TAMPA — USF's players reported for the start of preseason camp, and coach Skip Holtz made it clear he expects more from his special-teams units, especially in punting and punt returns.
"I think we can definitely do a better job kicking the football, especially from a punting standpoint," Holtz said. "When your goal is 38 yards for a net punt, which would put you as a top 20 team, and you average 34 yards a punt, it's hard to make your net.
"I thought we did a good job, we didn't give up a lot of return yards, but we have to do a better job punting the ball."
Last year's starter, senior Justin Brockhaus-Kann, is being pushed by redshirt freshman walk-on Mattias Ciabatti, a Hillsborough grad who came out of spring drills listed as the starter. Net punting has been a concern in both of Holtz's seasons at USF, with an average of 34.7 yards last year and even lower at 34.2 in 2010.
Improvement on punt returns should be easier, with the healthy return of sophomore Terrence Mitchell, who missed most of last season after suffering a concussion. The Bulls averaged just 6.5 yards a punt return last year, down from 11.5 in 2010, when Mitchell earned freshman All-America honors. He returned healthy this spring and will be back deep this season.
"Terrence Mitchell is our starting punt returner," Holtz said. "I will say this very comfortably, that he would have to lose it. I haven't seen anything to tell me that would happen. We missed him badly when he was injured a year ago. … He's catching the ball much smoother than he has in the past. He brings that speed and athleticism."
MOVING ON: Holtz said six scholarship players who were to be with the Bulls won't be with the program this fall.
DBs Ricardo Dixon and Spencer Boyd, as expected, won't be back, and Holtz had news Sunday that three junior backups — TE Isaac Virgin, WR Stephen Bravo-Brown and G John McGhin — would not be with the team. Freshman S Jarvis McCall of Armwood had a "situation" over the summer, Holtz said, and is expected to join the team in January.
None of the six were in position to play significant roles for the Bulls. Virgin, a highly touted recruit when he came to USF, never realized that potential and had just one catch last season. Bravo-Brown was a walk-on who had been placed on scholarship last fall, but he had only four catches in 2011; McGhin graduated Saturday in just three years at USF and will not use his remaining eligibility.
Dixon has already transferred to Division I-AA Youngstown State. Boyd had been gone from the team, then was allowed back for spring drills under stipulations which were not met.
THIS AND THAT: Holtz said he has promised senior walk-on S Ernie Tabuteau he will be placed on scholarship this fall. … New freshman walk-ons include former Jesuit QB Tommy Eveld (whose brother Bobby is a junior) and Land O'Lakes TE Jackson Cannon. … The Bulls will practice in shorts today and Tuesday, then leave for 11 days in Vero Beach on Wednesday, with scrimmages planned for Aug. 13 and Aug. 18.