TAMPA — At first, the news put a damper on the excitement for coach Skip Holtz's first spring at USF: Quarterback B.J. Daniels, recovering from surgery on his nonthrowing shoulder, would be held out of all scrimmages.
With Daniels as USF's only scholarship quarterback, his limitations could have affected the entire offense, which is learning a new scheme under first-year coordinator Todd Fitch and quarterbacks coach Peter Vaas.
There also would be limitations on USF's spring game, which wouldn't have a bona fide quarterback to lead one offense, let alone two.
But halfway through drills, Daniels was feeling good and doing everything but taking hits. So USF decided he could play in tonight's game with a quick whistle to stop plays before he absorbs any contact. (Walk-on Ryan Eppes is expected to lead the No. 2 offense.)
That's good for the fans tonight and even better for USF's offensive players and coaches.
"It's been invaluable," Vaas said this week. "People have the feeling that he's been around for a long time. He's still very young, so the more snaps he can get. …
"You couple that with a new system, new coaches and all that stuff, it's been tremendous for him to be out there."
Daniels, 20, who took over as a redshirt freshman for injured senior Matt Grothe three games into last season, is still recovering from a partially torn rotator cuff. He said that if he had to play a real game today, he wouldn't be ready to take hits.
In the weeks after his surgery in February, he said he was "depressed" at the prospect of a spring without practice. But with steady progress in his rehab, he has been happy to settle for his bright red noncontact jersey and the learning it has afforded him.
"It feels good to not really miss spring at all," Daniels said. "Going to rehab is a pain, but whatever it takes to get better. I'm thankful and blessed to have the opportunity to play in the spring game."
Holtz knew he had a player to build around from watching tape of last season, when Daniels threw for 1,983 yards and 14 touchdowns and rushed for a team-high 772 and nine more scores. Getting to see him for 15 practices this spring has been important for Holtz to know his quarterback's strengths and weaknesses.
"For him to get all those reps even though he's had to have a red jersey on, B.J. doesn't have to prove his toughness to me," Holtz said.
"It's been invaluable for him to get all those reps. Valuable not just for him, but for us as an offensive football team; for him to be out there as the leader, the spokesperson in the huddle with all the experience he has."
Fitch's offense calls for fewer quarterback runs (the team's leading rusher in each of the past four seasons has been its quarterback, a streak Holtz hopes will end this fall). Senior Mo Plancher and sophomore Demetris Murray look like the top two options at running back.
Daniels is learning new terminology and a new scheme with more two-back looks and screen passes and other tweaks.
"It's a big whirlwind right now," Daniels said. "The good thing about it is it's just spring. I have a big, long summer ahead to get things right. Right now, I'm trying to make sure I learn the plays and help the other guys around me.
"We've got some guys who definitely have opportunities to shine and show what they can do."
Greg Auman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/usf and follow him at Twitter.com/gregauman.