Daniels thankful for chance to play this spring
TAMPA -- At first, the news put something of a damper on the excitement for Skip Holtz's first spring at USF: Quarterback B.J. Daniels, recovering from surgery on his non-throwing shoulder, would be held out of all scrimmages during the spring.
With Daniels as USF's only scholarship quarterback, his limitations could have translated to limitations for the entire offense, trying to learn a new scheme under new coordinator Todd Fitch and quarterbacks coach Peter Vaas. There also would be limitations on USF's spring game, which wouldn't have a bona fide quarterback to lead one offense, let alone two.
But halfway through spring drills, Daniels was feeling good and doing everything but taking hits, and USF had exciting news: Last year's breakout star would be able to play in Saturday night's spring game, just with a quick whistle to stop plays before that shoulder took any kinds of contact. That's good for fans tonight, and even better for USF's offensive players and coaches.
"It's been invaluable," Vaas said this week. "People have the feeling that he's been around for a long time. He's still very young, so the more snaps he can get -- you couple that with a new system, new coaches and all that stuff, it's been tremendous for him to be out there."
Daniels, who took over as a redshirt freshman for senior Matt Grothe three games into last season, is still recovering physically from a partially torn rotator cuff -- he said if he had to play a real game today, he wouldn't be ready to take hits from a live opponent. In the weeks after his surgery in February, he said he was "depressed" at the prospect of a spring without practice to execute what he was learning. But with steady progress in his rehab, he's been happy to settle for his bright red non-contact jersey and the learning it's afforded him.
"It feels good to not really miss spring at all," Daniels said. "Going to rehab is a pain, but whatever it takes to get better. I'm thankful and blessed to have the opportunity to play in the spring game."
Holtz knew he had a player to build around from watching tape of last season, when Daniels threw for 1,983 yards and 14 touchdowns while rushing for a team-high 772 and nine more scores. Getting to see him for 15 practices this spring has been important for Holtz to know his quarterback's strengths and weaknesses.
"For him to get all those reps, even though he's had to have a red jersey on, B.J. doesn't have to prove his toughness to me," Holtz said. "For him to get the mental reps -- you can talk about it on a board all you want, but if you come out here, see it live with the tempo and everything, it's been invaluable for him to get all those reps. Valuable not just for him, but for us as an offensive football team, for him to be out there as the leader, the spokesperson in the huddle with all the experience he has."
Holtz has a new format this season -- instead of the team evenly split through a draft, he'll have a "South Florida" team, with the No. 1 offense (including Daniels) and the No. 2 defense, up against a "Bulls" team, with the No. 1 defense and No. 2 offense. So the scrimmage will pit USF's No. 1 offense and defense against each other, with the second-string units also going head-to-head.
The main attraction might be the chance to see Holtz on the sidelines at Raymond James, though he'll watch at least the first half from the press box, liking the perspective from up high as he communicates with his coordinators on the sidelines.
Fitch's offense will call for much fewer designed quarterback runs -- the team's leading rusher in each of the past four seasons has been its quarterback, a streak Holtz hopes will end this fall, with senior Mo Plancher and sophomore Demetris Murray looking like the top two options at running back. Daniels is learning new terminology and a new scheme, with more two-back looks and more screen passes and other tweaks.
"It's a big whirlwind right now," Daniels said. "The good thing about it is it's just spring. I have a big, long summer ahead to get things right. Right now, I'm trying to make sure I learn the plays and help the other guys around me."
The offense continues to be a work in progress -- speedy Lindsey Lamar is taking well to a switch from running back to receiver, though he'll continue to make appearances at both positions. Saturday night will be the first sneak peak at what the Bulls will look like in September, with walk-on Ryan Eppes expected to lead the No. 2 offense when Daniels isn't on the field.
"We've got some guys who definitely have opportunities to shine and show what they can do," Daniels said.