USF spring football: Johnny Ford catching on

The converted running back appears to be flourishing as a slot receiver
USF sophomore Johnny Ford (20), who ran for 787 yards last season, is double-training at tailback and slot receiver this spring. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
USF sophomore Johnny Ford (20), who ran for 787 yards last season, is double-training at tailback and slot receiver this spring. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published March 27

TAMPA ― Six practices into USF’s spring camp, the Johnny Ford experiment is drawing raves.

Ultimately, it could draw double coverage.

The Bulls’ second-leading rusher (787 yards) as a freshman last season, Ford continues getting steady reps with Michigan transfer Eddie McDoom at slot receiver, where the 5-foot-5 Miami native has turned several heads including new offensive coordinator Kerwin Bell’s.

“Man, he is a good receiver,” said Bell, who estimates he has installed 80 percent of his expansive playbook to this point.

“That was sort of our only thing when we moved him there: Can he play receiver at this level? And man, he’s one of our top ones. The way that he runs routes, his catching ability, he is really good at that.”

Ford will continue double-training at the slot and tailback spots, providing a sleek, open-field dimension to Bell’s system.

“Johnny Ford is fast, Eddie McDoom is fast,” sophomore receiver Randall St. Felix said. “They know how to run routes, they know how to get open. It’s gonna be fun seeing them get open and score a lot of touchdowns.”

Other notes, quotes and observations from Wednesday’s practice:

* St. Felix acknowledged Bell’s playbook features roughly 100 plays. Previous coordinator Sterlin Gilbert readily acknowledged he didn’t use a playbook, relying instead on hand signals and extensive whiteboard work.

But St. Felix said the lack of a playbook didn’t account for last season’s extended offensive funk. “It’s just the way the plays were called last year that led us down to the downfall we had,” he said.

* Senior Billy Atterbury, who has made 23 consecutive starts at right guard, got some reps at left tackle Wednesday, essentially trading places with sophomore Donovan Jennings. During one late practice period, the starting offensive line featured Atterbury, left guard Demetris Harris, center Brad Cecil, Jennings and right tackle Marcus Norman.

“We’re kinda moving some pieces around, we’re seeing what the best fit is,” first-year offensive line coach Jeremy Darveau said.

“We’re always gonna play the best five offensive linemen wherever they fit in. So guys like Billy and guys like Donovan who can play multiple spots, we’re gonna play them where we feel best.”

* Bell said a spring objective has been to try to keep quarterback Blake Barnett from being “too antsy” in the pocket. Redshirt freshman Jordan McCloud, a Plant High alumnus, continues working steadily with the No. 2 offense.

“We’re trying to get his feet a little bit quieter just so he can move in the pocket and still make accurate throws,” Bell said. “But boy, he’s got all the physical tools in the world. He’s picking things up, he’s really a student of the game.”

McCloud, meantime, connected late in practice with Wharton alumnus DeVontres Dukes, who got behind the secondary on a post route for what appeared to be roughly a 50-yard touchdown.

* Count walk-on running back Odunayo Seriki among the unheralded guys who have made a splash at this stage. A junior from Apopka High, Seriki appeared in nine games on special teams last season. He totaled 1,500 rushing yards at Apopka, helping lead the Blue Darters to a Class 8A state title as a junior.

“He’s one of the fastest guys on our team, very physical player too,” Bell said. “So I look for him to start getting some carries, and once he figures it out and just learns the game a little bit better, I think he’s gonna be a very productive player for us.”

* Despite at least one mock-draft that projected him as a mid-round selection in 2019, Norman, a redshirt senior, said he never pondered leaving school after last season.

“Everybody here is my brother, I don’t want to just leave 'em,” said Norman, who has made 33 consecutive starts at right tackle. “I just want to stay here all five years and just know that I gave my all for this program, because I love this program.”

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

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