TAMPA — For two months, Skip Holtz has been all smiles and handshakes, actively engaging with the public in town-hall meetings and a slew of TV and radio appearances.
Today, he really gets to be USF's football coach, as the Bulls open a month of spring practice with an afternoon session, his first true look at his new team since being hired in January. And the big question for USF fans in the spring and perhaps into the fall: What will the Bulls look like under their new staff?
You can get a sense from his East Carolina teams, especially on offense, where coordinator Todd Fitch and offensive line coach Steve Shankweiler are on his USF staff.
"Some offenses, you feel like they don't have a plan, that they're just calling plays. They really have a plan for each situation," said Southern Miss defensive coordinator Todd Bradford, who split two meetings with the Pirates in the past two years. "They're extremely well-coached, and they don't make mistakes. There's a pretty good chess match when you're up against Coach Holtz and Coach Fitch."
Southern Miss beat ECU 21-3 in 2008, but the Pirates got revenge last year. Bradford wasn't as worried about ECU's 1,000-yard rusher Dominique Lindsay as he was versatile receiver Dwayne Harris, who caught 83 passes but also ran the ball 31 times in an assortment of unorthodox plays.
"I had nightmares about the guy for two years," said Bradford, who saw Harris score on a 34-yard reverse in the Pirates' 25-20 win last year. "That play was the kind of thing you saw from his teams. They're going to do different things to get their playmakers the ball."
Other things to look for from the new Bulls offense:
• More screen passes and two-back looks: Fitch likes what he calls "screens, draws and delays," which he considers as important as conventional running and passing plays. "That will be a bigger part of our deal than they've done here in the past," Fitch said. "We'll have a little more of a two-back run game. They didn't have much of that. We will commit to that daily. Our defensive guys are going to see it against Rutgers, against Pitt, against Connecticut. Coach Holtz's philosophy is that even if it's not what you do best, your defense needs it."
• More wildcat looks and special packages: Expect regular cameos in the fall, especially in the red zone. Holtz and Fitch have two versions: "Jet" involves a direct snap to someone other than the starting quarterback — receiver and former quarterback Evan Landi is a possibility — and "Mix," when starter B.J. Daniels is on the field but not at quarterback.
• Creative use of speedy Lindsey Lamar: As a freshman, Lamar made a splash early last season, getting 142 total yards and two touchdowns in the first three games. His tiny frame was used less in Big East play as he totaled 68 yards in the final 10 games. Fitch wants to find inventive ways to use the sprinter as he did running back Chris Johnson at East Carolina.
"One of our challenges, once he's comfortable with our base system, we have to find ways to get him the ball," Fitch said. "It's our job to get him the ball on the perimeter. … (With Johnson) we were the fastest-scoring team in the country. Our scoring drives were like a minute and 30 seconds, but it was because of that guy. You need a kid with that kind of speed on the perimeter. That makes you more explosive. He's not as big as Chris — he has great toughness, he works as hard as you want him to work. I told him, 'Here's your challenge: get yourself to 175 pounds by fall.' "