Special teams might be the area where USF makes its biggest improvements this fall. Knowing that, a group of key seniors went to coaches to remind them that though they're playing key roles on offense and defense, they want to play special teams as well.
"That kind of being a weak point for us last year, we went to (special teams coach Vernon Hargreaves) and were like, 'Hey, I want to be on everything,' " said senior Michael Lanaris, a starter at middle linebacker also slated to start on three of the four main special-teams units. "I think it's something we need to take a great sense of pride in. A lot of starters are. It's a huge facet of the game and we think we can improve on that."
Asking key starters to add a special-teams role is risky, given that last year's Bulls lost several games in the fourth quarter, when fatigue can set in without enough substitutions. But depth is greatly improved, and the hope is that by going to the bench more on offense and defense, USF frees up starters to contribute on special teams as well.
"We've talked that we can be better on offense, better on defense, but I think where we can make the biggest impact in the 2012 season is special teams," coach Skip Holtz said. "Not only in the way we kick and punt the ball, but in the way we cover kickoffs, cover punts, the big-play opportunities we have on kickoff return and punt return. I don't think we were near as effective a year ago, and that's one of the things we've worked hard on the last eight months."
Holtz has kept Hargreaves as special-teams coach, but has four other assistants now with specific responsibilities there, so there's a larger commitment not only from key players, but from coaches.
"We've taken the mind-set that it's an 'all hands on deck' mind-set on special teams," said Holtz, pointing to players such as starting RB Demetris Murray. "You'll see more starters running down on the opening kickoff. Those guys want to be involved, whatever they can do to help this football team win this year."
Depth is improved on the offensive line as well — unit coach Steve Shankweiler said he expects to use backups in the first half of Saturday's opener against Chattanooga, with far less dropoff between the starters and the second unit. His starters played 900-plus plays last year, and he thinks by playing them less, they'll play better at the end of games.
"Probably 70-30," Shankweiler said, asked what his ideal split in playing time would be between starters and backups. "We've been 99-1 up to this point."
RETIRING: Steve Horton, who has been associate athletic director for compliance for 14 years, is retiring this fall, and USF is in the process of hiring his successor. Horton, who joined the Bulls a month after USF's first football season, will still be busy around campus in retirement, with plans to volunteer in USF's Office of Veteran Services, helping the more than 1,600 veterans on campus. Rick Stumpf, who has worked in compliance for USF since 2006, has interviewed for the potential promotion.
THIS AND THAT: The USF men's soccer team got a clutch comeback in front of a huge crowd Friday, rallying for two goals in less than a minute to beat Michigan before a regular-season record attendance of 3,076 at Corbett Stadium, as well as a TV audience on Fox Soccer Channel. … Women's soccer has two shutouts from promising freshman goalkeeper Christiane Endler, who came to the Bulls from Chile with extensive international experience. … Volleyball picked up its first win Sunday under new coach Courtney Draper, who came to USF from Eckerd College. The Bulls rallied to beat UCF in five games, with four of the five games decided by the minimum two points.