TAMPA — Last season had such a promising start for Ryne Giddins with a sack on USF's first defensive play, then a half-sack two plays later against Chattanooga.
But the defensive end came down awkwardly on his left shoulder a few plays later, tearing the labrum in three places.
Giddins fought through the injury, playing in every game. But his production nearly disappeared — two sacks from there — unable to help as the line struggled to create consistent pressure on quarterbacks during a 3-9 season.
On Thursday, he estimated himself at 90 percent after being limited during spring following surgery on the shoulder.
"I never was really 90 percent (last year). During the season, I was pretty bad," said Giddins, a senior from Seffner's Armwood High. "My left shoulder feels better than my right one now. I feel pretty good, but I'm still a work in progress; have to rehab every day still and get back to normal."
The extent of Giddins' injury wasn't made public last season, so his lack of production wasn't seen in context. But he said the people around him were aware of his limitations. New coach Willie Taggart, as in many cases regarding USF, is focusing on Giddins' present rather than last season, and he likes what he has seen.
"For him to persevere and continue to do what we ask him to do, to rehab and get himself back, that speaks volumes about him and his character," Taggart said. "It's his last year, and he understands that. And he's working his way back in."
Giddins is a big part of a deep, talented group of defensive ends along with seniors Tevin Mims and Julius Forte, Notre Dame transfer Aaron Lynch and sophomore Eric Lee, who started in the second half of last season.
There are quality players inside at tackle as well, led by senior Luke Sager and junior Elkino Watson.
"The competition is really high this year. There's a lot more pressure coming up on everybody on the line," Giddins said. "The competition is rising because nobody wants to get beat out."
Giddins knows he's in his fifth and final season, and healthy again, he has an opportunity to re-establish himself as a player worthy of the high expectations placed on him since he was a Parade All-American at Armwood. That came before he chose USF over Florida, which had just won the national title.
"It's very motivational, seeing those guys pushing me to the next level," he said. "I just want to play my role, whatever role they give me. Whether that's second team, first team, whether I'm here to pass rush, stop the run. Whatever you want me to do, I'm going to do."
Defensive line coach Eric Mathies said the Bulls might employ some packages with more than two natural ends on a four-man line, and Giddins said he'd relish the chance to shift inside and show his strength. He came to USF at 225 pounds and opened last season at 260-265. But he weighed in Thursday at 280 and will bring a bigger frame to the Bulls' pass rush.
"I like … going on the inside a little bit, like standing up," he said. "I feel a lot better (at 280). The weight room staff we have here is first class."
Taggart remembers seeing Giddins as a senior at Armwood and wants to see him return to his most productive times at USF, 5½ sacks among 11 tackles for loss as a sophomore in 2011.
"I knew the potential of what he could be then, and he (now) knows this is his last go-around," Taggart said. "I think he's going to give us everything he has to be the football player he intended to be."
Greg Auman can be reached at [email protected].com. Follow him on Twitter at @GregAuman.