A look at Florida A&M, which faces the Bulls on Saturday at Raymond James Stadium
2014 record: 3-9 (3-5 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference)
Coach: Alex Wood (first season at FAMU; fifth full season overall, 25-23)
The breakdown: A journeyman coach, Brown's previous lives include the head coaching gig at James Madison, assistant stints in the NFL, and running backs coach for two University of Miami national title teams (1989, '91). At FAMU, he has installed a no-huddle, hurry-up, pro-style attack similar to the one he employed while offensive coordinator at the University at Buffalo (2011-14). "We will snap the ball with 17 seconds on the play clock, seeking to average 95 plays or more every game," Wood says in FAMU's official game release. Question is, how effective can the system be with the roster Wood inherited? FAMU, held to 10 or fewer points five times last season,
averaged 288.2 yards a game in '14 -- 16 fewer than USF.
Odds and ends: FAMU is seeking its first victory in Tampa since a 41-7 rout of rival Bethune-Cookman in 1996 in the old Houlihan's (Tampa) Stadium. ... New Rattlers defensive coordinator Theo Lemon has experience at virtually every collegiate level, but none since 2008. ... The only locals on FAMU's two-deep chart are fullbacks Kevin Newman (Jesuit) and Leon Cusic (Middleton), and reserve K/P Austin Miller (Tampa Bay Tech). ... First-year Rattlers starting QB Carson Royal had 22 pass attempts in 2014, two more than Bulls starter Quinton Flowers.
Taggart's take: "Coach Wood, when he was at Buffalo, they ran up-tempo, and we expect that. We have similarities in some of the things we do, but I know a lot of it will be different than how they ran it at Buffalo. So from a tempo standpoint, we expect that. ... Again, for us, it's all about us and being ready for us and doing our assignment, our technique and being sound at what we're doing. I think that's what we've got to get our football team to, where we're competing against ourselves. ... That's what the great teams do, they compete against themselves each and every week." ...
Fourteen former bay area prep standouts -- half of them starters -- are featured on the Bulls' two-deep, game-week depth chart released Tuesday.
The highest concentration of home-grown talent appears in the secondary, where husky Jamie Byrd (Pasco), rover Devin Abraham (East Lake) and FS Tajee Fullwood (Tampa Bay Tech) all are listed as starters. Elsewhere, freshman Jordan Reed -- a Plant alumnus -- is listed as the second-team slot receiver after not appearing on the preseason two-deep chart.
"That's one thing we said when we came here, that...this bay area was gonna be the heart of our football team," said coach Willie Taggart, whose team opens the season Saturday at home against Florida A&M....
In terms of the opponent's tendencies, the Bulls could find themselves a bit in the dark when the Raymond James Stadium lights go on Saturday.
FAMU, again projected as a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference bottom feeder following a 3-9 season, has a new coaching staff, leaving the Bulls not totally certain of what to expect schematically. New coach Alex Wood, whose journeyman career includes Division I-A and NFL stops, spent the past four years as offensive coordinator at the University at Buffalo.
As a result, Taggart's staff has been studying Buffalo tape, but even that could be tricky. A spread-style team upon Wood's arrival, Buffalo went more under center -- back lined up directly behind the quarterback -- in 2011, and by '12 collected more than 2,000 rushing and passing yards.
"And defensively, they have a guy (Theo Lemon) that's coached at a couple of different places and hadn't coached in a couple of years (since 2008), so we really don't know much what to expect from that standpoint," Taggart said.
"We understand they're gonna be a 4-3 defense, and we've just got to be ready for anything as we go. But like we've been talking with our guys, it's not really about the opponent, but what we do and about us going out and executing what we do and understanding how we do it."
ODDS AND ENDS: Taggart said his staff still hasn't decided on a starting kicker (Emilio Nadelman or Michael Hill) or right guard (probably Cameron Ruff or Dominique Threatt), but could have an answer as early as Tuesday. ... Taggart praised the August performance of FS Tajee Fullwood when asked on Monday's American Athletic Conference weekly teleconference about defensive players who have stepped up this preseason. "Tajee's had a really, really good training camp," Taggart said. "We're expecting big things from him this season."
