Taggart: Big decisions could be made in Vero
VERO BEACH -- USF football moved its preseason training camp across the state on Saturday, practicing in the afternoon in Vero Beach to open an eight-day stay bunkered down at the Vero Beach Sports Village, formerly the spring training home of the Dodgers.
The Bulls return home next weekend for the final two weeks of drills before the Aug. 31 season opener against McNeese State, but coach Willie Taggart has made it clear to his players that if they want to show something, they need to do so here in Vero.
"We told them before we left Tampa that when we leave Vero, we're going to have a pretty clear understanding of who we're going into the season with, who is going to pretty much help us or not," Taggart said. "We need each one of those guys individually to come here and have the best camp they can have. ... We've got a lot of competition at a lot of positions."
The biggest competition remains at quarterback, where sophomore Matt Floyd looked to be working with the first-team offense for the second day in a row, ahead of senior Bobby Eveld, who worked with the starters in the first few days of camp. Two newcomers, Penn State transfer Steven Bench and freshman Mike White, will try to show they've picked up the offense enough to compete for the starting job as well.
Taggart has praised several true freshmen who are making a case to play this fall, potentially in key roles -- running back Darius Tice and cornerbacks Lamar Robbins and Hassan Childs have gotten consistent praise at positions where the Bulls don't have established depth.
The Bulls will have their first two-a-day practices Sunday, but as much as the competition, Taggart wants the week in Vero Beach, isolated from all distractions, to forge a chemistry and closeness among the Bulls for his first season. Defensive players have offensive players for roommates with a good mix of veterans and newcomers -- in meetings, they might be quizzed about their roommate's siblings names or other personal information to help make sure they're getting to know their teammates.
"It's just the coaches and the guys, just us, out here and working," said Taggart, who hasn't taken a team off campus for camp as a head coach, but experienced it as an NFL intern with the Raiders and Eagles. "We want to come together as a football team, become a lot closer as a football team. ... When we leave here, we understand each other, so when we do go to battle, we know what we're battling for and that we care about each other."
The week in Vero is expensive -- USF will spend about $180,000 to use the facilities, including all lodging and food for the players and coaches, but in staying eight days instead of 11, the Bulls will save about $80,000 from last year's camp costs. The team has another week of practice on campus after returning to Vero Beach, then begins normal game-week preparations on Aug. 26, the first day of fall classes.
THIS AND THAT: Sophomore Thor Jozwiak, competing for a starting guard spot on the offensive line, was not with the team for Saturday's practice. A reason for his absence was not immediately available. ... True freshman RB Sta'fon McCray was among the players lining up deep for kickoff returns, and freshman fullback Auggie Sanchez (whose brother Armando was a special-teams standout for the Bulls) was working as a blocker on the return unit.