Bound for a breakthrough? 7 Bulls to watch
After careful contemplation, a succession of coaches interviews and one intrasquad game expedited by a running clock down the stretch, we proudly reveal our list of Bulls who enjoyed a breakthrough spring.
Or as we like to call them, the Grain of Salt Awards.
Chances are, nearly every spring game staged over the weekend featured a sparkling effort by a previously unheralded player. The odds are equally plausible a lot of those players will return to anonymity when the real thing commences in September.
Remember Steven Bench's dazzling effort (19-for-24, 317 yards, three TDs) in the Bulls' 2014 spring game? Didn't think so. Or how 'bout walk-on WR Chase Whitehead's game-high six catches in last year's Green and White contest? They were six more than he totaled in the '15 regular season.
Nothing against Bench or Whitehead; this is intended more as a disclaimer than a diss job. It also can work the other way; Quinton Flowers had a mediocre spring game last year and turned out okay.
Just bear all this in mind as we unveil the guys (in alphabetical order) who really caught our eye over the last month: A spring performance can be a harbinger of autumn or a mirage.
RT Billy Atterbury
Candidly, we were stunned when this redshirt freshman lined up with the first team on Day 1 of spring, and we remained a bit surprised when he was still there on Day 15.
Whether he stays there for the season opener against Towson remains unclear; junior college transfer Glen Bethel likely will have something to say on that. But there's no question this Clearwater Central Catholic alumnus has endeared himself to coaches with his work ethic and intelligence in the last few months.
"Billy is having a heck of a spring, and he's gonna be competing for a starting job come the fall," Coach Willie Taggart said. "He's aggressive, he's smart and he's highly competitive, and that's just what we want."
DL Bruce Hector
One could argue Hector actually broke through last season (19 tackles, five sacks, one force fumble), but all signs now suggest the Robinson High alumnus is ready to launch to another level.
The widespread opinion is, Hector (6-foot-2, 296 pounds) possesses the best hips on the defensive front, which allowed him to train at the nose, three-technique and even on the edge this spring. In Saturday's Green and White Game, he had three tackles for loss including two sacks (though no one was really allowed to bring down a quarterback).
"Bruce has come a long ways," Taggart said after Saturday's contest. "I expect Bruce to have a monster year this year."
QB Brett Kean
This redshirt freshman waged a serious spring battle for the No. 2 job with Asiantii Woulard, whom many presumed would ultimately wrest the starting job from Flowers. On Saturday, he finished 10-for-16 for 95 yards, including a 38-yard TD to Tyre McCants on an apparent busted coverage.
Remember, "breakthrough season" is a relative term, and if Kean's mobility and crisp arm -- we're talking really crisp -- carries him to the No. 2 job, that would represent a major career stride. If nothing else, USF now has three QBs who appear capable of winning a Division I game, and having three is a prerequisite (ask Will Muschamp or Urban Meyer).
WR A.J. Legree
In the wake of his three-catch junior season, Legree -- who transferred from Kentucky in 2014 -- seemed to make a big play at every spring practice.
On Saturday, he led all receivers with seven catches (for 73 yards). On his longest reception, a 21-yarder from Brett Kean on a miscommunicated comeback route, he turned around a half-second before the pass arrived and still made the catch.
Not to suggest Legree, a state champion high jumper at Fort White High, is poised for a 60-catch season; the Bulls are far too loaded at receiver for that. But he very well could match his '15 total by halftime of the Towson game.
S Jaymon Thomas
At 6-foot-3, 196 pounds, this redshirt freshman might be the most freakish athlete in the secondary. His interception Saturday was one of seemingly a handful he had during the course of 15 spring practices. This is one of those got-to-get-him-on-the-field dudes. Mark our words.
WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling
We entered spring drills fully expecting this Lakewood High alumnus (and N.C. State transfer) to dazzle us, and he did.
Valdes-Scantling's potential in this offense -- which clearly will have a bit of Baylor interspersed -- seems boundless. Whether his 6-5 frame is flanked out wide opposite Rodney Adams, nestled in a funky stack formation or even situated in the slot, he'll be a matchup nightmare.
TE Mitchell Wilcox
We were impressed with Wilcox's athleticism in the 2015 preseason, but with two senior tight ends (Sean Price, Marlon Pope) on the roster, redshirting him made sense.
This year, the Tarpon Springs alumnus (four catches, 45 yards on Saturday) will be on the field regularly. The way USF liberally employs its tight ends, it's a given. Depending on the Bulls' alignment, he might even step on it before sophomore Kano Dillon.
The competition "is tight," position coach David Reaves said 10 days ago. "Mitch obviously was redshirted last year, but he has all the tools to be a good player."