By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
VERO BEACH - The USF defense has been making great strides early in fall camp because the players are striving to become not good, but great.
"I see persistence. We're trying to reach perfection and I think that has a lot to do with coach (Chris) Cosh being here," linebacker Sam Barrington said Friday after the Bulls' third practice in Vero Beach. "The whole coaching staff is working and pushing us, and we're aiming high. I see guys out here just ready to work and taking in every play. Being a senior, it's really inspiring just knowing someone beside me is going to work 100 percent and I appreciate it."
Head coach Skip Holtz likes to say, 'It's not all about playing hard. It's about playing smart," and the Bulls' defense has really grasped the philosophy with Cosh stressing the importance of getting the simple things right in his first year as defensive coordinator.
"The big things that we've been pointing out with coach Holtz in the meetings are improving our fundamentals and our discipline as a team," Cosh said. "I really can see that changing in the couple of days that we've been here and that's across the board at all of our positions."
One thing USF really wants to improve on in camp is taking the ball away through the air after the Bulls felt 2011 was a down year with 12 interceptions.
"When it comes to turnovers, we're trying to turn it around. Any chance we get to make a play on the ball it's crucial that we make it because we need those turnovers. Turnovers increase the wins," said senior cornerback Kayvon Webster, who hauled in two picks as a junior.
Catching a pass might sound simple, but so much goes into the art of taking the ball away. Defensive players are in the fast lane during games, paying attention to the man they're covering on top of scanning the entire field and Cosh said the key to intercepting a pass really comes down to fundamentals.
"It's a movement game and it's going 100 miles an hour," he said. "You have to be able to adjust and keep your eyes on things - certain people in motion, shifts and things like that. A lot of that takes your eyes away. A disciplined guy and a confident guy will keep his eyes in the right place."
It's been a normal occurrence for a coach to stop a drill for a second in camp to stress the importance of a player following the ball with his eyes all the way up to securing a pass. Players are very receptive to the advice because they know the simple practice could pay off big when every snap is crucial in games.
"Last night in our meeting with coach (Rick) Smith, we had a defensive goal for 24 picks," junior cornerback Fidel Montgomery said. "They said they dropped 13 last year and came out with 12 - that's 25 right there. I know this year we're really focusing on the mental mistakes. Coach stresses, 'Put the noose on it, tuck it in and secure it.' We're working on getting all 24."
Montgomery Getting Into the Swing of Things
First-year Bull Fidel Montgomery is a camp newbie and the former JUCO star has been all business during a crucial time when a starting job at cornerback can be won or lost.
"It's a really good learning experience just knowing what you did one day, the bad things, and just coming out the next day and watching a lot of film," he said. "It's different and it's really helping to become a better teammate and a better person."
One of the biggest adjustments for Montgomery has been being disciplined off the field. He has to make sure he gets eight hours of sleep every night and admitted that it's helping him after the alarm clock goes off.
"The different thing is like you're going to live, die, eat, sleep football (in Vero Beach)," he said. "It's really making me become a better player, learning from my mistakes, and learning from the older guys as well as the younger guys. Everybody is helping me."
Montgomery excelled at Marianna (Fla.) High School and really grabbed the USF coaching staff's attention at Southwest Mississippi Community College, where he posted 177 tackles in two seasons. Now that he's a Bull, the thought of big-time football has sunk in much earlier than he expected.
"When I first came in here in the spring I said, 'I won't believe I'm here until that first game kicks off,'" he said. "But now I went through the spring and camp is here and it's time to get right. It's time to focus in and know that I have to do my job, get on that field and make some plays."
Montgomery's name has come up quite a bit in a positive manner this spring and Cosh definitely has noticed the impact his new pupil is making early on in camp.
"Fidel is just a detailed guy and he's a real tough guy. He goes about his business every day," Cosh said. "I really admire him and the way he's worked in team (drills). As a transfer guy, he hasn't been here that long and he's got phenomenal work habits. He's a good kid and he's really a talent."
Quote of the Day
"I walk around with my shoes off a little bit more. I feel like I'm at home and I'm appreciative of everything more." - senior linebacker Sam Barrington on his third camp trip to Vero Beach.
Andy -- @andytaylor6
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