AUDIBLE: "You go into first games and you never know what may happen. You always make the most improvement from Game One to Game Two, and you go into Game One and you don't know what's gonna happen. You've just got to prepare and go out and trust your technique and trust what you prepare for, and execute. We're planning on going and executing and playing our best ball game since I've been here." -- Taggart, when asked Monday if he expects his team to experience a learning curve Saturday night...
Taking the fourth
You can't peruse a college football preseason magazine without seeing Willie Taggart's name among coaches on the proverbial hot seat. Conventional thinking is that 2015 represents a bowl-or-bust season for USF's third-year coach. But if the Bulls fall narrowly shy of eligibility, here are four reasons Taggart should return in 2016:
Youth: The Bulls still might be a year away. Forty-seven players on the preseason roster are freshmen or redshirt freshmen....
Now that sophomore Quinton Flowers has won the starting job, he must cement it. The run dimension Flowers provides is unmistakable (2,000 career rushing yards at Miami Jackson High), but in five 2014 appearances, he never proved his ability to stretch defenses with an arm that's probably underrated. With senior Steven Bench on standby, will coach Willie Taggart's patience be as long as Flowers' potential?...
Seventeen years after his playing career ended, the quarterback reared in option principles still is perfecting the pitch.
Just last week, a day shy of his 39th birthday, Willie Taggart was delivering them with a well-honed blend of timing, authority and crispness.
"Fast. Exciting. Big plays," USF's preeminent pitchman said when asked to describe his redesigned offense. "Sell tickets. Get (fans) to come here and love coming here and love being at RayJay saying, 'Hey, I want to come back and watch that again.' That's what we're planning to do."...
08/28/15 The Heater
ST. PETERSBURG — Friday night's Tropicana Field promotion, billed as the World's Largest Mustache Party, was replete with Rollie Fingers references and "Rays Rally 'Staches" handed out at the door.
But the home team might have exited the building with more egg than stubble on its collective countenance after its 3-2 loss to the Royals before an announced crowd of 13,622.
Say this for the club rapidly losing ground in the AL wild-card race: The Rays (63-65), who have dropped four of their past five, left it all on the field. Or more specifically, the basepaths....
08/28/15 The Heater
Rays vs. Royals
When/where: 6:10 tonight, Tropicana Field
TV/radio: Sun Sports; 1250-AM, 94.5-FM, 105.9-FM, 680-AM (Spanish)
Tickets: $5-$140, available at Tropicana Field box office, Ticketmaster, raysbaseball.com, team Tampa store; $3 surcharge within five hours of game time
Promotion: Kevin Kiermaier "Outlaw" action figure to all fans.
TAMPA — He'll be summoned to sprint out and set his feet, to zone read or zip one downfield in play-action. He'll have to improvise, even audible at times.
But one thing new Bulls starting quarterback Quinton Flowers won't be asked to do is lead. Coach Willie Taggart said that responsibility won't be heaped upon the sophomore. At least not yet.
"We're not asking Quinton to be a leader," Taggart said after Friday morning's practice, the last before the Bulls convene Sunday to begin game-week preparations for their Sept. 5 opener against Florida A&M.. "What we're asking Quinton to do is be the best football player he can be, be the best student he can be and have fun. We have a lot of other guys around here that can lead this football team."...
08/28/15 The Heater
ST. PETERSBURG — Rays OF Kevin Kiermaier will be immortalized in a sense tonight when "Outlaw" action figures bearing his image are distributed at the Tropicana Field gates.
But the figure the 25-year-old has carved for himself lately — as a more judicious hitter not trying to do too much — is the one most impressive to manager Kevin Cash.
Three weeks after jamming a thumb on a hard slide into second base, Kiermaier has simplified things at the plate and taken his foot "off the gas pedal a little bit," Cash said Friday....
