforementioned 4-2-5 scheme allowed for the natural speed and quick instincts of South Florida's athletes on defense to be better utilized and that rang especially true for USF's defensive backs. A unit that previously struggled to change the complexion of games with turnovers or even pass break-ups dramatically improved under the guidance of Tom Allen and Alonzo Hampton last season, seeing their rise to a top-twenty secondary in Havoc Rate (TFLs, forced fumbles, and passes defensed divided by total plays.) The Bulls in one season rose from virtually not producing any INTs to ranking number fourteen in that category.

USF DB's 2014 vs. 2015
Year Defensive S&P+ Interceptions Pass Break-Ups DB Havoc Rate DB Havoc Rate Rank
2014 33.2 (96th) 6 22 4.5 115th
2015 25.0 (46th) 17 41 7.7 20th

While still allowing 244.8 passing yards per game, Bulls defensive backs still did an effective job of neutralizing the potency of opposing passing offenses, limiting them to a 56.34% completion rate while posing the threat to fly to the ball a make a havoc" play at anytime. Now, Deatrick Nichols, Ronnie Hoggins and others return to the Raymond Woodie coached defense to improve upon their progress made from last season.

DB CoachAlonzo Hampton

DB Roster*

  • Deatrick Nichols (Junior/Miami, FL)
  • Ronnie Hoggins (Sophomore/Coconut Creek, FL)
  • Jalen Spencer (Senior/Pensacola, FL)
  • Mazzi Wilkins (Sophomore/Tampa, FL)
  • Nate Ferguson (Sophomore/Tampa, FL)
  • Hassan Childs (Junior/Kissimmee, FL)
  • Christian Coffelletto (Redshirt Freshman/Port Charlotte, FL)
  • Cameron Gergley (Sophomore, FL)
  • Bruce Gillis (Senior/Jacksonville, FL)
  • Andrew Hill (Sophomore/Orange Park, FL)
  • Lamar Robbins (Senior, Miami, FL)
  • Trent Shaw (Redshirt Freshman/Lutz, FL)
  • Shannon Smith (Senior/Brandon, FL)
  • Johnny Ward (Senior/Moultrie, GA)

Incoming Freshmen:

*Roster based off team website at time this was written.

Nichols and Hoggins Lead the Charge

To no surprise, first-team All-AAC corner Deatrick Nichols and 2015 Team Freshman of the Year Ronnie Hoggins were named starters when the depth chart was released.

Another product of the Miami Central-USF pipeline that Taggart and his coaching staff has set up, Nichols has seen the field in every single game since arriving to Tampa as a true freshman in 2014. Starting in every game in 2015, the Miami native elevated his profile being an agent of havoc at corner, recording 62 tackles (8.5 TFLs), five pass break-ups, four interceptions, and two forced fumbles on his way to to all-conference honors in just his second season. The two INTs he recorded in USF's 65-27 dismantling of Cincinnati served as a seminal performance for not only the entire secondary but the Bulls defense as a whole. He will look to jam even more opposing receivers in the same role this season.

Like last year, the other side of the field will feature the likes of Ronnie Hoggins, who started ten games as a true freshman, fully displaying Taggart's trust in even the youngest players to immediately come in and start breaking up plays. The former Broward County High School Defensive Player of the Year led the team with six pass break-ups on top of his 26 tackles and two interceptions on the season. Battling with the likes of Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Rodney Adams, and A.J. Legree on a daily basis in should better prepare him for other AAC receivers during his sophomore campaign.

After the two starters, the unit features a variety of familiar faces who could be rotating in and out in different packages or even appearing at safety at certain points. Jalen Spener, Johnny Ward, Mazzi Wilkins, and Hassan Childs are names you could see make several appearances throughout 2016. Then there's the prospect of returning senior Lamar Robbins, who was reinstated to the team after an on-campus firearm incident in October.

If new defensive coordinator Raymond Woodie can continue the defensive model left behind by Tom Allen, the secondary will be in even better shape to utilize it's talent to cause havoc when the season opens vs. Towson.