Throughout the Frank Morsani Practice Complex, players and coaches were energized and excited as South Florida officially began their slate of spring football practice Monday morning. With a plethora of changes to personnel and scheme over the past two months, Willie Taggart and company were eager to begin their month’s long preparation and journey towards the 2015 season. Here are the takeaways from Day 1:
-With the unexpected departure of running backs coach Autry Denson to Notre Dame this past week, Coach Taggart himself will assume the role for the duration of the spring. “I’ve been working with those guys and bringing them along,” Taggart told the media after practice. “Right now I’m focused on our football team and their progression over these next few weeks. We’ll look around to hiring someone once spring is over.” While Denson is off to South Bend, Taggart confirmed that former Manatee head coach Joe Kinnan has been hired as an offensive consultant.
-The offensive line will be missing two potential difference makers for the upcoming season. After months of speculation, Stanford transfer Reilly Gibbons will not be eligible to play in 2015. Also, it was confirmed that 2014 commit Zach Hudson is no longer with the program. Taggart said that the former Sickles standout “no longer wanted to play football and decided to move on.”
-Switching to a spread based attack, the Bulls offense got the opportunity to engage in a quicker tempo during practice. With USF statistically one of the slowest teams in the country in terms of pace of play in 2014, an element to look out for over the next month is how they execute when going no huddle and calling plays at the line. Second year running back Marlon Mack spoke on it afterwards. “It’s much faster. We’re not huddling up every play and going through quick reps, so you have to learn to read the opposition, get through it, and move on to the next play.”
-Another change for South Florida will be the switch from a 3-4 to a 4-2-5 defense coming with the hiring of new defensive coordinator Tom Allen. As linebackers coach at Ole Miss, Allen helped architect the “Landshark” defense that landed the Rebels 8th nationally in turnovers and 13th in total defense in 2014. The addition of an extra “nickel” corner in a 4-2-5 helps in countering opposing offenses that may run a variation of the spread and creates opportunities for defenders to fly around the field and create turnovers. Senior safety Jamie Byrd, who previously played the “husky” position in the scheme while at TCU, explained why the 4-2-5 is a better fit to counter offensive attacks in the AAC. “It’s more suited for a conference because we’re playing speed-sweep teams, hurry teams, and teams that are generally pass happy. You have five DB’s out there, so it’s pretty good and effective in stopping the pass, but it can also help against the run.”
-Stafon McCray, Thor Jozwiak, Tyre McCants, and Brynjar Gudmundsson didn’t participate in regular drills due to injury. Taggart confirmed afterwards that Gudmundsson and McCants will return sometime this spring, while McCray and Jozwiak will be out for the entire month of practices.
-The Bulls will go full pads for the first time during Saturday’s practice at 2 p.m.