The Rays lineup for tonight's series opener against the Royals, owners of the best record in the American League (78-49):
LF Grady Sizemore
RF Daniel Nava
3B Evan Longoria
DH John Jaso
2B Logan Forsythe
SS Asdrubal Cabrera
1B James Loney
CF Kevin Kiermaier
C Rene Rivera
RHP Erasmo Ramirez
And the Royals:
SS Alcides Escobar
2B Ben Zobrist
CF Lorenzo Cain
1B Eris Hosmer
DH Kendrys Morales
3B Mike Moustakas
C Salvador Perez
RF Alex Rios
LF Paulo Orlando
RHP Edinson Volquez...
He'll be summoned to sprint out and set his feet, to zone read or zip one downfield in play-action. He'll have to improvise, even audible on occasion.
But one thing new Bulls starting QB Quinton Flowers won't be asked to do is lead. Coach Willie Taggart said that responsibility won't be heaped upon the sophomore's plate. At least not yet.
"We're not asking Quinton to be a leader," Taggart said after Friday morning's practice, the last before the Bulls convene at some point Sunday to begin normal game-week preparations.
"What we're asking Quinton to do is be the best football player he can be, be the best student he can be and have fun. We have a lot of other guys around here that can lead this football team. We're not asking him to do that."
Flowers, named the starter Monday night, is expected to be among only three true sophomores (RB Marlon Mack and WR Ryeshene Bronson are the others) to start when the Bulls open their season next weekend against Florida A&M.
While his leadership initially won't be required, his legs will. On Friday, Taggart and his tailbacks reiterated Flowers offers the dimension of a full-time wildcat QB with the ability to throw, suggesting the offense will be more of a run-based spread than a four-wide fling-fest.
"It's better with Quinton back there," Mack said." He's more athletic and he reads just like us, like he's a running back. And he can throw the ball, too, that's the good thing about it."
ODDS AND ENDS: LG Thor Jozwiak (left ankle) was out of the walking boot he wore the day before and appeared to engage in Friday's full practice. ... Taggart said his staff likely will decide on the starting kicker -- sophomore Emilio Nadelman or Tarpon Springs alumnus Michael Hill -- this weekend. ... Following a trend of many programs nationwide, the Bulls will signal in plays with large flash cards. Among them is one bearing a photo of horror-movie icon Freddy Krueger, TB D'Ernest Johnson said. ... Mack said he likely will take the field next weekend at 205 pounds. He weighed around 192 when he ran for 275 in the 2014 opener against Western Carolina.
AUDIBLE: "I feel good about those two. I mean, when I come out, those guys come in and replace me like I never left." -- Mack on his backups, Johnson and Darius Tice...
The Tampa Bay Times preseason ranking as selected by staff writer Joey Knight, a voter in the Associated Press poll. His AP ballot will be available each week during the season on his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bulls.
1. Ohio State
What's that adage about a team with two quarterbacks really not having any? With the talent level arguably at an all-time apex in Columbus, the reigning national champs could buck both conventional QB wisdom and every Big Ten foe on their slate. Ezekiel Elliott — a 1,800-yard rusher last season — returns, as do two all-conference linemen and one of the nation's top linebacker corps. The starter behind center? That's just details....
TAMPA — Twelve games remain in his football career, maybe 13. Each day, Big Mak's eligibility hourglass loses sand as his practice efforts gain steam.
"I think he's done a fantastic job since I've been here," USF first-year offensive line coach Danny Hope said. "I think he's getting better."
It's a heck of a time to be peaking. Then again, for Bulls fifth-year senior right tackle Mak Djulbegovic, the twilight has never seemed so radiant. Isn't it all about how you finish? Big Mak will finish as a starter....
TAMPA — While injuries haven't reached pestilent proportions at USF this month, the Bulls hardly are entering their inaugural game week of 2015 unscathed.
Reserve rover (strong safety) Hassan Childs sustained a torn right ACL at a recent practice and will miss the season, coach Willie Taggart said Wednesday. A junior with three career interceptions, Childs becomes the Bulls' second ACL casualty this month, joining redshirt freshman receiver Stanley Clerveaux....