Spring primer: Five things the Bulls want to accomplish
TAMPA -- USF football opens its first spring under Willie Taggart on Wednesday, with 15 practices leading up to the spring game at Raymond James Stadium on April 13. There's much to learn -- players learning new systems, coaches learning new players -- but Taggart expects to find out a lot about his team and who will be lining up for him this fall. Here are five things the Bulls want to accomplish in the next few weeks:
1. Create an atmosphere of competition at all positions. "All those guys understand that nobody has a job right now," said Taggart, who goes into spring without any firm depth chart. "Everybody's competing. They have to prove to us they can play football how we want it done." So established starters from the Skip Holtz era have to be ready -- consider the offensive line, which had seven returning players start games in 2012. Defensive end should also be a great battle, with returning starters Tevin Mims and Ryne Giddins trying to hold off Notre Dame transfer Aaron Lynch.
2. Find the best option at running back. Taggart is used to having a dominant, primary ballcarrier, and USF's top returning rusher, senior Marcus Shaw, had 252 yards in 2012. "I've been really impressed with Marcus Shaw working this offseason," Taggart said. "He's training really hard, and he's been accountable. ... I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do." His other options are junior Mike Pierre, who redshirted last season, and sophomore Willie Davis, who rushed for 7 yards in 2012.
3. Make progress on finding a starting quarterback. USF has senior Bobby Eveld and sophomore Matt Floyd -- Eveld is healthy from the non-throwing shoulder injury that ended his season after one quarter; Floyd struggled in three games, with no touchdown passes and five interceptions. Taggart likes the leadership he's seen from both -- to understand and execute his offense, they'll need to be smart and instinctive on the field.
4. Establish toughness on both sides of the ball with physical, demanding practices. "We're going to have contact, as much as the NCAA allows us," Taggart said. "We're going to hit a little bit. I want tough football. Soft and football don't mix well. I want tough guys." That goes for offense as much as defense -- Taggart recalled quarterback Andrew Luck as a freshman at Stanford, lowering his shoulder on a tackler after a downfield run, even as coach Jim Harbaugh was yelling for him to slide. The first word that comes up in describing the Taggart offense is usually "toughness."
5. Find reliable (if inexperienced) starters at cornerback. The Bulls totaled two interceptions as a team in 2012 and struggled in late-game situations, and starters Kavyon Webster and George Baker graduated. Who will emerge from a young, inexperienced group? It could be sophomore Kenneth Durden or senior Josh Brown, who played sparingly last fall. Junior college transfer Torrel Saffold, who enrolled in January, is another option, and more help should come in the fall. Redshirt freshman Chris Bivins, rehabbing from knee surgery, is working to get into the mix this fall, as should talented true freshman Lamar Robbins.