TAMPA ― For a fan base frustrated by offensive cacophony for most of the past two seasons, Kerwin Bell struck a series of reassuring chords Wednesday.
During his introductory news conference, USF’s newest offensive coordinator spoke of spread concepts and an NFL-level passing scheme. He dropped iconic names such as Lindy Infante and Steve Spurrier. He emphasized creating separation for speedsters, and not operating at a breakneck tempo just for the sake of playing fast.
But of all the notes Bell hit during this 18-minute session, none likely will resonate with fans as powerfully as this one: offensive autonomy.
“Coach (Charlie) Strong’s given me total control to go in and run my own system,” said Bell, the former Gators quarterback who led Valdosta (Ga.) State to a Division II national title last season.
“It’s not an offensive guy sort of looking over your shoulder, it’s a guy who believes in what we’re doing, and he’s gonna let me take sort of total control of that side of the ball, put in our system and run it. So I think it’s gonna be a great situation.”
If that statement stands up, look for the Bulls offense to shift drastically from the run-heavy approach and vertical passing routes that stagnated last season under previous coordinator Sterlin Gilbert.
Bell promises a more diverse package developed during his three-plus decades in football, including 14 years as a pro quarterback.
That playing career included two seasons in Indianapolis with Infante (“one of the smartest guys I’ve ever been around in the profession”), followed by a graduate-assistant’s gig at UF in 1990, Spurrier’s first season.
“When I went (back to UF), I saw almost perfection on the field,” Bell said. “The spacing and just the concepts of the routes and the rhythm of the system. That’s almost perfection and that’s what I try to obtain every day in practice.”
Bell said his offense will be predicated on speed. In lieu of flinging 50-50 balls to tall receivers downfield, he prefers creating mismatches with sleek receivers, which suggests more seams and posts than Bulls fans have seen recently.
And his quarterbacks will have a series of progressions that requires checking down when prudent. In what he deemed a positive omen, Bell said the first Bulls player he encountered in the parking lot upon arriving Tuesday was quarterback Blake Barnett, who had precious few progressions under Gilbert.
“We’re a system-driven deal in that we’re gonna try to get people open,” Bell said.
“And we’re gonna go fast enough to try to keep the defense as simple as we can, so they don’t have time to really give us all these exotic looks. So you want to go fast enough to do that, but you don’t want to go so fast that you’re getting out-numbered in the run game or your protections aren’t holding up.”
To help USF transition to this new system, Bell is bringing Valdosta State offensive line coach Jeremy Darveau, who will coach the same position at USF and coordinate the run game. Bell’s son Kade and Andrew Robustelli ― both graduate-assistants at Valdosta ― will have quality-control roles with the Bulls.
Collectively, that group helped lead the Blazers to a 14-0 season in 2018. Valdosta finished fourth among Division II teams in total offense (523.9 ypg) and led the nation in yards per play (7.89).
Additionally, the Blazers were 28th in passing offense (261.3 ypg) but first in yards per completion (15.2) and touchdown passes (50). Third-year sophomore quarterback Rogan Wells ― grandson of former Gators coach Doug Dickey ― totaled more than 3,800 yards.
“A lot of people just try to play so fast nowadays, and they try to just run so many plays,” Bell said.
“If you look at us, I think the one thing you’re gonna see is, we’re gonna go fast, but we’re also gonna try to execute at a very, very high level. With our spacing, with our timing, with the rhythm of our system...what I try to do is obtain perfection on the field.”
Contact Joey Knight at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.