VERO BEACH — The USF football team may have suffered its first significant injury of the preseason Wednesday, as sophomore Mark Popek, competing to start at tackle, injured his right knee during practice and was helped off the field.
"Mark injured his knee a little bit, and we'll have to see where that's going to go," coach Skip Holtz said after practice. "We'll go inside and see where that is a little later."
Holtz didn't see the injury but said Popek told him he was engaged in a block when another player rolled into his knee. After trainers attended to him, Popek was helped off and did not put weight on his right leg.
Popek, a 6-foot-7, 288-pound sophomore from Plant City, started five of USF's last six games last season. Another potential starter at tackle, Jake Sims, has been held out of practice the last three days as a precaution against concussion after complaining of headaches.
USF returns six offensive linemen who had at least five starts last season, but losing Popek would leave the Bulls without any backups with starting experience.
THE WALL: Coming off the first two-a-day practice and practicing for the seventh day in a row, Holtz said he saw some mental fatigue in his players, but hopes it's something they can push through as they continue at the former Dodgertown complex.
"Today was the wall," Holtz said. "You go through this, and we've talked about how positive and upbeat and focused. We've had some really crisp practices. Today was the wall you hit in camp. Everybody's going to hit it at some point in time. These are the days you get better, the day as coaches you have to push a little harder and hold the standard high.
"As players, mentally they're fatigued and physically they're tired. You're starting to get a lot of groins and hamstrings and quads and sore muscles and those type of things."
TE Jeff Hawkins also missed his third day with concussion symptoms, and QB Jamius Gunsby (hip) and RB Victor Marc (hamstring) were also limited in practice.
COACH HOLTZ: When Holtz talks about his father, Lou, with reporters, he calls him "Coach Holtz." That was the label on the front of the golf cart the former Notre Dame coach and current ESPN analyst drove around practice Wednesday. The elder Holtz addressed the team before and after practice and said he liked the environment in Vero Beach.
"I'm really impressed with this setup. I don't know how you could have a better setup," he said. "I'm out there, and Tommy Lasorda called me. The facilities, the dining, you have to be pleased, because it puts the players in a good mental atmosphere. It saves your fields at home, it builds togetherness, etc. … I love the attitude and I love the way they work."