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USF Bulls offense perks up in spring drills

TAMPA — The cynical sort could've attached a disclaimer to every USF offensive highlight from Saturday's mini-scrimmage at the Morsani Practice Complex.

Consider second-year quarterback Mike White's early precision, which included a stretch when he went 5-for-6 for 159 yards and a touchdown. But it was just a scrimmage.

Or two Chris Dunkley end-around runs that totaled 16 yards and a TD. Let's see how that works against Wisconsin.

Or runs by Michael Pierre and inconspicuous fullback Kennard Swanson that produced gains of 15, 10, 9 and 7 yards early on. But the defensive front is a work in progress.

All valid rebuttals to be sure. At this phase, the renovated Bulls offense has performed against exactly no one with whom it doesn't share a team meal. Yet after 11 spring practices, one argument holds up firmly against the fiercest cross-examination:

This offense still possesses more sleekness, strength, even swagger than the one that imploded in the 2013 season opener six months ago.

"I would say we're definitely night-and-day more comfortable," White said.

Not convinced? Consider this statement from defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan — whose personal pride is affixed to his unit's physicality — after the sixth spring practice.

"Right now, we're getting out-physicaled by our offense," he said.

Out-physicaled by our offense. Last fall, you would've been more likely to hear U2 would play the Sun Dome. Inferior up front, inept in the red zone and indecisive nearly everywhere else, USF (2-10) finished last in Division I-A with 11 offensive TDs.

Its 255.5 yards per game ranked 121st of 123 Division I-A schools.

So how do the Bulls explain this apparent transformation? Recruiting? Not really. Only six members of USF's nationally hailed 2014 signing class are on campus this spring, and only one of those —tight end Marlon Pope — is an offensive player.

They insist it's simpler than that: They've just hunkered down in the weight room and film room.

"If I had to go by scrimmages and complete practices, I'd say the offense is ahead (of the defense) right now," coach Willie Taggart said after Saturday's practice.

"The guys are just comfortable. We've got some new guys in there on defense, but offensively the guys are comfortable. They're bigger, they're stronger and they know where they're going."

Up front, the average weight of USF's five returning starters has increased from 297 to 310 pounds, affording White time to drop back and even check down when necessary. Top returning receiver Andre Davis (49 catches, 735 yards) has been, well, Andre Davis.

Tight end Sean Price, whose 35-yard catch over the middle set up the offense's first TD Saturday, has dropped roughly 10 pounds (to 245) and is evolving into a steady weapon. Wideout Rodney Adams, a Toledo transfer, has added another vertical dimension.

The holdover tailbacks, who have heard speculation since signing day they'll be supplanted by freshmen this fall, are running with purpose. And based on the eye test, the fresh wrinkles and brisk tempo brought in by new offensive coordinator Paul Wulff have been embraced.

"Coach Wulff's come in and they're playing with a tempo, they're playing with an attitude and they've kind of developed an identity," Bresnahan said.

Sure beats an identity crisis.

"We go out there, we know exactly what we're doing. We don't have to line up and think, "Oh wait, what's the play? Is there a kill?' " White said. "We get to go out there and we get to just play football like we've been doing, like we did in order to get us here."

USF Bulls offense perks up in spring drills 03/24/14 [Last modified: Monday, March 24, 2014 10:33pm]
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