There were many position battles to watch this spring, but none as important as the offensive line. The Bulls graduated three senior linemen in Sampson Genus , Jake Sims and Jamar Bass who all played a lot of snaps for USF. With those players gone and several spots open across the line, all eyes were on which players will step up and emerge as starters and impact players on the offensive line.
"I feel really good about 5-6 of the offensive linemen right now," said Holtz. "I think we're going to have a starting five that's going to be competitive."
At tackle, Mark Popek has the most experience, playing in 19 games and starting nine, at tackle over the last two seasons. He battled a few cases of food poisoning and lost some weight before the spring, all while making the switch to the left side, but was still able to show enough to earn the starting left tackle position throughout the spring. The biggest surprise was redshirt freshman Quinterrius Eatmon . He lost close to 60 pounds since arriving on campus and is built like a true tackle and through his hard work earned a starting spot at right tackle. He still needs to work on his body after losing so much weight, but has shown plenty of potential.
"Popek had a great spring, for a guy that's been a back-up for his whole career and then come in and have the spring he did and Q. Eatmon is just a breath of fresh air, he came in as a freshman and we needed him to come on and he did." I feel good about those five, the tackles, and Jeremiah Warren and Chaz Hine, I feel really good about them."
At center Kevin McCaskill , another fifth year senior that saw a lot of action backing up Genus, had the most experience of the returning centers and was listed as the first team center throughout the spring. He kept the spot, but still needs to keep improving this summer.
Junior Damien Edwards and redshirt sophomore John McGhin both had good springs along with Danous Estenor and redshirt freshman Austin Reiter , who was listed as the second team center. Other players got reps there too and that's a position to watch over the summer. All will be in the mix to add depth.
"A lot of those guys are starting to come along," said Holtz. "But they're still not where we need them to be to say they're starters and our two deep."
In the first part of our series Holtz mentioned the biggest concerns coming out of the spring and one of them is the offensive line and the depth at the unit. The incoming freshmen will have an opportunity to make an impact.
"We're going to need some of these freshmen to come in here and I'm really excited to see them," said Holtz. "Some of the freshmen are going to have a chance to play and some doors are open. There are some holes on the offensive line from a depth standpoint, there will be some opportunities there."
"A lot of those five linemen coming in here, some of them will have a chance to help this football team. That's going to be critical for how good we're going to be. That's going to be the depth and the offensive line is the biggest area of concern I have right now."
To help bolster depth in case of injury almost every player including the offensive linemen cross trained two positions this past spring.
"The theme of the spring was everybody needs to learn two positions," said Holtz. "We did it on both sides of the ball and on the O-line we took Jeremiah from guard to tackle and we took Chaz Hine from guard to center."
There's still plenty of competition for the two deep on the O-line and Holtz and the staff are still tinkering to get the best combinations to place on the field
McCaskill may have the inside track at center and is still fighting to be a starter, but who the Bulls top back-up at center is still a question mark? Would it be Reiter or would Chaz Hine slide over if something happened to McCaskill?
"It depends on what happens behind them all," said Holtz. "It depends upon how Austin Reiter continues to come. If Austin is playing at a starter level, then no, we'd leave Chaz right where he is and move Austin up. You got to take your first five like you're having a draft and pick your best 5 and how to get them on the field. Well two or three of them are guards, so somebody has got to go to center.
That's why cross training is so important and the same goes with the back-ups at this point. How is Max Lang going to come, how is Brynjar Gudmundsson going to come, how's Boo Simon and Thor Jozwiak going to come? Where are they going to be and are they going to come in and press for time at center or guard? Then maybe all of a sudden Chaz Hine at center makes sense and is a good move."
A few positions are set, but there's still a competition going on with players who play at different positions.
"Popek and Q Eatmon are pretty set at the tackle positions," said Holtz. "Warren can go either in or out. I think he's better at guard and would like to keep him there if he can continue to build on the outside. At center you have to ask if we're better with McCaskill at center and Chaz at guard, or Chaz at center and Estenor at guard. Right now McCaskill is competing with Estenor, even though they're at different positions. That's who's competing for starting jobs. If McCaskill is further ahead then you move him up, but if Estenor is further ahead you move Chaz in and Estenor up or Estenor to center, but I think Chaz is better at center."
With Popek and Eatmon locked in at tackle, who would be the Bulls top back-up at tackle?
"Right now Damien Edwards would be the top back up at tackle," said Holtz. "Edwards would be the top back-up with who was here this spring. I'd consider moving Warren out if I didn't have any other options. The next time we're together, I'm going to get to see these freshmen and see what they're going to be like." Holtz said that if one of them comes along and you can pick one, say it's Lang, then they and Edwards would be the two tackles and there would be no need to move Warren out because they'd be two deep. "If something were to happen we'd have to look at and see if moving Warren out and moving Estenor up is better than playing Edwards."
Holtz said that the third tackle Edwards is competing with the third guard Estenor just as McCaskill is competing with Estenor to give them their best options. "Those three, McCaskill and Reiter at center and then Estenor at guard and Edwards at tackle. That gives you a back-up at center, the third guard and the third tackle and I need to find the other two and I don't know who they are yet. That may be John McGhin if he comes in and loses a little weight and has a great fall camp or it could be Powe the senior, or it could be one of the incoming freshmen."
In trying to get a good feel for the two-deep and who the top back-ups are, Holtz is unsure of who would be next because they have so many different combinations that they could use.
"It might be Edwards, it may be Estenor," said Holtz. "It might be Estenor up and Edwards out. It might be Edwards up and Warren out, or it might be Hine in, Estenor up and Warren out. There are a lot of combinations we could go with and because we don't have the depth we need, that's why learning two positions has been the key this spring because we need that flexibility to get our best five on the field."
Holtz is happy with where the offensive line is at coming out of the spring, but won't know how good they can be depth wise until this summer.
"Not having ten bodies here to say this is how we're two deep, once the freshmen get here we'll get a better look at where we're at," said Holtz. "That's part of the puzzle you can't put together yet until we come in for fall camp to get that finished product. I feel good about where we are, but there are still a lot of question marks and unknowns."
Stay tuned with USFNation.com for the next segment of this series.