Notes and thoughts from USF's first day in Vero ...
I'm headed back across State Road 60 this morning, with a bunch of things I need to do back home, including a 12:30 p.m. chat here today where I can answer lots of your questions about Bulls football and anything else. First, some quick thoughts from USF's first practice here Wednesday.
-- The folks here at Vero Beach Sports Village have added a full-size football field, and between that and all the USF signage up around the place, it's as if the Bulls are on campus. In the past, the Bulls have practiced in the outfields, where players were careful because they had warning tracks and infield dirt around the area they were working, so this is an impressive upgrade. I hope they still scrimmage under the lights in Holman Stadium on Monday, just for the nostalgia of its Dodger history. They've added a softball complex here in the last year as well.
-- USF's depth at receiver really stands out in practice, with waves of guys making nice catches and impressive moves. They're not in full pads yet, so it's easier to do that, yes. But you see five proven receivers in Sterling Griffin, Andre Davis, Terrence Mitchell, Deonte Welch and Victor Marc, who all could have 20-plus catches -- last year, those five players had 136 catches last season after combining for ONE in 2010.
Then you wonder who this year's big emerging targets will be: Florida transfer Chris Dunkley and freshman D'Vario Montgomery make the most sense, and there's sophomore Ruben Gonzalez and speedy Derrick Hopkins as well, and while he's likely to redshirt, Alex Mut made some sharp catches on Wednesday. That doesn't count the tight ends, which bring experience (Landi, Shields, Hawkins) and promise (McFarland, Price).
-- As we've reported, finding an answer for that second starting corner is a major priority, with senior George Baker getting the first crack at it against three challengers: January enrollees Fidel Montgomery and Josh Brown and redshirt freshman Kenneth Durden. I think of Chattanooga as a key extension of the open competition going on for that job right now.
-- Impressed to hear that true freshman Tashon Whitehurst from Gainesville could get a look as a true freshman. He's a bit in that Reshard Cliett situation two years ago, where coaches like what they see but also recognize that he's 190 pounds. USF has that class of four redshirt freshman linebackers -- Bullock, Caprice, Pozniak and Hamilton -- and with those four all making their debuts, it'll be telling about coaches' optimism about Whitehurst if he plays this fall. Remember, USF will lose three of its current top five linebackers to graduation, so they have to at least be aware of getting more guys game experience for 2013 when context allows for it this fall.
-- I've plugged this before, but if you come to Vero to see the Bulls and you like amazing, gloopy-messy sandwiches, the grouper reuben -- yes, trust me -- at the Red Onion (4069 Ocean Driver) is to die for. I'm coming over here three times, and I think I will have at least three.
-- Not to take away from my own photography, because I do own a cellphone, but Bulls fans would do well to bookmark the Facebook page of Dani Antonucci Photography. Dani's the wife of longtime USF assistant AD Larry Antonucci, and she's done a great job of uploading tons of pics from summer workouts. She posted 20 from Vero on Wednesday and there's some great shots -- Skip in his bucket hat, Lindsey Lamar and Victor Marc smiling, a sweat-soaked Steve Shankweiler yelling, Aaron Lynch offering up the Bulls hand sign.
-- Roster minutiae! Lots of tiny tweaks from the Newport roster we reported to the Vero 105-man roster. Antonio Hughes, the walk-on junior college cornerback, was added and is wearing No. 27, and the Bulls exchanged walk-on receivers wearing No. 25, with Allen Singleton shifting to the first-day-of-class group and Clinton Jones stepping in.
For my video-game roster-junkies perfectionists, the following jersey changes: Mike Pierre from 30 to 45, Jalen Spencer from 33 to 30, Ernie Tabuteau from 24 to 31, Tye Turner from 45 to 33, Ryan Eppes from 16 to 11, Spencer Cavalieri from 37 to 38, Jake Carlton from 42 to 41, Zach Fisher from 47 to 43, Taborie Sullivan from 41 to 47, Stefan Konjonavski from 66 to 61, Soslan Gagloev from 61 to 63, Mak Djulbegovic from 62 to 71.
-- More transactions -- we told you in June that Ronald Pierre, Mike's brother and a solid junior college linebacker, was walking on with the Bulls, but he picked up a scholarship to West Texas A&M so he'll be playing Division II ball there. ... Another expected walk-on, Tampa Bay Tech offensive lineman Caleb Tucker, is going to start classes at USF in January and join the team in spring. ... Marquis White, the raw defensive tackle from Orlando who left the Bulls in December after only one semester, says he'll play at Fort Scott Community College in Kansas this fall. That's where Jason Pierre-Paul and Jacquian Williams played before they got to USF.
-- OK, off to drive for three hours. See you guys here at 12:30 ...