Observations from USF's final scrimmage of spring
Some quick thoughts from Saturday's scrimmage ...
-- I left the two scrimmages impressed with redshirt freshman receiver Deonte Welch. His numbers Saturday were easily the best of any receiver -- six catches for 110 yards. (The rest, if you're interested: Landi 3-56, Griffin 2-36, Mitchell 4-30, Marc 2-25, Shields 2-24, Aycock 4-17, Murray 2-16, Scott 1-10, Breit 1-9, Virgin 2-9, Miller 1-8, Hornes 1-6, Hopkins 1-6, Bravo-Brown 2-6.) And on a day where Skip Holtz was upset about receivers not battling for passes, the play that stands out most to me was Welch wresting the ball away from Quenton Washington for a 50-yard completion from Bobby Eveld. I'd like to see a replay, in that I thought Washington had the pick going down, but Welch managed to come up with it, and it also gave Eveld a spark for the rest of the day.
-- Having said that, I think USF's defensive backs did well in the last two games to come up with interceptions when the opportunities were there. Skip Holtz and Mark Snyder have been frank about the lack of picks from the secondary last fall -- safety Jerrell Young, with three, was the only defensive back with more than one in 2010. Saturday saw Mark Joyce and Kayvon Webster with deep-ball picks, and Webster was able to turn it 70 yards into a pick-six. That defensive scoring was sorely missed last fall, and the speed on USF's defense, both at linebacker and in the secondary, should account for more direct impact on the scoreboard this fall.
-- I think B.J. Daniels' success this fall will again by tied directly to his ability to limit his mistakes. He had two turnovers in his first three drives Saturday, fumbling on a sack by Claude Davis (who had a strong spring) and then getting hit as he threw by Julius Forte, resulting in a punt-like pass that Curtis Weatherspoon came down with for an interception. Daniels looked much more elusive this spring in his scrambling -- when I asked Davis who had impressed him this spring, on either side of the ball, he went right to Daniels, saying that he has the offense down at another level and it shows on the field. There are a ton of criteria to determine USF's record this fall, but high on the list will be whether Daniels can cut down on his turnovers while scaring defenses with his ability to take off on his own.
-- I liked the makeshift aspect of playing on USF's soccer field -- it wasn't long enough, so the field was just 90 yards, going up to 45 yards and back down, and there's no place for uprights on one end, so teams kept flipping at midfield so as to be driving toward the end zone where they could kick extra points. When Kayvon Webster returned a pick 70 yards for a touchdown right before halftime, no kick was attempted, and the phantom point was later added to the scoreboard, the rare Team PAT. There aren't many links to USF's early football days, but the team chaplain, David Lane, remembered not only seeing an early scrimmage at the soccer stadium where Charlie Jackson caught a long touchdown on the first pass -- he also remembered Baltimore Colts players training on the same field in his youth and seeing Johnny Unitas there when Lane was only 9 years old. I had no idea ...
-- Here's a fun question I want your answers on: How many catches will Terrence Mitchell have this fall? He didn't have any last fall, used only on the occasional reverse and deep route, where his speed was put to good use. But most of his catches this spring were quick, short passes, and I don't remember Mitchell dropping one in the last two scrimmages. The quick screen was a good way for USF to pick up first-down yardage last season, and if Mitchell can establish himself with a few of those early, it'll draw opposing defensive backs up closer to set them up for deep throws. Offensive coordinator Todd Fitch talked about how well Mitchell has embraced the position this spring, so we could see a much more well-rounded receiver in Mitchell this fall. With his speed and being as new to the position as he still is, he has as much upside as any of USF's receivers, especially if his hands are an asset as well. And if he has the most upside, the last two scrimmages have shown Evan Landi may be the most reliable of USF's receivers, coming up with big catches across the middle in both games. The wild cards are two players missing these last two weeks: A.J. Love, whose knee is again a question mark entering his sixth season, and Lindsey Lamar, who missed all of spring drills following shoulder surgery.
-- I've neglected to mention it here on the blog, but one consistent presence at spring practice has been former Bucs defensive tackle Chris Hovan, who has worked as a volunteer with the defensive line. Hovan is still hopeful of playing in the NFL this fall -- after parting ways with the Bucs, he signed with the Rams last summer but spent the year on injured reserve with a back injury. Even if his help is only for the spring, it's a great influence on USF's defensive linemen.
-- Whether it was USF's No. 1 defense or the No. 2 or a mishmash of 2s and 3s, I kept seeing linebacker Reshard Cliett on the field, which tells you how much the coaches want to see him on the field. Snyder said he and Mike Jeune simply can't get enough reps right now as they try to learn the scheme in a hurry. One of Snyder's best challenges this fall will be finding ways to use his linebacker depth situationally -- clearly he has speed packages that can utilize Cliett and Weatherspoon, and Jeune's big hit on Stephen Bravo-Brown after an interception was a reminder of what a hitter he can be. If the three returning starters (Barrington, Lattimore, Lanaris) are what will make USF a good defense this fall, the optimal use of those backups could be what makes the defense great.
-- Having two units go for two hours requires more depth than USF really has, but it also put a handful of walk-ons in position to show something -- we've talked all spring about Tabuteau, who had a nice breakup on a deep pass to Griffin, but cornerback Brandon Salinas had another leaping play to break up a touchdown in the second half. Marvin Kloss had three field goals as the No. 2 kicker (with one miss) and fullback Chris Breit had a 9-yard catch out of the backfield.
-- One thing to watch for in the fall is the use of two running backs in the same backfield -- USF did that more last year with a fullback like Richard Kelly, but with good depth at running back and limited options at fullback, you could see new combinations -- Demetris Murray and Dontae Aycock, Darrell Scott and Marcus Shaw, etc. Murray and Scott ran well Saturday, while Aycock struggled to get yardage, netting 9 yards on 9 carries. Adding Shaw, Battles and freshman Willie Davis in the fall gives Todd Fitch options for situational use, but it looks like Murray and Scott should be the primary ballcarriers in this offense. Another fun play from Saturday was a fourth-and-1 at the 5-yard line -- Bobby Eveld fumbled the snap, but in the scrum the loose ball scooted forward, and Quinterrius Eatmon recovered the loose ball for a first down at the 2, setting up a Scott touchdown. Scott has the size to be a between-the-tackles option on the goal line, but he showed something in taking a pitch wide and beating defenders to the pylon for the scrimmage's last touchdown.