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Every starting job up for grabs as USF opens spring practice

The Bulls open spring drills Tuesday with a ton of veterans and two new coordinators.
Third-year USF coach Jeff Scott said Thursday his 2022 depth chart currently is a blank slate, with every position open for competition.
Third-year USF coach Jeff Scott said Thursday his 2022 depth chart currently is a blank slate, with every position open for competition. [ JOEY KNIGHT | Times ]
Published Feb. 24|Updated Feb. 25

TAMPA — Armed for the inevitable question about his pre-spring depth chart, USF coach Jeff Scott took a preemptive measure Thursday, holding up a blank sheet of paper.

The white space wielded a clear dispatch to a program with three combined wins over the past two seasons.

“It sends the message we want to send our guys: Every year’s a new year,” said the Bulls’ third-year coach, whose veteran-laden team begins spring drills Tuesday.

“You’ve got to start over. Last year’s touchdowns aren’t going to win this year’s games, so it’s all about how you do each and every day that we step out there.”

While some will perceive the gesture as a kitschy message, Scott’s empty page may have a ground-breaking effect in the transfer-portal era. With collegiate free agency at a fever pitch, more and more coaches may be inclined to scrap any and all depth charts — pre-spring and preseason — to ward off the risk of third- and fourth-stringers moving on.

“The teams that do the best here in this new era of college football are the ones that recruit well, develop well and then retain their players,” Scott said.

“I’m not sure if it’s very advantageous for anybody to put out a nice, firm depth chart coming out of spring for everybody else and their family to go look at the depth chart and 40 guys decide they want to leave. So I’m kind of in the mode that we’re going to have a lot of competition all the way up.”

That said, Scott acknowledged that even the casual Bulls fan probably can project 75 percent of the starting units that will take the field for the Sept. 3 opener at home against BYU.

Ten offensive and nine defensive starters return from last season’s 2-10 squad, as well as the kicker, punter and Walter Camp first-team All-America return specialist Brian Battie. Fortifying the roster is a nationally lauded transfer class that includes North Carolina defensive tackle Clyde Pinder Jr. (Armwood) and former Clemson running back Michel Dukes, among others.

Of the 120 rostered players (scholarship guys and walk-ons), 112 already are on campus and will be available this spring. Scott said they’ve collectively embraced the seven-week, 35-session winter workout program winding down this week.

“Physically, we look different,” he added.

“I’ve seen guys like (senior linebackers) Dwayne Boyles and Antonio Grier have the best seven weeks since I’ve been here. They’ve been outstanding, and part of it’s maturity and leadership, but they also know there’s competition now that maybe there hasn’t been in the past. So, competition really pushes guys to the top.”

The noticeable changes exist on Scott’s staff.

Fifty-five-year-old coaching journeyman Bob Shoop arrives as the program’s third defensive coordinator in the last four seasons, while Travis Trickett — who spent the last three seasons at West Virginia, his alma mater — will be the fourth offensive coordinator with whom some of the upperclassmen have worked. Scott said Shoop will install a “completely different scheme” that includes predominantly a 4-2-5 look but indicated the offense will remain “very similar.”

“The competition’s real,” said Trickett, son of longtime college offensive line coach Rick Trickett.

“We want them to have a sense of hope, a sense of getting excited about being developed and being coached, and the good thing is, we’ve got a lot of guys coming back.”

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls

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