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With seven spring practices completed, the UCF football coaching staff said there is still room for improvement and there are no official starters yet.

"I've been pleased," head coach George O'Leary said. "I don't think these kids are not making an effort out there."

However, Justin Holman, a starter for 12 games last season, returns for spring football — the first time O'Leary has had a starting quarterback return for spring football since former UCF and current Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles.

"Justin's doing a lot more things, and [has] a lot more awareness out there," O'Leary said.

But on the defensive side of the ball, a lot more is left up for grabs. Most of UCF's strong 2014 defense has left for graduation. Of returning players, senior Lance McDowdell has appeared to have improved and is playing more aggressively, O'Leary said.

"He's tough to handle inside when you want to try and single him up as a center, and I think he deserved it," O'Leary said. "But there's no starters …When we play FIU, you'll see the starters."

Perhaps the position with the most to prove in the spring is the safeties. Brandon Alexander and Clayton Geathers, who are now pursuing their NFL dreams, provided strong play over the past two seasons, and UCF needs to fill the void.

"I don't think they've been challenged enough," O'Leary said. "I'm not happy with [the safeties'] tackling right now. I see them working at it, but it's one thing to talk about it and then another to do it on the field."

New defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan said there is no doubt that the strength of the defense begins at the defensive line.

"It starts with the tackles inside, and then stems out to the [defensive] ends, and then we kind of build ourselves as we go back toward the back end," Bresnahan said. "It's starting right up front. They are getting better each and every practice, and that will be the strength of our defensive unit."

With Terrance Plummer entering for the NFL draft, a new middle linebacker will need to step up for the Knights' interior defense. Seniors Domenic Spencer (5-foot-10, 229 pounds) and Errol Clarke (6-foot-1, 240 pounds) have both seen time at the position.

The Knights have seven more spring practices. Six of those practices will be open to the public, with the seventh practice on April 17 being private. Spring football will conclude with the spring game April 18 at 2 p.m. at Bright House Networks Stadium.

"Competition breeds success, and the one good thing that I saw out there is that nobody sucks their thumb, nobody takes it for granted that they've got the starting job," Bresnahan said. "They've got to compete."

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Victor Ng is a contributing writer for the Central Florida Future.

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