Welcome to the latest installment of our new series, “Welcome New Bulls!”. This series is devoted to discussing each position group in the USF recruiting class of 2019 and my expectations for each player as they prepare for their first collegiate season adorning green and gold for our beloved Bulls. While it’s difficult to predict exactly how much each true freshmen will contribute on the field in year one at the collegiate level, I’ll take a stab at it based on the most current USF roster available. Without further ado, let’s get the show on the road!
As the season inches closer and closer to the Wisconsin game on August 30th, let’s take a closer look at the class of 2019 LB room consisting of Demaurez Bellamy (@DemaurezB), Tae’Aviion Gray (@TaeAviion), and Darius Williams (@DWilliams11Inc). In the following paragraphs, I’ll do a brief breakdown on each player along with my expectation on what 2019 (and beyond) holds for each linebacker.
Let’s start with 5-10, 223 LB linebacker Demaurez Bellamy out of DeLand High School in DeLand, FL. According to 247, Bellamy was rated as a two-star recruit through the recruiting service with a three-star 247Sports Composite rating. As a recruit, Bellamy received offers from schools such as Rutgers, Syracuse, UCF, Toledo, and Marshall to name a few.
As we step into the film room, the first thing that I would like to mention is Bellamy’s ability to play on both sides of the ball. At DeLand, Bellamy saw snaps at both linebacker and running back, two positions that he excelled at during his high school career. From a LB standpoint, Bellamy’s bread and better was getting into the backfield, whether he was coming off of a blitz or with his hand in the dirt as a defensive end. The speed and quickness that he showed on film has to have a defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary excited about his ability as a blitzer at the next level. Bellamy showed that he is a sound tackler as well, showing off his strength a few times by laying into the ball carrier on open field tackles.
As for the 2019 season, I expect Bellamy to redshirt as the LB group looks to have depth at the position for the first time in several years, but that may not be the case with Bellamy listed as the #2 WLB (weakside linebacker) behind Antonio Grier (per Joey Knight via Twitter). If that sticks throughout the season, we could see Bellamy take significant snaps each game depending on how much the LB group is rotated in and out. Bellamy could also be a contributor on special teams as well, being a prime candidate to pull an Antonio Grier and start his collegiate career there before contributing at the LB position full-time.
Looking past 2019 brings us to 2020 where Nico Sawtelle will be moving on from the green and gold after this season. That leaves Dwayne Boyles and Antonio Grier as your projected starters at the LB position heading into 2020. Now who fills the MLB spot is anyone’s guess with both Sawtelle and Patrick Macon gone after this season. What I’ll be curious to see next year (even this year to be honest) is whether or not BJM decides to go with more 3 LB sets with the position having enough talent/depth to run those type of formations now. This would allow the defense to run different looks against an offense along with benefiting the entire LB position from a playing time standpoint with three guys out on the field instead of two. If this becomes the case, expect Bellamy to be a contributor at the position in the coming years with more opportunities to see the field being available at that time.
Next up we have 6-2, 208 LB linebacker Tae’Aviion Gray out of Brook County High School in Quitman, GA. According to 247, Gray was rated as a three-star recruit out of high school, receiving offers from schools such as Washington State, UAB, South Alabama, Appalachian State, and Georgia Southern to name a few.
As we step into the film room, the first thing that you will notice from Gray’s film is his position on defense. (#88 on the right side of the line at DE). Even with him being at a different position in HS than the one he was recruited at for USF, two things stood out to me that will benefit him at the LB position down the road. First, his speed and quickness before making contact with the guy in front of him is impressive, no matter where the coaching staff plans to line him up on the field. As a DE with his hand in the dirt, his first step and explosion up the field makes him a lethal option at the line of scrimmage if he was positioned there in the future. Second, his ability to fight off blocks and stand his ground after contact bodes well for him as a LB that will go against the OL in a similar manner. This is a strong kid that should do well in this area of his game from a run support standpoint if they chose to play him behind the DL at LB in the future.
Similar to Bellamy, Gray may also be a steady contributor on defense as the current #2 SLB (strongside linebacker) behind Boyles. Along with seeing snaps at LB, Gray could also be a factor on special teams with his size and speed, so don’t count him out there either.
Looking past 2019 brings us to 2020 where much of what I said earlier with Bellamy echoes here as well. The one thing that differs with Gray and Bellamy is the chance that Gray will be used on the line in a two-point stance as an OLB, similar to where Trey Laing lined up several times during the spring game. With that being said, there is also the possibility that Gray transitions into a “true” LB position, much like Boyles did coming from the DE position in high school as well. However, the latter seems more likely with Gray backing up Boyles at this point.
Last, but not least, we have 6-0, 252 LB linebacker Darius Williams out of Norland High School in Miami, FL. If you read my OL article from this series, you would notice that Williams was teammates with fellow Bull Joshua Blanchard at Norland HS. According to 247, Williams was rated as a three-star recruit out of high school, receiving offers from schools such as Miami, Arkansas, Syracuse, UCF, and FIU to name a few.
As we step into the film room, the first thing that you notice from his film is the fact that Williams made a living filling up running lanes as a LB for Norland HS. I liked his ability to read and react to what was happening in front of him, often being at the right place at the right time to stop the ball carrier in his tracks. As a true MLB, Williams was able to sort through “the mess” up front to meet the RB in the gap, a skill needed to succeed at this level at the position. Williams is a sound tackler that had no problem making the play in a congested area or out in the open field with no help around him. When he was not at MLB, Williams would move to the line of scrimmage in a two-point stance at OLB where he was effective in holding up against the run to his side of the field.
As for the 2019 season, I expect Williams to redshirt with Sawtelle and Macon as the #1 and #2 at the MLB position. Similar to Bellamy and Gray, Williams could find himself some playing time on special teams for the time being as he catches up to speed with the collegiate game at the position.
Looking past 2019 brings us to 2020 where the defense may move to more three linebacker sets to add bigger bodies on the field. (As it would replace the 5th defensive back on the field in a 4-2-5 defense). With Williams up +16 pounds since late June (as mentioned by USF Senior Writer Tom Zebold in a recent article), Williams now sits at 252 LBs, around the same weight class as fellow LB Patrick Macon who weighs in at 245 LBs. Until further notice, Williams is still at the LB position (as he should be), but playing at his current weight also gives the staff flexibility to move him around on defense where he can be a force against the run. My guess is that the staff currently has him at MLB, giving Williams a good opportunity to contend for the starting job heading into the 2020 season.
Leave your thoughts and comments below and be sure to tune in before the Wisconsin game when I breakdown the class of 2019 DB room!